Tag Archives: Hebrew

A Jewish-Greek Perspective on the Tongues of Corinth

An introduction to a series about the tongues of Corinth from Jewish and Greek sources along with tracing the perceptions of this rite through the centuries.

There are many solutions attempting to explain the problematic passages penned by Paul and this has been documented throughout the Gift of Tongues Project. A work whose fourfold goal is to locate source literature on the subject, digitize the original texts, translate into English with critical notes, and trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.

These goals are close to completion and after compiling all the information regarding the tongues of Corinth, the evidence points to a different solution than the popular ones existing today—an explanation from Jewish sources. An approach to the mystery tongues of Corinth from a Jewish perspective has long been wanting and appears to provide the two best solutions.

Researching Jewish traditions about speakers and interpreters has uncovered two very important customs that are so close to Paul’s narrative that it would be hard to call them accidental parallels. The first solution relates to the reading out loud of Scripture in Hebrew with an immediate translation in the local vernacular. The second one is the custom of instructing in Hebrew and providing a translation into the local language.

There is also a third alternative, which will be addressed only in small snippets, is the use of Aramaic as the principal language of conflict in Corinth. This very well could be a solution if more information comes forward. For the time being it will be relegated a distant third option. The majority of this series will be devoted to the first two concepts.

These first two options have existed all along but few have paid attention to them in the Christian community. This Jewish-centric approach has been minimized for two reasons: anti-semitism and ignorance of Jewish literature in both Catholic and Protestant communities, and the hyper-emphasis on the Greek and Latin cultures to exclusivity by rationalist scholars in the 1800s.

The option of instructing in Hebrew with a translation into the local language best fits the Corinthian narrative. However, the rite of public reading in Hebrew with an immediate translation into the local language does have some strengths that cannot be discounted. The solution could even be a mixture of the two, or even the third Aramaic theory, but this synthesis will not be investigated in any detail.

Both these Hebrew theories may seem far-fetched to most readers. The above statements are introductory teasers. The articles in the series will not only explain but substantiate such claims. As one reads through all the articles, you will understand why the GOT Project proposes these two customs as the best solutions for understanding the tongues of Corinth.

In both instances, the reader will be shown how the church adapted these Jewish customs in the Greek, and later, Latin context.

The discussion does not stop with a Jewish explanation. The context is about Jewish liturgy in a Greek-dominated city. The research will also note the tensions created by the Greek culture, life, and language that surrounded them. This influence also has a great contribution to the Corinthian tongues saga.

The use of Hebrew in the ancient Jewish liturgy outside of Israel is the most important aspect of this claim. If the Hebrew connection could not be supported, then this solution would be invalid. However, there are substantial evidences that prove such a theory, but since this is new to most readers, I will write at great lengths, and provide important details.

The first letter to the Corinthians is old – written in the first century. The letter was addressed to the earliest gathering in Corinth that was a combined assembly of Messianic Jews and Greek converts. As with any new fledgling organization, they were struggling with what Jewish customs were to continue and which ones were to be left behind. What Greek modes of practice were to be included, and which ones to be excluded.

This is an updated series from what was posted almost a decade ago.

The four dominant themes on the idea of Corinthian tongues over the last five-hundred years.

  • A historical Catholic view. Early Catholic writers and leaders, with the exception of two and a half writers, Epiphanius, the Ambrosiaster text, and a tad owing to John Chrysostom, do not literally address Paul’s statements on tongues. This is largely due in part to earlier church writers emphasizing allegorical and/or promoting personal obedience rather than a critical interpretation of the Bible.

    For example, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, often cited I Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love”, to encourage his followers. He never did explain the context that propelled Paul to write such an exhortation.

    Origen wrote a commentary on I Corinthians and offered a few tidbits. However, they are not definitive enough. He spent most of his energy in I Corinthians to reinforce his idea of the role of knowledge in the Christian life.

    For more about Origen on I Corinthians see: Origen on the Doctrine of Tongues

    The I Corinthians reference for tongues is sparsely referred by early church writers. It is not a subject that was important to them.

  • The cessationist view of Corinthians. This interpretation believed that any miracle, including that of speaking in tongues, died with the early church and could never be repeated again. Therefore, any research on the Corinthian tongues problem is only for historical purposes only. The tongues of Corinth has no impact on the modern Christian life.

    For more information on the Cessationist framework on speaking in tongues, see the series starting with: Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues Part 1

  • The higher-Criticism explanation. Higher-Criticism is the dominant modern theory of explaining the tongues of Corinth and Pentecost. This doctrine believes that the christian rite of tongues has its origins with the Greek prophetesses at Delphi. These women performed inside a temple that had fissures underneath issuing volcanic fumes. The inhalation of the fumes would put the prophetess in an ecstatic state and would prophesy in what was believed to be unintelligible utterances. Ecstasy, glossolalia, and ecstatic utterance are keywords for this interpretational system. The higher-criticists supposed the earliest Christians synthesized this ancient Greek rite as part of making Christianity a universal religion in a Greek-dominated world. Church writings and ecclesiastical history are willfully excluded from this premise.

    For more information on higher-criticism and tongues see the series starting with: Introduction to the History of Glossolalia for more information.

  • Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third-Wavers. Most of the leaders in these movements rely on other tongues found in I Corinthians and one instance in the Book of Acts to substantiate their tongues doctrine. Some call it a private prayer language, while others name it glossolalic prayers. In fact, other as in other tongues does not exist in the original Greek of I Corinthians. The adjective other was added to I Corinthians by European Protestant translators as a polemic against the Catholic church. The protestant translators never intended this idiom as a strange or mystical experience.

    The reader should not be thrown off by the use of the noun tongues in Paul’s I Corinthians English text either. English Bible tradition set the translation as tongues which is old and dated. The noun languages should be used instead.

    For more information on the development of other tongues in the English Bible see: The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible

None of the above theories provide a complete or adequate framework to explain Paul’s reference to speaking and interpreting in I Corinthians.

The series of articles

The context of such an approach along with the wealth of information has necessitated breaking this into a eight-part series:

  1. The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World. This article in development covers the rise of Aramaic and the loss of Hebrew in the everyday Jewish life. How they compensated for this using interpreters/speakers.

  2. Judaism in a Greek dominated world The upcoming article shows the rise of Greek as the primary language of most Jews, and how they adapted the ancient faith to accomodate this.

  3. Hebrew as the First Language of Mankind. A look into the perception of Hebrew as a sacred language shared by both Hebrews and Christians. Both communities have a basic theology that it was the language of God, Adam and Eve.

  4. The Public Reader, the Synagogue and Corinth. It follows the development of the public reader in the Jewish faith and how it may align with the tongues of Corinth.

  5. The Public Reader in the Church. How the Jewish public reader assimilated into a Christian rite, the evolution of this office over the centuries and its potential link to the tongues of Corinth.

  6. The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church. The instruction in Hebrew and the translation into the local language is the best explanation found to describe Paul’s narration on speaking in tongues. This article sets to unfold the reasons behind Paul’s reference to tongues.

  7. Is Epiphanius right about Corinthian Tongues? (Upcoming article in development.) A comparison of Jewish literature against Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (late 300s AD), explanation about the tongues of Corinth.

  8. Lightfoot on the Problem Tongues of Corinth. Excerpts about Corinth from the seventeenth-century English Churchman and rabbinic scholar, John Lightfoot. A difficult and complex read, but well worth the effort

Structure, approach, and complexity

The ecclesiastical literature, along with a number of pieces demonstrated in Rabbinical writings within this series, are mostly fourth-century or later works. This is the only material a researcher can work from. No matter which way one approaches this problem, the person is forced to look at later texts to rebuild an earlier scenario.

Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism offers cautions to such an approach:

Yet, the use of Jewish liturgical practices to reconstruct early Christian worship is not without difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that many Christian historians, to some extent following older Jewish scholarship, have operated with the assumption that Jewish liturgy was essentially fixed and uniform in the first-century AD. This assumption, however, cannot be reconciled with the available evidence. Recent scholarship on the history of Jewish worship has painted a more complex picture of Jewish liturgical development, thus forcing scholars of Christian liturgy to rethink the potential relationships between early Jewish and Christian forms of worship. Out of this new research has arisen greater awareness of the diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of development, and also a more skeptical stance toward the use of later documents to reconstruct the customs of earlier times. Of course, total skepticism toward rabbinic reports is unwarranted, and one cannot dismiss older historical and philological studies as having nothing to offer. But when the sources present a picture of diversity, or when no evidence exists for a given practice at a certain time and place, one must avoid simply harmonizing one tradition with another or an earlier time period with a later one.(1)Graves, Michael. The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism. JETS 50/3 (September 2007) 467–87

Mr. Graves is right. Unfortunately, there is no alternative than to draw from later pieces of literature and reconstruct from there.

Whatever conclusion any researcher portrays on this topic is a calculated and thought-out opinion. No conclusion, including my own, can be considered final because of the lack of primary data.

The intercultural city of ancient Corinth

The city of Corinth is geographically located in a critical position. It is situated on a narrow finger of land called an isthmus which connects the southern tip of Greece with its mainland. In historic times, Corinth was caught between two rival cities; Sparta in the South, and Athens, slightly to the north-east. The Corinthian residents greatly suffered by choosing the wrong sides during many conflicts. Corinth was sacked and left desolate in 146 BC by the Roman consul Lucius Mummius(2)http://corinth.sas.upenn.edu/corinth.html in 146 B.C and left that way until 44 BC where it was purposely repopulated by the Romans.

Military servicemen, freedman, and those of the lower classes from abroad who were looking for better economic opportunities, flocked to the new city. The Jewish immigrants came to Corinth, possibly freedmen, slaves of the Romans occupants, merchants and artisans from Alexandria, some perhaps forced out of Israel by economic, political, or military instability, also made this their home. The city prospered quickly. Corinth became the third most important city in the Roman Empire.(3)Scott J. Hafemann. “2nd Corinthians” as found in The NIV Application Commentary

The power of the Greek language

The Greek language in the first-century was an international language of commerce and communication throughout the Roman and Parthian empires (from the border of Afghanistan to the western reaches of the Meditteranean basin). It was very similar to how English is used today throughout the world. However, just as in the application of the English language, it was applied unevenly, and there were tensions within ethnic groups about its transformative influence on their languages and cultures.

There were more Jews that lived in the Greek-controlled lands than there were that lived in Israel major or Syria. Greek was the principal language of most Jews, though Hebrew and Aramaic remained part of the Jewish religious identity.

A proper understanding of Paul’s Hebrew identity

In order to explain Paul’s reference to tongues from a Jewish background, it is necessary to briefly dwell on the character of Paul himself.

Paul was a Pharisee, a self-proclaimed Hebrew of Hebrews from the tribe of Benjamin.(4)Philippians 3:5 He was educated under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first-century, Gamaliel I.(5)Acts 22:3 Paul had no ambition to overthrow or abandon Jewish culture. Rather, he wanted to strengthen and expand the central tenets of the Jewish faith: salvation and holiness. His initial strategy was to preach in the synagogues of any town, village or city that he visited. It later expanded to the non-Jewish community.(6)Romans 1:16, Acts 18:ff

Paul was born in Tarsus, a south-central city in what is now in the territory of Turkey. A calculated guess is that he would have spoken Greek as his mother tongue. One must keep in mind that he lived close to the Aramaic dominated land of Syria. The location of Tarsus would have exposed Paul to the Aramaic culture and language at an early age. Paul was later trained in Jerusalem. He would have received religious instruction in Hebrew, spoke Aramaic because of the large amount of Jewish pilgrims from Syria and out East that came to Jerusalem for religious or commercial reasons, and taught Greek for civil matters. His teacher, Gamaliel I, would have encouraged Greek so that his disciples could intervene and communicate with the Government.(7)Sotah 49a Based on a text attributed to Simeon ben Gamaliel. Simeon ben Gamaliel was likely reflecting on a tradition of learning Greek established by his father, Gamaliel I.

It is described in Acts chapters 21 and 22 Paul discussing a matter with a Roman commander in Greek, and then speaking to the public in in the language of the Hebrews–probably meaning the Hebrew language since this incident happened in Jerusalem (If this incident occurred in the Galilee or other northern reaches of Israel, it would have been Aramaic or Greek). Paul may have known Latin, but this has not been validated by any principal source.

Mastery of three, maybe even four languages, is why Paul proudly boasted in his first letter to the Corinthians “I speak in tongues more than you all”(8)I Corinthians 14:8 NASB

Paul’s religious identity incensed both the traditional Jewish inhabitants of Israel major and the Hellenized Jews. He started a major debate with the Hellenistas (Greek Jews which is commonly described as Hellenized Jews), in Jerusalem early on his career which led to a serious death threat. Paul was secretly led out of Jerusalem and sent back to Tarsus in fear of his safety.(9)Acts 11:29

Hellenized Jews feared Paul’s message would undermine the traditional Jewish identity. Paul went to great lengths, such as perform a Nazarite vow, to show his allegiance to the customary Jewish faith.(10)Acts 21

Paul saw the tension between Jewish and Greek identities as a major obstacle to his vision of an expansionist form of Judaism. On two occasions he wrote a reference to this.

The first one, in his letter to the Romans(11)1:16 stating there is no distinction between a Jew or a Greek–Ἕλλην Hellen. Paul was referring to a person of Greek origin who was not Jewish in this instance, not a Hellenized-Jew.

He then reiterated this theme again in Galatians. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus(12)Galatians 3:8 KJV

There was a tension that a true Jew cannot be Greek or vice versa that will be described in detail in this series. This problem may also have crossed into the Aramaic language and culture–the identity of a true Jew was the ability to speak Aramaic, but information about this is wanting.

Even with this brief explanation shown above, his writing style, life and practice were steeped in Jewish influences. The founding of any community with his personal involvement would reflect this.

The reader must keep these things in mind as the series progresses in its explanation of the tongues of Corinth.

The composition of the original Corinthian assembly

The initial Corinthian assembly was a mixture of Jews and Greeks. There is not a single reference to Christianity because Christianity did not exist yet. This Corinthian assembly was under the Jewish umbrella. It would take well over a century before the Jewish Messianic movement would become entirely distinct from its origins and be solely called Christianity. Jerusalem, and later, Yavneh (the city where the Jewish leadership were forced to move to after the destruction of Jerusalem), would no longer be the center of its existence.

In fact, it was in Yavneh, sometime between 80 and 110 AD, where the critical decision was made that you could not be Jewish and believe in Jesus. This was where the complete severence between the two groups occurred.

The structure of Corinth was clearly Jewish, but the attendance was of mixed ethnicity.

  • The initial Corinthian Church had two names attached to it—Titius Justus and Crispus. Crispus was a previous leader of a synagogue and from Jewish ancestry; Titius Justus was described as a worshiper of God, suggesting that he was not Jewish and his name infers a Roman lineage.(13)Acts 18:6ff

  • The mentioning of a converted synagogue leader, who must have exercised some internal authority in the development of the Corinthian Church, would have had a serious influence on the liturgy.

  • Paul’s address on the tongues of Corinth are reminiscent of Jewish tradition. Speaking, interpretation, the office of an interpreter, and the Amen are all found in Jewish liturgical traditions.

Pamela Eisenbaum, in her well written and researched book, Paul was not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle strongly asserted that both Paul, and the earliest church were Jewish entities:

But in the first century the letters could not possibly have functioned as a marker distinctive of Christian identity. First, there is the obvious reason that there was not such religious category “Christian.” As far as can be determined by historians, archaeologists, and biblical scholars, there were no distinctively Christian institutions, buildings, or symbols in the first century, and few scholars believe that Christians did not materially distinguish themselves until the late third or early fourth century.(14)Pamela Eisenbaum. Paul was not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle. New York: HarperCollins Publisher. 2009. Pg. 7

. . . Modern readers of Paul tend to assume that Pharisees and other Jews would have considered Paul an apostate, a Jewish heretic who was no longer part of the Jewish community because of his belief in Jesus, and thus not really Jewish. In the context of the first century, however, Paul’s belief in Jesus did not make him less Jewish. Belief in a messianic savior figure is a very Jewish idea, as can be demonstrated by a historical analogy.(15)Pamela Eisenbaum. Paul was not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle. New York: HarperCollins Publisher. 2009. Pg. 8

Final thoughts before you read the rest of the articles

Discovering and applying the Jewish modes of worship and liturgy are the best solutions for explaining the tongues of Corinth. You can find the logic and substantiation behind this in the articles mentioned above.

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Photo of reading from the Torah courtesy of Roylindman (Template:Roy Lindman) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

References   [ + ]

The Structure of the Psalms

A 3000-year general history on the Book of Psalms numbering and divisional systems.

The structural development of the Book of Psalms has an interesting and complex history.

The results are the examination of documents spanning a 3000 year time period. The reader will be journeying through Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin and English texts. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know the languages itself to join in this expedition. This work is designed for both the researcher and the passionate lay reader. Many pictures will be provided that will assist. One can marvel at the beauty of the handwritten text without understanding it.

The findings show that the Psalms began as an unordered list with no assigned numbers. The arrival of the Greek translation called the Septuagint brought about a numbering scheme for the Book of Psalms. The Septuagint also limited to the Book of Psalms to 151 poems, though this was not adhered to by other traditions which went up to 155. Verses were not introduced until much later. Verses were covered in a previous article titled, A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible.

As demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the order of the poems in the Book of Psalms was not established in the early centuries. This happened after the widespread acceptance of the Septuagint later on.

The Septuagint assignments of numbers and order were assumed by the Latin translators, which in turn had an influence on the English Bible tradition.

The headers introducing most of the Psalms are the most controversial and misunderstood. In regards to the headers only, we are not so sure today on the meaning behind the original Hebrew or even the Greek translation. This has led to a multitude of interpretations even within the English Bible translation tradition.

These are mere generalities and the readers of this blog prefer details and substantiation. The following is how the above conclusions were arrived at.

Continue reading The Structure of the Psalms

Epiphanius on the Tongues of Corinth: Another Translation

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, on the problem tongues of Corinth, as translated by Frank Williams.

Epiphanius has one of the most clearest and definitive accounts on the Corinthian tongues conflict than any other author. It is critical that his translation be critically analyzed and looked from a number of sources. An original Greek source text has been built, The Latin, which has its own nuances and may be based on an unknown manuscript, and my own translation is provided on this site, along with this one, done by Frank Williams.

Not much is known about Frank Williams outside of his massive and widely accepted modern translation of Epiphanius’ Panarion. He received his Phd from Oxford, and is now retired from the University of Texas.

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Scholion 13 and 21. Marcion has erroneously added the words, “on the Law’s account,’’ < after > “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding.”

(a) Elenchus 13 and 21. Thus the languages too are by the gift of the Spirit. But what sort of languages does the apostle mean? < He says, “languages in the church,” > to show < those who > preened themselves on the sounds of Hebrew, which are well and wisely diversified in every expression, in various complex ways—on the pretentious kind of Greek, moreover, the speaking of Attic, Aeolic and Doric—< that God does not permit just one language in church, as some of the people < supposed > who had stirred up the alarms and factions among the Corinthians, to whom the Epistle was being sent.

(b) And yet Paul agreed that both using the Hebrew expressions and teaching the Law is < a gift > of the Spirit. Moreover, to condemn the other, pretentious forms of Greek, he said he spoke with “tongues” rather (than those) because he was an Hebrew of Hebrews and had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; and he sets great store by the scriptures of these Hebrews , and < makes it clear > that they are gifts of the Spirit. Thus, in writing to Timothy about the same scriptures, he said, “For from thy youth thou hast learned the sacred scriptures.”

(c) And further, he said the same sort of thing < to > the people who had been trained by the Greek poets and orators, and added in the same way, “I speak with tongues more than ye all,” to show that he was more fully versed in the Greek education as well.

(d) Even his style shows that he was educated, since Epicureans and Stoics could not withstand him < when he preached the Gospel with wisdom at Athens >, but were defeated by the inscription on the altar, “To the unknown God,” which he read learnedly—which was read literally by him, and immediately paraphrased as “Whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”

(e) And (they were defeated) again when he said, “A prophet of their own hath said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies,” meaning Epimenides, who was an ancient philosopher and erected the idol in Crete. Callimachus the Libyan also extended his testimony to himself by quoting Callimachus and saying falsely of Zeus:

The men of Crete are liars alway, Lord;
’Twas men of Crete that built thy tomb, though thou
Hast never died; thy being is eternal

(f ) And yet you see how the holy apostle explains of languages, “Yet in church I had rather utter five words with my understanding,” that is, “in translation.” As a prophet benefits his hearers with prophecy in the Holy Spirit by bringing things to light which have already been furnished to his understanding, I too, says Paul, < want > to speak so that the church may hear and be edified—not edify myself with the boast of Greek and Hebrew which I know, instead of edifying the church with the language which it understands.

(g) But you have added, “on the Law’s account,” Marcion, as though the apostle meant, “I want < to speak > (no more than) five words in church on the Law’s account.” Shame on you, you second Babylon and new rabble of Sodom! How long are you going to confuse the tongues? How long will you venture against beings you cannot harm? For you are attempting to violate angelic powers by expelling the words of the truth from the church and telling the holy Lot, “Bring the men out!”

(h) And yet your attempt is an attempt on yourself. You will not expel the words of the truth, but you will strike yourself blind and pass your life in utter darkness—fumbling for the door and not finding it, till the sun rises and you see the day of judgment, on which the fire will confront your falsehood also. For this is waiting for you, when you see. (i) “On the Law’s account” is not in the apostle, and you have made it up yourself. But even if the apostle were to say, “on the Law’s account,” he would be saying it, in harmony with his own Lord, not in order to destroy the Law but to fulfil it.

Scholion 14 and 22. “In the Law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people.”

(a) Elenchus 14 and 22. “If the Lord did not fulfill the things that had previously been said in the Law, why would the apostle need to mention things from the Law which are fulfilled in the New Testament? Thus the Savior showed that it was he himself who had spoken in the Law even then, and threateningly declared to them, “Therefore was I grieved with this generation and said, They do always err in their hearts, and I sware that they shall not enter into my rest.” For the same reason he promised to speak to them through men of other tongues—as indeed he did, and they did not enter.

(b) For we find him saying this to his disciples: “Unto you are given the mysteries of the kingdom, but unto them in parables, that seeing they may not see,”and so on. Hence (if ) the Old Testament sayings (are) fulfilled everywhere in the New, it is plain to everyone that the two Testaments are not Testaments of two different Gods, but of the same God.

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As taken from: Nag Hammadi & Manichaean Studies. Vol. 63. Einar Thomassen and Johannes van Oort. Ed. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Book I (Sects 1-46). Translated by Frank Williams. Brill: Leiden. 2009. Pg. 349-351

The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

A look at the ancient Jewish rite of instruction in Hebrew with an immediate translation into Aramaic or local vernacular and how it potentially impacted the earliest Corinthian assembly.

This is part 5 of a series on Corinth which attempts to correlate the mystery rite of tongues outlined in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians with standard Jewish liturgy of the time.

For more information on this series go to Introduction to the tongues of Corinth

The tradition of Jewish instructors speaking in Hebrew lasted for centuries. It is no longer practiced in synagogues today but was an important function in Judaism around the first-century. This little-known practice had an important part to play in the Jewish identity, and as will be shown, was a factor in the tongues conflict in Corinth.

In order to better explain this practice and make an association with the Corinthian gathering, we must go into ancient Jewish literature and citations from some of the more prominent Jewish authorities. Some of which is obscure on the first read and takes a little explanation before the truth becomes clear.

Talmud Babli Yoma 20b

Any discussion on the role of Hebrew as a sacred language of instruction will inevitably land on this passage which refers to two Rabbis who lived in the third-century: Rav Shela and Abba Arika. The narrative is about Rabbi Shela wanting to give a lecture in Hebrew which was demonstrated here as the language of Jewish religion and polity — a sacerdotal tongue. In order to perform such a task, a third-party was required to translate it into Aramaic. Abba Arika, often referred to as Rav, offered to provide the translation. While Shela was lecturing, he mentioned call of the rooster and Rav translated it as call of the man. These words call of the rooster and call of the man are almost identical in Hebrew. The words go back into an academic dispute between Jewish scholars on when the priests in the Temple were to wake up and begin their duties. Shela admonished Rav for taking too much liberty in translating. Rav parlayed back that he couldn’t translate it that way because Shela was entirely wrong on this point and demonstrated the thoughts of an uneducated man.

The text makes Hebrew instruction with an immediate translation into Aramaic a standard procedure during this time.

Here is the actual Talmudic text in English with a link to the original source in the footnote:

Rab came to the place of R. Shila, when there happened to be no interpreter to stand next to R. Shila, so Rab took the stand next to him and interpreted, ‘keriath hageber’ as ‘the call for the man’. R. Shila said to him Would you, Sir, interpret it as: Cockrow! Rab replied: ‘A flute is musical to nobles, but give it to weavers, they will not accept it’.(1)Talmud Babli Yoma 20b. As found as a pdf at halakhah.com There are no page numbers. The pdf is attributed to Tarmo Jeskanen as the author. See also Yoma 20b in the original

This passage used two different words to define the concept of interpreter. The first one was אמורא Amora. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that this term had two functions. The first one represented all the Rabbinic teachers that flourished during a period of about three hundred years, from the time of the death of the patriarch R. Judah I. (219) to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (about 500)(2)Amora as found in the Jewish Encylopedia. The second definition applies here. “While the lecturer generally pronounced his sentences in the academic language, which was chiefly Hebrew, the Amora gave his explanations in Aramaic. . .”(3)Amora as found in the Jewish Encylopedia. The article states that the term Amora as an interpreter or translator was a later usage to that of the word meturgeman and often was interchanged with it.

The second word used for interpreter is פרש peresh — to interpret, expound, clarify.

Understanding the word interpret in I Corinthians 14 is one of the keys to unlocking what Paul meant. The Syriac version of this passage is especially helpful which is ܦܫܩ pashek. J. Payne Smith’s Dictionary describes at as to explain, expound, to write commentaries, to translate. The dictionary demonstrated how the word ܦܫܩ was used in the Syrian Church: “he expounds the Six Days of Creation to the congregation,” which exemplifies the fact that Paul wasn’t meaning interpreter to be a literal word for word translation from one language to another but it could be dynamic, or amplified.(4)J. Payne Smith’s (Mrs. Margoliouth) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Pg 468 as found at Dukhrana’s website.

The Syriac presents the idea that whatever translation was given, just like the incident mentioned with Rav Shela above, wasn’t necessarily a literal word-for-word translation, but an amplified version given by the interpreter that the people could understand. If the concept is taken a step further, peresh could allow an interpreter become too stylistic, or promoting his own oratorial skills at the expense of the original speaker. This may have been a contributor to the Corinthian saga as well.

Rashi on Hebrew instruction and interpretation

Almost any analysis on the Talmud will take the researcher to the eleventh-century French medieval Rabbi Rashi. His concise commentary and analysis gives him the classification of one the great writers of the Jewish world. His critiques and analysis are on the same high level as Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. He chose to explain further the mechanics between the teacher and the interpreter:

The one who interprets stands beside a sage who gives the homily and the sage whispers the Hebrew language to him and he translates to the common language they hear in.(5)My translation Yoma 20b לא היה אמורא – מתורגמן העומד לפני חכם הדרשן והחכם לוחש לו לשון עברית והוא מתרגם לרבים לשון שהן שומעין:

Where Rashi got the idea of the Sage whispering to the translator is not known. This may be a much later tradition than Paul’s time.

Why did Paul not mention Hebrew specifically in his text?

If Paul is referring to Hebrew in his I Corinthians text then he would have named it specifically. That is a weakness in following the logic of Hebrew being the language of instruction as a solution to the tongues of Corinth. Regardless of whether this is right or not, we shall follow the logic nonetheless to its natural end.

Paul was purposely being vague because of the ethnic tensions between the traditional Aramaic Jews, the Hellenized Jews who were eager not to lose their ancient Jewish language and customs, and Greek adherents who came from different Doric, Aeolic, and Attic linguistic backgrounds. If he took a side with any of them by naming a certain language, or showing a preference for one over the other, he would have potentially started a split; alienating one group from another. He was in a very difficult position. His reply showed that he was interested in establishing an effective teaching methodology within the parameters of traditional Judaism that assisted both the Greek and Aramaic Jewish layperson, along with Greek converts in learning. He was emphatic that education was the priority, language was secondary to this goal.

Could it be Aramaic instead?

Saul Lieberman outlines in his book, Greek In Jewish Palestine certain practices within the third-century that proposes a different view that may even discount the Hebrew theory and replace it with Aramaic. This is what he found in his studies:

On the other hand, Eusebius informs us that Procopius was (around 286) a Reader and Interpreter from Greek into Aramaic in the church of Scythopolis. In the Hellenized town of Scythopolis it was necessary to render a Greek passage in Aramaic before the people could understand it! But Zahn is quite right in his remark that whereas the Biblical lessons, the liturgy and the sermons in the church of Scythopolis were in Greek, there was need of an Aramaic translator for the benefit of the peasants who attended the church. Probably even the peasants knew the limited practical everyday vocabulary of Greek, but explanations by an interpreter (תרגומן) in the mother-tongue of the masses were quite welcome. For a similar reason the Jewish preachers adopted the same method (in the opposite direction) when they preached in the Hellenized towns; they delivered their sermons in Aramaic, but illustrated and explained certain passages in Greek for the benefit of the townspeople.(6)Saul Lieberman. Greek in Jewish Palestine. Philadelphia: Press of the Jewish Publication Society. 1942. Pg. 2

This comment by Lieberman along with the Ambrosiastor text promoting the Corinthian tongues was the unstructured use of Aramaic during the service, provides a compelling alternative to the Hebrew instruction theory. However, there is more data that slightly gives Hebrew instruction the lead, but not decisively.

It is a confusing triangle of languages. The reader must be aware of this.

How it evolved in the Church

The Epiphanius text believed this practice was still being performed in the earliest Corinthian Church. Yet there is one difference between Paul’s exhortation and two hundred years or so later to the time of Rav Shila–during Paul’s time a teacher instructing in Hebrew could provide his own translation. Rabbinic tradition during Rav Shila’s time did not allow this. Someone else was obligated to do the translation.

There is evidence that a similar practice did continue in the eastern realm of the church. As Lieberman points out above, the church used Greek as the primary language for evangelization, but translated it into Aramaic for the peasants to understand.

As to Hebrew being the language of instruction, it probably died within the first forty years after the founding of the assembly of Corinth—maybe even earlier. The Jewish revolt and Rome’s sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD led to a widespread distrust of anything relating to anyone belonging to the Jewish race. Any symbols or practices would have been less apparent or even removed for fear of anti-Jewish sentiments especially in a major Roman-ruled city such as Corinth. This was even more apparent under the emperorship of Domitian (81–96 AD), “where there was scarcely a Jew to be seen (in the Roman Empire) during his reign.”(7)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Vol. I Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1980. Pg. 128 He also sought to destroy all the family members of the Davidic line in order to maintain perpetual control.(8)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Vol. I Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1980.Pg. 156

The fateful decision to excommunicate the entire Jewish-Christian movement by the decree called the Birkat ha-Minim(9)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Vol. I Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1980. Pg. 307 from the Jewish world somewhere around 90 AD also may have accelerated the loss of the Hebrew language and Jewish identity in the fledgling movement.

The rite of instructing in Hebrew today

Do they still practice this rite in synagogues today? Research in the Gift of Tongues Project has not been greatly considered on this question. There is a general feeling is that it was phased out around the seventh-century but more research is required. The art of reading publicly in Hebrew is still being widely practiced throughout the Jewish world.

Conclusion

If one takes face-value the information provided, Paul was referencing the the one who speaks in a tongue as one teaching or lecturing in Hebrew. The interpreter was the speaker or another person familiar with both Hebrew and the target language, translating it on the fly. Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 14:13 that a person who speaks in a foreign unnamed tongue should himself interpret it. I Corinthians 14:28 outlines two conditions that govern whether a teacher should refrain from teaching. We will assume once again he is thinking about Hebrew here, though it is not listed in his actual text. Firstly, if the teacher speaking in Hebrew is not familiar with the local language and cannot translate it himself. The second is when a third party familiar with both Hebrew and the local language is not available to translate. The teacher should remain silent.

This was the environment Paul was up against in writing his letter to the Corinthians. It was a church composed of Jewish-Hebrew, Jewish-Aramaic, Jewish-Greek, and non-Jewish Greek members. It was a time where all things of religious faith were allowed to be reexamined, especially in the context of Jewish tradition; what rituals were to be included from previous liturgical traditions, what were to be removed, and what new traditions should be started. The Jewish tradition was the underlying base. The Church was both restorative to the ancient Jewish identity but forward looking at the same time. It was more inclusive of many different ethnic groups and practices. Paul seemed unconcerned about the language issue itself but wanted to maintain some type of order so that all these different language speaking groups could operate cohesively together.

If one reads the Pauline passage with the idea of Hebrew or Aramaic as the language of instruction and understands the Jewish structure of speaking and interpretation in Jewish tradition as outlined in this series, the text is clearly understood. It is not a mystical out-of-this-world experience but the re-imaging of Jewish structure in a newly established branch of Judaism.■

References   [ + ]

The Public Reader, the Synagogue, and Corinth

A detailed look into the Jewish rite of reading, speaking, interpreting. Practices that set the liturgical framework for the Corinthian and later churches.

This article specifically dwells on the role of the reader in the Jewish synagogue. Another article The Public Reader in the Church, explains how the early church transformed the rite into a Greek Christian one.

The Gift of Tongues Project devoted significant time and resources connecting the Hebrew public reader simultaneously being translated into the local vernacular as the correct interpretation of the tongues of Corinth.

The Jewish rite of reading parallels closely with the office of instruction. The two offices seem to overlap. This study reveals a rich history of the public reader from 500 BC; the transition from Jewish to a Greek custom.

The first public reader, Ezra the Scribe

The oldest Jewish text that attests to such a rite allegedly can be traced to Ezra the Scribe around 450 BC. It is found in the Biblical Book of Nehemiah chapter 8:

1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

2So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.(1)וְכֹל מֵבִין 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand.(2)וְהַמְּבִינִים And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed(3)מְבִינִים the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear(4)מְפֹרָשׁ and giving the meaning(5)וְשׂוֹם שֶׂכֶל so that the people understood(6)וַיָּבִינוּ what was being read.(7)Nehemiah 8 NIV as taken from the biblegateway.com website. The highlights in red are not part of the original but put in here by me.

A detailed look at the Hebrew text of Nehemiah

The text described Ezra the Scribe reading from a podium along with what appears to be a third party explaining what he read in terms the audience could understand. A number of key Hebrew words develop this inquiry even further;

  • בין, bin, understanding, or teaching
  • פרש peresh, give meaning, explain, or translate and
  • שֶׂכֶל shekel, a synonym to בין comprehend, apply common sense.

The use of בין, bin, is troublesome. It is used in the Nehemiah text in two distinct ways — to understand, and to instruct. Modern Hebrew restricts its usage only to mean to understand, which makes it difficult for those knowing modern Hebrew to discern the nuances here. The contemporary language does not give any sense of instructing, translating, or explaining. This is not the case in this much earlier writing.

The text itself is not entirely clear. Does it mean that Ezra spoke in Hebrew and a translator translated in Aramaic? Or were the people uneducated about Jewish law and life and needed an intermediary to amplify the text so that they could understand it? As discussed in The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World the emphasis was on education, not language. However, many later sources of Jewish literature understood this text as emphasizing language.

We will follow the traditional perception of Ezra’s message establishing Hebrew as the language of law and life with the immediate translation into the common vernacular.

The word instructing found later on in the Book of Nehemiah states the lay audience Ezra spoke to did not know Hebrew; the majority knew Aramaic and the rest other foreign languages.(8)Nehemiah 13:24 Therefore the people who heard the reading of the Law were incapable of understanding Hebrew. The great eleventh-century Rabbi, Rashi, commented upon the idea of the Levites instructing מְבִינִים, mivinim, as a case of interpreting the Hebrew words into the common vernacular.(9)http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16515/jewish/Chapter-8.htm#showrashi=true Therefore בין, bin, must be understood as teaching or instructing within this context.

The complicated word פרש.

The Nehemiah text then shortly after uses פרש parash as a synonym to בין, bin. Parash usually means to make clear, explain or translate. It is important to look at the era that Nehemiah was written in to support the idea of translation.(10)Ezra 4:18 Internal evidence from the Book of Ezra 4:18 uses a similar verbal form which correlates with the word translation or interpret. Modern Hebrew understands the word as interpret as well.

פרש does not denote a word-for-word translation but can be amplified, a springboard for an extended lecture in the target language, and a platform for personal gain. This caused many later problems in the synagogue rite that needed to be rectified.

The eminent Hebraist and author of the Hebrew New Testament, Franz Delitzsch probably understood פרש in this manner too. He consistently translated the word interpret and variants in I Corinthians 14 as פרש peresh(11)The New Testament text as found at Dukhrana and I agree with this choice. Unless more detailed information arrives, the noun פרש peresh, and its variants, was more likely the one Paul had in mind.

This word also serves as the base for פרשה parashah or its plural, parashot or parashyiot notes a formal section (mainly a paragraph) of the Biblical Hebrew text.

Fortunately, we do not encounter this word as a grammatical construct in this context.

The ongoing tradition of the Reader/Translator

Ezra

The following precepts were established from the time of Ezra:

  • A reader to read from the original Hebrew text from a specially built podium for this rite

  • the speaking of Hebrew and a third party, which is here defined as the Levites, translating or explaining the reading in the common vernacular of the audience

  • the people hearing the reading and translation are to respond with an amen.

The Hebrew Reader and Interpreter in the Talmud

The next substantial mention of the liturgy of Hebrew being read and a third party standing beside the reader and simultaneously translating it into the common vernacular can be found in the fourth-century and later Babylonian Talmud.

Talmud Megillah 9a to 24b have scattered references to this and allude to the history of the reading of the Bible in the Jewish liturgy. They demonstrate the tensions between the use of Hebrew and its adaptation to Jewish communities of different linguistic natures. The resolutions are uneven in application but do show some general evolution.

Talmud Babli Megillah 9a

This passage declares that the Books of Scripture may be written in any language, but then later stipulates that it can only be translated into Greek and no other language. The text further states that King Ptolemy, a non-Jewish Greek ruler, legislated a Greek translation in the third century BC, which means the Jewish sages had no choice but to sanctify it and therefore the writing goes on to mythologize this. It also legislated that whatever language the liturgical prayers were originally written in, must stay in their original language.(12)Talmud Babli Megillah 9a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 31

Talmud Babli Megillah 17a

The quotation from below is from the Mishnah, which is an older text inside the Talmud Babli and can be traced often to the second-century. The author(s) here cover the subject of reading in Hebrew — its primary usage in the liturgy and should be practiced even if a person doesn’t understand it. The problem appears a difficult one for the Jewish sages as they contradict themselves here. They conclude that hearing or reading in Hebrew, even if it is not understood, is a religious obligation that morally must be observed.

MISHNAH. If one reads the Megillah backwards, he has not performed his obligations. If he reads it by heart, if he reads it in a translation [Targum] in any language, he has not performed his obligation. It may, however, be read to those who do not understand Hebrew in a language other than Hebrew. If one who does not understand Hebrew hears it read in Hebrew, he has performed his obligation. If one reads it with breaks or while half-asleep, he has performed his obligation.(13)Talmud Babli Megillah 17a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 64ff

The Rabbinic discussion proceeds further on this passage, which is not quoted here, struggling with the idea of Hebrew having such a high standing and how the Jewish faith could extend into the non-Jewish vernacular. They concluded that Hebrew was to be used in reading or recitation but the holy language extended no further. The common vernacular could be used in the common prayers, and thus other liturgical rites.

Megillah 21b

This section covers the rules of translating the Scriptures into the common vernacular. It concluded that the Torah must only have one reader and one translator for ensuring that the importance of the text is understood. The prophets are considered less important and are given one reader, and two simultaneous translators. The reading of the Talmud had little or no restrictions on the amount of readers or simultaneous translators. The amount of readers and translators, depending on the importance of the text, increased for entertainment purposes. The art of reading or translating together in harmony was like hearing a choir.

A Tanna stated: This is not the case with [the public reading of] the Torah. Our Rabbis taught: As regards the Torah, on reads and one translates, and in no case must one read and two translate [together]. As regards the Prophets, one reads and two translate, but in no case may two read and two translate. As regards Hallel and the Megillah, even ten may read [and ten may translate]. What is the reason? Since the people like it, they pay attention and hear.(14)Talmud Babli Megillah 17a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 64ff

This may have been a later addition to the religious liturgy. Paul established that each one must speak or translate in turn (I Cor. 14:27). He did not want a cacophony of voices at the same time.

Megillah 23b

It explains that the reader is not to read less than three verses on any occasion, but while reading, should stop at each verse so that the translator can keep in rhythm.(15)Talmud Babli Megillah 23b. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 89

The reader is not to skip verses in the Torah, but can skip in the prophets.

There is more to the Megillah about reading and translating, such as age and physical requirements but it does not relate to the Corinthian context, so it is not listed here.

Nedarim 37b

Nedarim 37b is difficult to understand, even with explanations from ancient commentators. This reference is included because it is quoted by Bernard Spolsky, Professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He cited Nedarim 37b as evidencein his article, Jewish Multilingualism in the First Century to support the roles of Hebrew as a religious language and Aramaic as the mother tongue. His assertion about Nedarim 37b is in context to the Ezra passage found in Nehemiah 8:

In its explanation of this passage (T.B. Nedarim 37b), the Talmud interprets this last verse to refer to the institution of the practice of the Targum, the reciting of an Aramaic translation after the public reading of each Biblical Hebrew verse. (T.B. Nedarim 37b). It is possible that it refers to a translation into any language; it might also refer to an interpretation given in more colloquial language. Even if the practice did not in fact start this early, it is certain that within a few centuries the Aramaic translation and interpretation that accompanied the public reading of the Written Law was firmly established, making clear that in the course of time most of the inhabitants of Palestine, including presumably many who spoke Hebrew, used Aramaic as a lingua franca.(16)Bernard Spolsky. Jewish “Multilingualism in the First Century” as found in Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages. Joshua A. Fishman ed. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1985. Pg. 38

Maimonides

The concept takes us to the twelfth century Rabbi, scholar, and physician, Maimonides (also known as Rambam). He is considered one of the most influential and revered Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages. If one reads his works, it is easy to see why he has been given such a high status. He synthesized the idea of the reader/interpreter into a cohesive form. His coverage of this topic can be found in Mishneh Torah: Book of Love: Order or Prayers (Hilkot Tefilah chapter 12). He copiously wrote in detail on the subject, though most if it does not directly connect with the Church of Corinth. There are two themes that do have a connection:

The Amen construct

Each one of the readers opens the Torah scroll and looks at the place from which he is to read. Afterwards, he declares, Barchu et Ado-nai hamevorach, and all the people answer: Baruch Ado-nai hamevorach le’olam va’ed. He then recites the blessing:

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah. Blessed are You, God, the Giver of the Torah.

All the people respond: “Amen.” Afterwards, he reads until he completes the reading, rolls the scroll [closed] and recites the blessing:(17)Mishne Torah. Book of Love. Order of Prayers. Halachah 5. This English translation is done by Eliyahu Touger and available at Chabad website. For the Aramaic text, go to the Hebrew Wikisource website

Both Paul and Maimonides agree that the amen is part of the Jewish liturgy but disagree on how it is to be used. Paul emphasized that an intermediary between the speaker and the congregation, the ἀναπληρῶνanaplêrôn, was to say the amen on behalf of the congregation. The term anaplêrôn is unique to Paul’s writing.

See The mysterious Anaplêrôn of I Corinthians 14:16 for more information.

The fifth-century Alexandrian Church called the person who occupied the position of anaplêrôn(18)ἀναπληρῶν as keimenos(19)the full text has it as ὅ γε μὴν ἐν τάξει τῇ τοῦ λαϊκοῦ κείμενος See also Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion — one who takes homiletic exegesis or highly articulate language and explains it in such a way that the average person could understand. The anaplêrôn would say amen as a way of ending whatever explanation was required. If the anaplêrôn did not understand what was being said, he could not then convert it into common vernacular and therefore would be unable to say the amen. Maimonides, on the other hand, believed the amen was to be done by the congregation itself at the ending of a reading. This may be a later evolution of this rite since Paul’s time.

On speaking and interpreting

Maimonides believed that the synagogue liturgy of reading from Hebrew with a third-party translator interpreting the reading into the local vernacular was an established fact since the time of Ezra.

From the time of Ezra, it was customary that a translator would translate to the people the [passages] read by the reader from the Torah, so that they would understand the subject matter.(20)Maimonides. Mishne Torah. Book of Love. Order of Prayers. Halachah 10. This English translation is done by Eliyahu Touger and available at Chabad website. For the Aramaic text, go to the Hebrew Wikisource website

The office of the interpreter in Jewish liturgy

The Aramaic word for interpreter in the Talmud Megillah and commentaries associated with it is is מתרגם meturgem in the singular and מתרגמין meturgemin in the plural. The plural is used more often. English language has resolved this office to be called the meturgamen. The early history of this word is not known except that it was extensively used from the third century onwards in Aramaic circles. The torah.org website covers the twofold usage of the interpreter in a clear way:

There were two types of Merturgemans (translators/interpreters). The first is the kind who stood by the Torah reader in the synagogue and translated into Aramaic as the reader read, verse by verse. It is mentioned dozens of times in the Talmud; once the Jews were exiled to Babylon, their vernacular was Aramaic – only the scholars and elders spoke or understood Hebrew. Thus to make Torah reading understandable, it was translated. In the same way, the Meturgeman would also sit by the Rabbi in the synagogue or the study hall. When the Rabbi would share words of Torah with the congregation or with his students, he would speak quietly in Hebrew and the trans. would repeat his words in Aramaic.(21)Rambam: Talmud Torah 4:3

The Jewish Encylopedia further adds:

The weekly lesson from the Pentateuch and the Prophets was read by a member of the congregation, and the meturgeman had to translate into the vernacular the Pentateuchal lesson verse by verse; from the Prophets he translated three verses at a time. While the reader of the Hebrew text was forbidden to recite by heart, the meturgeman was not permitted to read his translation from a book, or to look at the Hebrew text when translating, in order that the people should not think that the translation was contained in the text. The meturgeman was also forbidden to raise his voice higher than that of the reader of the text. He did not limit himself to a mere literal translation, but dilated upon the Biblical contents, bringing in haggadic elements, illustrations from history, and references to topics of the day. This naturally required much time, to gain which the weekly lesson had to be short, so that the Pentateuch was finished only in a cycle of three or three and one-half years; while the portion from the Prophets was frequently abbreviated.

The free handling of the text, which frequently changed the translation into a sermon or homily, gave the meturgeman ample opportunity to introduce his subjective views into the lesson; and with the multiplication of sects this became distasteful to the Rabbis. The increase in the opposition to the meturgeman led to the fixation of the Targumim and to the demand that the meturgeman keep strictly to mere translation. But a mere translation satisfied neither the public, who had known the text from early school-days, nor the meturgeman, who was deprived of an opportunity to parade his knowledge and to display his oratorical gifts. As a consequence the “darshan,” or preacher, was introduced; and the literal translation fell gradually into disuse.(22)Meturgemanas found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

The problem of the meturgamen taking too much liberty in their expositions may have reflected a problem that Paul was earlier dealing with.

The Jewish Encyclopedia does not demonstrate what sources were used to show the disuse of the meturgeman and switch to the darshan.

The same article in the Jewish Encyclopedia believed the original term for interpreter was מבין, maven. This word declined and gave way to the use of meturgeman. This may be true but it lacks sufficient documentation as well.

Another word used for translator/interpreter was אמורא Amora—well, not exactly. Amora refers to the Jewish scholars from 200 to 500 AD. They are expounders of the laws, edicts, and ethics created by the earlier Jewish authorities. They also represented the academies of Jewish learning throughout the Aramaic speaking world. One of the traditions of the Amora was to speak in Hebrew while another Amora would spontaneously translate it into Aramaic.

The Amora would not have been used during Paul’s time because the office did not exist yet.

Was Paul’s reference to speaking in tongues the public reading of Scripture in Hebrew?

The reader/interpreter part of the liturgy may have existed in the earliest Corinthian Church which Paul attended, but this does not appear to be the central thrust of his concern.

Rather, the Corinthian references to tongues matches the Jewish rite of instruction. Aramaic Judaism, along with evidence from a commentary by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, and further examinations of the interplay between Greek and Hebrew languages in the Jewish world, best supports this theory.

If Paul was emphasizing this to be a problem of liturgical reading, his word choice selection would have been different. The noun reader or the verb read can’t be found anywhere in the key-text. Paul wouldn’t have used the verb to speak such as found in I Corinthians 14:1 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ, the one who speaks in a language in reference to a reader. He would have used something similar to ἀναγιγνώσκων anaginôskôn instead. Therefore the Corinthian problem being that of liturgical reading of the text in Hebrew was not the problem — at least according to the Epiphanius’ text.

What does this all mean?

The use of Hebrew in certain Jewish customs was required, even if the audience didn’t understand it. It was also to be used in the diaspora. The examples given above are in the Aramaic diaspora, but the principles would have applied to Greek Judaism as well.

The case is made that there is a correlation between Paul’s reference to speaking in tongues and Jewish liturgy. The idea of speakers and interpreters and the Amen construct while publicly reading in Hebrew are very close to Paul’s narrative. The Jewish sources show a smoking gun, but do not supply definitive evidence. The research so far proves we are heading in the right direction. The narrative of the public speaker is an interesting one and at least one highly influential church father believed this was the gift of tongues spoken by Paul.

One of the most important points to remember is that the ancient Jewish texts clearly outline the establishment of Hebrew as the primary language of public reading in any assembly outside of Israel major. This would have been an important factor with the initial assembly of Corinth. The lack of Hebrew would have been a serious source of conflict between Paul and the Hellenistic Jews who strongly argued that he had compromised Judaism too much in his theological views.

The details about how the public reader transformed and evolved in the church, along with detailed information about why Thomas Aquinas believed it was the gift of tongues is found in the next article: The Public Reader in the Church

References   [ + ]

Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church

Understanding the tongues of Corinth from linguistic, ethnic and liturgical perspectives along with an inquiry into whether Hebrew was part of their liturgy.

The Gift of Tongues Project has uncovered two ancient Christian writers who correlated the problem tongues of Corinth as ethnic or linguistic conflicts. The Ambrosiaster text emphasized the want of the Jewish adherents to speak in Aramaic during the liturgy, which few understood in Corinth, and the Epiphanius text believed the problem of Corinth was a dispute between three distinct Greek speaking groups; Attic, Aeolic, and Doric along with the use of Hebrew in the Church liturgy.

The Epiphanius text is the most direct on the subject. Although the reference to the use of Hebrew is found here, the text itself failed to directly connect the primary use of Hebrew with the Greek conflict. Nevertheless, it is inferred by its close grammatical relationship. This connection can be understood in two ways:

  • It was the traditional reading of the Hebrew text and the delivery of it into the local vernacular. In the context of the Epiphanius text, the Corinthians couldn’t agree what was to be the standardized Greek language for translation/explanation/preaching in the Church liturgy.

  • Or, it could be that Epiphanius did not want to correlate the Hebrew liturgical reading of Scripture at all, but that this language was the language of instruction and religious devotion. Those masters who were instructing/lecturing on the principles of the Christian faith did so in Hebrew, while an interpreter was required to translate it into the local vernacular. The conflict was in which Greek vernacular was most suited for the Corinthian congregation.

The Corinthian tongues conflict explained by Epiphanius is unique and no thorough investigation has been done to qualify or discard this claim.

There is a definite need for finding a positive solution to the mystery tongues of Corinth since a thorough investigation completed in the Gift of Tongues Project has ruled out the Corinthian tongues as a mystical experience resulting in those speaking ecstatic utterances. As previously written and documented, tongues as an ecstatic utterance was a theory first introduced in the 1800s.(1)See The History of Glossolalia

This series of articles are devoted to finding whether this historical context was correct through investigating Jewish literature, archaeology, and ecclesiastical writings.

The problem of insufficient first-hand data on the Corinthian assembly liturgy.

The ecclesiastical literature cited above, along with a number of pieces demonstrated in Rabbinical writings later on in this series, are mostly all fourth century or later works. Unfortunately, this is the only material a researcher can work from. No matter which way one approaches this problem, the person is forced to look at later texts to rebuild an earlier scenario.

Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism looked into this problem and agrees:

Yet, the use of Jewish liturgical practices to reconstruct early Christian worship is not without difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that many Christian historians, to some extent following older Jewish scholarship, have operated with the assumption that Jewish liturgy was essentially fixed and uniform in the first century ad. This assumption, however, cannot be reconciled with the available evidence. Recent scholarship on the history of Jewish worship has painted a more complex picture of Jewish liturgical development, thus forcing scholars of Christian liturgy to rethink the potential relationships between early Jewish and Christian forms of worship. Out of this new research has arisen greater awareness of the diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of development, and also a more skeptical stance toward the use of later documents to reconstruct the customs of earlier times. Of course, total skepticism toward rabbinic reports is unwarranted, and one cannot dismiss older historical and philological studies as having nothing to offer. But when the sources present a picture of diversity, or when no evidence exists for a given practice at a certain time and place, one must avoid simply harmonizing one tradition with another or an earlier time period with a later one.(2)Graves, Michael. The Public REading of Scripture in Early Judaism. JETS 50/3 (September 2007) 467–87

Mr. Graves statement has to be seriously considered. Harmonizing is a good start, but not a good end point. The following analysis agrees with Graves statement that there was diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of diasporan Jewish liturgy. The Corinth Paul lived in was complex. A whole host of Jewish, Roman, Greek, and Latin influences are found mixed together in a curious blend that cannot easily be untangled. This shouldn’t stop the researcher from trying. This lack of early source material makes it difficult, but not impossible.

There are a number of assumptions that can be made about the Church of Corinth and Paul’s reference to tongues in I Corinthians 14:

  • Paul was an orthodox Jew whose pedigree was confirmed by his learning under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first century, Gamaliel.(3)Acts 22:3 Paul had no ambition to overthrow or abandon Jewish culture. He wanted to complete it. His initial strategy was to preach in the synagogues of any town, village or city that he visited. It later expanded to the non-Jewish community.(4)Romans 1:16, Acts 18:ff Therefore his writing style, life and practice was steeped in Jewish influences. The founding of any Church associated with him would reflect this.

  • The initial Corinthian Church had two names attached to it — Titius Justus and Crispus. Crispus was a leader of a synagogue; Titius Justus was described as a worshiper of God, suggesting that he was not Jewish and his name infers a Roman lineage.(5)Acts 18:6ff These two accounts demonstrated that the Corinthian Church was of mixed ethnic origin.

  • The mentioning of a converted synagogue leader, who must have exercised some internal authority in the development of the Corinthian Church, would have had a serious influence on the liturgy.

  • Paul’s address on the tongues of Corinth are reminiscent of Jewish tradition. Speaking, interpretation, the office of an interpreter, and the Amen are all found in Jewish liturgical traditions.(6)This will be documented in part 2 of this series

  • The Hebrew language is a central part of the Jewish religious identity. The Jewish sages had numerous discussions on the role of Hebrew in religious life and affixed when, where, and why Hebrew or an alternative language was to be used. Although the final discussions are the only available corpus today, this must have been an issue in the first century.

Was Hebrew used in the Synagogue liturgy outside of Israel, especially in lands dominated by the Greek language and culture?

The role of Hebrew in the ancient Greek communities of the Jewish diaspora is a disputed subject. Gedaliah Alon, a Jewish historian, noted the interweaving of Hebrew and Greek in the Synagogue before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.(7)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Ed. and Trans. by Gershon Levi. Vol. 2. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338 Some, like Harry Gamble, have argued a complete abandonment of Hebrew “In the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Diaspora, however, the scriptures were apparently always read in Greek, and no translation was required.”(8)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 210 Gamble goes on to conclude within the earliest Christian Church, “no explicit evidence attests the liturgical reading of either the Torah or the prophets in Christian assemblies in the first century, …In addition, when it arrives on the field of historical vision Christianity is already fully wedded to the Septuagint.”(9)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 211 Obviously he was unaware of Epiphanius’ account of Hebrew being read as part of the liturgy in the earliest Corinthian Church or felt that Epiphanius’ text was too removed from the primitive Church to be of value. Gamble’s assumption about exclusive Greek reading in the churches is questionable. Alon believed that at least in one synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, whose principal language was Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were used for “literary purposes, for worship and even other needs.”(10)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Ed. and Trans. by Gershon Levi. Vol. 2. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338 This small reference demonstrates that Hebrew still existed as a religious vernacular in some or all of the diaspora which would have had an effect on the structure of the earliest Christian Churches.

The tension between Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic as the lingua franca in Jewish life.

Aramaic was granted a high standing and was the native tongue of most Rabbinic sages. The Aramaic version of the Bible, known as Targum Onkelos has been a prime source of Jewish exegesis for almost two millennia. Yet the public reading was still retained in Hebrew according to Stephen Wylen, who further added:

It became a custom among Jews to read the weekly lectionary portion of the Torah three time through, once in Hebrew and twice in Aramaic. This custom was retained even into the Middle Ages when Jews no longer spoke Aramaic.(11) Stephen Wylan. The Seveny Faces of Torah: The Jewish Way of Reading the Sacred Scriptures. New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2005. Pg. 37

However, not everything was to be done in Hebrew. This was especially noted with the language of prayer. Whatever language the prayer was originally produced in, was allowed to remain in that language. For example, Talmud Babli Megillah established that whatever prayers were originally written in Aramaic, were to remain in Aramaic throughout the diaspora.(12) Talmud Babli Megillahh 9a

This was a disputed point and considerably argued. Aramaic was internally contested in reference to Jewish identity. God’s speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai was used as a polemic against Aramaic. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”(13)Sefer Haggada (in Hebrew) Tel-Abib: Dvir co. ltd. Book III, 3b. My translation There was a concerted effort to resist the inclusion of foreign languages in their liturgy and prayers. “For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.”(14) The Soncino Talmud. Trans. by Epstein I. London: Soncino Press. 1935. Pg. 162

There was a movement against Aramaic and Greek in the land of Israel and an assertion that only Hebrew should be used. As reflected in this passage found in the Talmud Babli, Sotah 49b:

and that nobody should teach his son Greek. …At that time they declared,-`Cursed be a man who rears pigs and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!` Concerning that year we learnt that it happened that the `omer had to be supplied from the gardens of Zarifim and the two loaves from the valley of En-Soker. But it is not so! For Rabbi said: Why use the Syrian language in the land of Israel? Either use the holy tongue or Greek! And R. Joseph said: Why use the Syrian language in Babylon? Either use the holy tongue or Persian! The Greek language and Greek wisdom are distinct. But is Greek philosophy forbidden? Behold Rab Judah declared that Samuel said in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel , What means that which is written: Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city? There were a thousand pupils in my father`s house; five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek wisdom, and of these there remained only I here and the son of my father`s brother in Assia! It was different with the household of Rabban Gamaliel because they had close associations with the Government; for it has been taught: To trim the hair in front is of the ways of the Amorites; but they permitted Abtilus b. Reuben to trim his hair in front because he had close associations with the Government. Similarly they permitted the household of Rabban Gamaliel to study Greek wisdom because they had close associations with the Government.(15) Talmud Babli Sotah 49b as found at the Instone Brewer website.

The duration, strength, or popularity of this opinion which existed in the land of Israel is not known. These examples are two to four centuries removed from the time of St. Paul, and may have even been stronger during the Corinthian conflict.

The Greek influence and encroachment on traditional Jewish life and practice.

On the other hand there was a problem of Greek perception towards the Jews. The Greeks believed their language and culture to be superior to anything else. For example the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian, rejected what was then known to be the sect of the Galileans (Christianity) because it was not of Greek origin, nor wrought from the Greek language, and worse yet, it came from something obscure and unimportant as Hebrew. This can be gleaned from Cyril’s refutation against Julian;

For you esteem very lightly the distinguished men with the one subsequent Hebrew language that went a different way from the Greek , and I reckon that your Italian which was made for everyone, that you arranged it a certain number? Furthermore has it not been truly said to us that if we wish to understand the straight and narrow, the Greek language is not about to be held as the author of religious devotion… And so we are taught that the greatest place of moral virtue is through the sacred writings of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Nevertheless, we use such things for the preparation of sound teachings with Greek thoughts since we are not familiar with the Hebrew language.(16)S. Cyrilli Alexandrini, Contra Julianum, Lib. VII [234]. MPG: Vol. 76. Pg. 858. Translation is mine.

The Greeks extended the idea of their language being the heavenly one and this had a universal influence, even in the Latin world. One of the greatest Roman leaders and Orators, Cicero, so highly valued the writings of the Greek Philosopher Plato that the god Jupiter “were it his nature to use human speech, would thus discourse.”(17)Plutarch. The Parallel Lives. The Loeb Classical Library. Trans. by Bernadotte Perrin. 1919. Pg. 141

The Greek Septuagint was introduced to the Graeco-Roman world over three hundred years before the advent of Paul and his address to the Corinthian Church. The Septuagint was the standard in many Jewish circles, especially the diaspora. Paul himself made substantial usage of the Septuagint; when 93 Biblical quotes from Paul are examined 51 are in absolute or virtual agreement with the LXX, while only 4 agree with the Hebrew text.(18)http://www.religiousforums.com/forum/abrahamic-religions-dir/118238-paul-septuagint.html The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.(19)Talmud Babli 9a. Philo believed that the Greek text was necessary for the Jewish faith to become a universal standard:

But this is not the case with our laws which Moses has given to us; for they lead after them and influence all nations, barbarians, and Greeks, the inhabitants of continents and islands, the eastern nations and the western, Europe and Asia; in short, the whole habitable world from one extremity to the other.(20)Philo. On the Life of Moses: II IV:20 . . .Some persons, thinking it a scandalous thing that these laws should only be known among one half portion of the human race, namely, among the barbarians, and that the Greek nation should be wholly and entirely ignorant of them, turned their attention to their translation.(21)Philo. On the Life of Moses: II V:27

The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that this Greek translation may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.(22)Jennifer Mary Dines. The Septuagint. New York: T&T Clark, 2004 Pg. 64

God dictated to Moses the importance of literacy for the perpetuation of the faith, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”(23)Deuteronomy 6:9 though this was not ever completely established, because 700 years later at the time of Ezra, as mentioned by the great thirteenth century AD Jewish thinker, Maimonides, Hebrew was switched to a liturgical language and required an interpreter for any local reading.(24)Maimonides הלכות תפילה This will be demonstrated in more detail with the next upcoming article. The first century Jewish writer, Josephus, related that Hebrew literacy was up again in the first century, “and it is ordered to bring the children up (in) the letters concerning the Laws and to place upon (them) the works of the ancestors.”(25)Translation is mine. “to bring the children up (in) the letters” clearly refers to literacy. The popular William Whiston english translation has “It also commands us to bring those children up in learning, and to exercise them in the laws, and make them acquainted with the acts of their predecessors,” it misses the emphasis on literacy here. This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

An objection can be raised that Hebrew had this level of prominence through the study of tomb epitaphs. Jewish tombs have been uncovered in Rome with dates beginning from 63 BC and ending at 300 AD. Out of the 534 names, 76% had a Greek name, 23% a Latin, and only five contained Hebrew, Aramaic, or hybrid names.(26)http://www.livius.org/di-dn/diaspora/rome.html There are a number of problems with this conclusion. First of all, it reflects a long period of time, over 400 years. The Jews who had lived there during the time of Paul may have still kept their original mother tongue and the results are a later calculation. Secondly, Corinth was an international city that was a major intersection for the Jewish diaspora. There would always be an influx of Jews from Israel that would maintain the language. Thirdly, Hebrew may have been retained strictly as a liturgical language which would hardly have been reflected on burial inscriptions.

A relatively unknown group of Hellenized Jews later evolved a system called minhag-romania, whereby they performed “traditional Jewish prayers that were recited and chanted in Greek, but were written with Hebrew letters.”(27)http://gulnbla.tripod.com/romaniotes.htm This unusual rite was based upon the fact that they understood that the Rabbis dictated all readings must be from Assyrian Script. It is not known how large this movement was, or when it began. The website article contains little substantiation.

The composition of the earliest Corinthian assembly.

Paul’s strong background in Judaism, the appointment of a synagogue leader to lead the original Corinthian assembly, and the liturgical problems outlined by Paul in I Corinthians demonstrate that this was a highly influenced Jewish organisation. A second century writing dubiously claimed to be by Clement claimed that the Greek adherents quickly outgrew the Jewish ones in a short manner of time, “Seeing that our people who were given to be abandoned from God, have become more numerous than of the righteous who have God.”(28)MPG Vol. 1. Clement. Epistola II Ad Corinthios. Chapter 2. Col. 333 This suggests the abandonment of directly connected Jewish traditions and liturgies probably before the end of the first century.

What does this all mean?

Although the majority of these authors were of a later age, the majority of takes give a good outline demonstrating what kind of ethnic and linguistic tensions confronted Paul in the initial Corinthian Church. Epiphanius’ statement about Greek ethnic infighting and Hebrew being part of the original Corinthian liturgy is a very plausible explanation. The best one that has come forward.■

Next: Jewish Liturgy and the Tongues of Corinth.

References   [ + ]

Lightfoot on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

John Lightfoot

A digitization and short analysis of John Lightfoot’s Commentary on the tongues of Corinth.

John Lightfoot was a seventeenth century English Churchman and rabbinic scholar whose exegetical system was significantly advanced for that time period.

A small but brief window had opened in England during the Reformation for Hebrew studies, but the roadblocks to full public acceptance was great. England had long banished Jews from living in England(1)See John Lightfoot: the English Hebraist for more information during Lightfoot’s era. Later novels like Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens indicate negative perceptions concerning the Jewish race was strong. In light of these obstacles, Lightfoot began a very scholarly journey into the connection between Judaism and Christianity. He was in the wrong place at wrong time doing a great work. He was a time anomaly. He shouldn’t have succeeded in this field of studies, but he did, and his work, though with some defects, has withstood the test of time.

Unfortunately after the death of Cromwell in 1658 combined with a number of Governmental interdicts within the Church realm, Hebrew studies once again lost its footprint in the English speaking world. This prevented Lightfoot’s works from gaining ubiquitous traction.

A second problem that has limited Lightfoot’s literary acceptance within a wider audience is his writing style. His technical writing is very difficult to understand. It is worth to time to ponder, but difficult nonetheless. His style appealed to a very small Latin audience who understood Greek and Hebrew literature. On top of this, he assumed the reader understood the theological underpinnings of his arguments with very little reference to them. He was a genius, but esoteric.

If one could criticize Lightfoot in his analysis is his lack of recognition that his sources for explaining the Corinthian conflict are much later publications. The Jewish sources he cited are approximately 400 or more years later than the Corinthian saga. The Jewish sources on the subject may have been more fluid during the first century AD. The initial arguments that spawned the later Rabbinic opinion may have been different. Lightfoot never looked into this. Neither does Lightfoot seriously delve into ecclesiastical literature using his comparative method. This is not the problem only of Lightfoot, but any researcher looking in I Corinthians. First-century literature is hard to find and compare, whereas, fourth-century is much more abundant.

Even with these weaknesses, the comparative work itself between Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth is outstanding and must be considered in developing a historical context for understanding this Pauline text.

Below is Lightfoot’s coverage of I Corinthian’s 14. The work was originally written in Latin, but has been translated into English. The translation provided here is from Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ(2)See Horæ et Talmudicæ: Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations Upon the Gospels, the Acts, Some Chapters of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians. New Edition by Robert Gandell. Volume IV. Oxford: At the University Press. 1859. Pg. 257ff by Robert Gandell. The footnotes do not always follow his copy. They include some additional thoughts and background by me on the text.

On problem points, the English was compared against the original Latin version, Joannis Lightfoot: Opera Omnia. Tomus. II.(3)See Joannis Lightfoot: Opera Omnia. Tomus. II. Rotterdami. Regneri Leers. 1686. Pg. 917ff These are noted in the footnotes.

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CHAP. XIV

[Pg. 257] VER. 2: Ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ· He that speaketh in a tongue. Speaking in a tongue ? In what tongue ? You will find this to be no idle question when you have well weighed these things :

  • I. There is none with reason will deny that this whole church of Corinth understood one and the same Corinthian or Greek language : as also, that the apostle here speaks of the ministers of the church, and not of strangers. But now it seems a thing not to be believed, that any minister of that church would Arabic, Egyptian, Armenian, or any other unknown language publicly in the church ; from whence not the least benefit could accrue to the church, or to the minister himself. For although these ministers had their faults, and those no light ones neither, yet we would not willingly accuse them of mere foolishness as speaking in an unknown language for no reason ; nor of ostentation as speaking only for vainglory. And although we deny not that it was necessary that those wonderful gifts of the Holy Ghost should be manifested before all the people, for the honour of him that gave them ; yet we hardly believe that they were to be shown vainly and for no benefit.

  • II. The apostle saith, ver. 4, ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ, ἐαυτὸν οίκοδομεῖ, he that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself : which how [pg. 258] could he do from those tongues, when he could have uttered those very things in his mother-tongue, and have reaped the same fruit of edification?

  • III. The apostle tolerates an unknown tongue if an interpreter were present. But I scarce believe he would tolerate that one should prate in Scythian, Parthian, or Arabic, &c., when he could utter the same things in the Corinthian language, and without the trouble of the church and an interpreter.

We are of opinion, therefore, nor without reason that unknown language which they used, or abused rather, in the church, was the Hebrew ; which now of a long time past was not the common and mother tongue, but was gone into disuse ; but now by the gift of the Holy Ghost it was restored to the ministers of the church,(4)“at jam donante Spiritu Sancto reddita est Ministris Ecclesiæ” — but now by the Holy Spirit equipping, it [Hebrew} has been restored to the Ministers of the Church and that necessarily and for the profit of the church. We inquire not in how many unknown languages they could speak, but how many they spake in the church and we believe that they spake Hebrew only.

How necessary that language was to ministers there is none that doubts. And hence it is that the apostle permits to speak in this (as we suppose) unknown language, if an interpreter were present, because it wanted not its usefulness. The usefulness appeared thence as well to the speaker, while he now skilled [calluit] and more deeply understood the original language ;(5)“Utilitas inde emersit tum loquenti, dum linguam jam calleret, & profundiùs intelligeret originalem ;” The usefulness emerged from that moment for the person who speaks, and during that time he developed practical knowledge and profoundly understood the original language. as also to the hearers while those things were rendered truly, which that mystical and sacred language contained in it.

The foundations of churches were now laying, and the foundations of religion in those churches and it was not the least part of the ministerial task at that time, to prove the doctrine of the gospel, and the person, and the actions, and the sufferings of Christ out of the Old Testament. Now the original text was unknown to the common people ; the version of the Seventy interpreters(6) The Greek Septuagint was faulty in infinite places ; the Targum(7)The Aramaic translations of the Bible upon the prophets was inconstant and Judaized ; the Targum upon the law was as yet none at all : so that it was impossible to discover the mind of God in the holy text without the immediate gift of the Spirit imparting perfect and [pg. 259] full skill both of the language and of the sense ‘ that so the foundations of faith might be laid from the Scriptures, and the true sense of the Scriptures might be propagated without either error or the comments of men.

The apostle saith, “Let him pray that he may interpret,” ver. 13. And ‘interpretation’ is numbered among the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Now let it be supposed that he spake Latin, Arabic, Persian : either he understood what he spake, or he did not ; if he did not, then how far was he from edifying himself! And yet the apostle saith, he that speak in a tongue edifies himself. If he understood what he spake, how easy was it for him to render it in the Corinthian language ! There are many now learned by the study who are able to translate those tongues into the Corinthian or the Greek, without that extraordinary gift of interpretation immediately poured out by the Holy Ghost. But let it be supposed, which we do suppose, that he spake in the Hebrew tongue, that he either read or quoted the holy text in the original language ; and that he either preached or prayed in the phrases of the prophets ; it sufficed not to the interpretation to render the bare words into bare words, but to understand the sense and marrow of the prophet’s language, and plainly and fully to unfold their mysteries in apt and lively and choice words, according to the mind of God : which the evangelists and apostles by a divine skill do in their writings.

Hear the judgment of the Jews concerning a just interpretation of the holy text. They are treating of the manner of espousing a woman. Among other things these passages occur ; תר” על מנת שאני קריינא “The Rabbins deliver. If he saith, ‘Be thou my espouser if I read : if he read three verses in the synagogue, behold she is espoused. R. Judah saith, ‘Not until he read and interpret.’ יתרגם מדעתיה May he interpret according to his own sense? But the tradition is this : R. Judah saith, המתרגם פסוק כצורתי He that interprets according to his own form behold he is a liar. If he add any thing to it, behold he is a reproacher and blasphemer. What therefore is the Targum ? [Or what intepretation is to be used ?] Our Targum.”(8) Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 49a

The Gloss there writes thus : “He that interprets a verse [pg. 260] according to his own form, that is, according to the literal sound : for example, לֹא-תַעֲנֶה עַל רִיב Exod. xxiii. 2 ; he that interprets that thus, לא תסהיד על דינה Thou shalt not testify against a judgement, is a liar : for he commands that judgement be brought forth into light. But let him so interpret it, Thou shalt not restrain thyself from teaching any that inquire of thee in judgement. So Onkelos renders it.”

If he add any thing to it : — If he say, ‘Because liberty is given to add somewhat, I will add wheresoever it lists me; he sets God at nought and changeth his words. For wheresoever Onkelos added, he added not of his own sense. For the Targum was given in mount Sinai, and when they forgot it, he came and restored it. And Rab. Chananeel explains these words, ‘He that interprets a verse according to his own form,’ by this example וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל Exod. xxiv. 10. He that shall render it thus, וחזר ית אלהא דישראל and they saw the God of Israel, is a liar ; for no man hath seen God and shall live: and he will add to it who should render it, וחזר ית מלאכא דאלהא and they saw the angle of God. For he attributes the glory of God to an angel. But let him interpret it thus, וחזר ית יקרא דאלהא and they saw the glory of God of Israel. So Onkelos again.”

So great a work do they reckon it to interpret the sacred text. And these things which have bee said perhaps will afford some light about the gift of interpretation.

But although the use of the Hebrew tongue among these ministers was so profitable and necessary, yet there was some abuse with the apostle chastiseth ; namely, that they used it not to edification and without an interpreter. And further, while I behold the thing more closely, I suspect them to Judaize in this matter, which we have before observed them to have done in other things ; and that they retained the use of the Hebrew language in the church, although unknown to the common people, and followed the custom of the synagogue. Where,

  • I. The Scripture is not read but in the Hebrew text ; yea, as we believe, in the synagogues even of the Hellenists : as we dispute elsewhere of that matter.

  • [pg. 261] Public prayers in the synagogue were also made in Hebrew, one or two excepted, which were in Chaldee. “They were wont to repeat the prayer whose beginning is קדיש, after sermon. For the common people were present who understood not the holy language. Therefore this prayer they composed in the Chaldee tongue, that all might understand :”(9)A gloss of Berakoth 3a The quote made here being from Berakoth 3a is obscure — it does not contain this text but must exist in a gloss that I have not found yet. the rest they understood not.

  • He that taught, or preached out of the chair spoke Hebrew, and by an interpreter. “The interpreter stood before the doctor who preached : חכם לוחש לו לשון עברית and the doctor whispered him in the ear in Hebrew, and he rendered it to the people in the mother tongue.”(10) Yoma 20b He is quoting Rashi here. And there in the Gemara as story is related of Rabh, who was present as interpreter to R. Shillah : and when R. Shillah said קרא גבר the cock crows, Rabh rendered it קרא גברא, when he should have rendered it קרא תרנגולא. Hence there is very frequent mention in the books of the Talmudists of מתרגמניה של פלוני אמוריה the interpreter of this and that doctor.

    While I consider these things used in the synagogues of the Jews, and remember that a great part of the church in Corinth consisted of Jews ; I cannot but suspect that their ministers also used the same tongue according to the old custom ; namely, that one read the Scripture out of the Hebrew text, another prayed or preached in the Hebrew language, according to the custom used in the synagogues. Which thing, indeed, the apostle allowed, so there were an interpreter, as was done in the synagogues : because that language, full of mysteries, being rendered by a fit interpreter, might very much conduce to the edification of the church.

    I suspect also that they Judaized in the confused mixture of their voices ; which seems to be done by them because the apostle admonisheth them to speak by turns, ver. 27, and not together. Now from whence they might fetch that confusedness, judge from these passages : “The Rabbins deliver. In the law one reads, and one interprets ; and let not one read and two interpret. But in the prophets one reads and two interpret. But let not two read and two interpret. [Pg. 262] And in the Hallel, and in the Book of Esther, ten may read, and ten interpret.”(11) Megillah 21b

    The Gloss is thus : “‘Let not one read in the law and two interpret.’ Much less let two read. And the reason is, because two voices together are not heard. ‘But in the prophets let one read, and two interpret,’ because the interpretation was for the sake of women and the common people who understood not the holy language. And it was necessary they should hear the interpretation of the law, that they might understand the precepts : but of the interpretation of the prophets they were not so accurate.”

    Ver. 3. : Ὁ δὲ προφητεύων· He that prophesieth. The word προφητεύειν, to prophesy, comprehends three things, ‘singing psalms,’ ‘doctrine,’ and ‘revelation :’ as ver. 26.

    • To prophesy is taken for ‘singing psalms,’ or celebrating the praises of God, I Sam. x.5. ‘Thou shalt meet a company of prophets, . . . with a psaltery, and a tabret, a pipe, and a harp,’ וְהֵמָּה מִתְנַבְּאִים where the Chaldee, ואינון משבחין and they shall sing or praise And chap. xix. 24, 25, ואזל מיזל ומשבח And he went forward singing. And he put off his (royal) garment ושבח and sang.

      From this signification of the word prophesying, you may understand in what sense a woman is said to prophesy, chap. xi. 5 ; that is, to ‘sing psalms.’ For what is there said by the apostle, “A man praying or prophesying,” and “a woman praying or prophesying,” is explained in this chapter, when it is said, “I will pray,” and “I will sing.”

    • II. To prophesy is to ‘preach,’ or to ‘have a doctrine,’ as ver. 26. Hence the Chaldee almost always renders נָבִיא a prophet, by ספרא a scribe, or learned, or one that teacheth. When it is very ordinarily said of those that were endued with extraordinary gifts, that “they spake with tongues and prophesied.” Acts x. 46, it is said, that “they spake with tongues, and magnified God.” For they prophesied, it is said, ‘they magnified God :’ and that these two ways, either by praising God, or by preaching and declaring the wonderful things of God, Acts ii. 11.

    • To prophesy is to foretell and teach something from divine revelation ; which is expressed, ver. 26, by “hath a [pg. 263] revelation.” In those times there were some who, being inspired with a spirit of revelation, either foretold things to come, as Agabus did a famine, Acts xi. 28, and Paul’s bonds, Acts xxi. 10 : or revealed the mind of God to the church, concerning the doing or the not doing this or that thing ; as Acts xiii. 2, by the prophets of Antioch they separate Paul and Barnabas, &c.

    Ver. 5 : Θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις· I would that ye all spake with tongues. The words do not so much speak wishing, as directing ; as though he had said, “I restrain you not to prophesying alone, however I speak those things which are ver. 1–3 : but I will exhort that ye speak with tongues when it is convenient, but rather that ye prophesy.” He had said tongue in the singular number, ver. 2, 4, because he spake of a single man ; now he saith tongues, in the plural number, in the very same sense, but that he speaks of many speaking.

    Would the apostle therefore have this, or doth he persuade it? or doth he wish it, if so be it be a wish? “I would have you all speak in the church in the Punic, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Scythian, and other unknown tongues ?” Think seriously what end this could be. But if you understand it of the Hebrew, the end is plain.

    Ver. 15a : Τί οὖν ἐστι· What is it then? The apostle renders in Greek the phrase מהו most common in the schools. “Rabba asked Abai, בא עליה ונתארסה מהו “A man goes into to the woman when she is espoused ; what then ?”(12)a href=”http://he.wikisource.org/wiki/כתובות_לט_א”>Ketuvim 39a Or what is to be resolved in that case ? Again ; “The wife saith, I will suckle the infant : but the husband saith, Thou shalt not suckle him. The women hearken. But the husband saith, That she should suckle it ; the wife saith, not. מהו What is to be done?”(13)Ketuvim 61a “One goes in the street and finds a purse” מהו What is to be done with it?(14)Bava Mezia 24b Behold, it becomes his. But an Israelite comes and gives some signs of it : מהו, τί ἐστι What is then to be resolved on ? ילמדנו רבינו ”Let our master teach us, כהן בעל מום מהו שישא את כפיו A priest that hath a blemish, τί ἐστι; What is it that he lift up his [Pg. 264] hands”(15)Yebamoth 25a to bless the people ? that is, what is to be resolved concerning him ? whether he should lift up his hands or no ? And the determination of the question follows everywhere.

    To the same sense the apostle in this place, τί οὖν ἐστι ; what therefore is to be done in this case, about the use of an unknown tongue? He determines, “I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding.”

    So ver. 26 : Τί ἐστιν, ἀδελφοί ; What is it, brethren ? that is, ‘What is to be done in this case, when every one hath a psalm, hat a doctrine,’ &c. He determines, “Let all things be done to edification.”

    Προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, &c. I will pray with the Spirit, &c. That is, in the demonstration of the gifts of the Spirit ; and, ‘I will pray with the understanding,’ that is, that I be understood by others.

    Ver. 16 : Ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου· He that occupieth the room of the unlearned. הדיוט hidiot, a word very unusual among the Rabbins. ר’ מ’ היה דורש לשון הדיוט “R. Meir explained [or determined] in the private tongue.(16)Bava Mezia 104a So also R. Judah. And Hillel the old. And R. Jochanan Ben Korchah,” &c. The Gloss is ; “Private men were wont to write otherwise than according to the rule of the wise men.” There חכם and הדיוט a wise man, and ἰδιώτης, are opposed, So כהנים הדיוטות private priests, are opposed to the priests of a worthier order : and which we have observed before הדיוטות ἰδιῶται, private men, are opposed to דיינין judges.

    In I Sam. xviii. 23, אִישׁ-רָשׁ וְנִקְלֶה a poor and contemptible man, in the Targumist is גבר מסכן והדיוט a poor and private (hidiot) man.

    According to the acceptation of the word ἰδιώτης among the Jews, the apostle seems in this place to distinguish the members of the church from the ministers, —private persons from public. So in those various companies celebrating the paschal service there was one that blessed, recited, distributed, and was as it were the public minister for that time and occasion, and all the rest were ἰδιῶται, private persons. So also in the synagogues, ‘the angel of the church’ performed the public ministry, and the rest were as private men. There [Pg. 265] were indeed persons among them who were not in truth private men, but judges and magistrates, and learned men ; but as to that present action, ἀνεπλήρουν τὸν τόπον (which you must not understand of sitting in lower seats, but of their present capacity), they supply the place, or sustain the condition of private persons, as to the present action, as men contradistinct from the public minister. Ἰδιώτης indeed occurs for a common or unlearned man ver. 23, which yet hinders not at all but that in this place it may be taken in the sense mentioned.

    Πῶς ἐρεῖ τὸ ἀμὴν, &c. How shall he say, Amen, &c. It was the part of one to pray, or give thanks, –of all to answer, Amen. “They answer Amen after an Israelite blessing, not after a Cuthite,”(17)Berakoth cap. 8 hal. 8 &c. But “they answered not אמן יתומה the orphan Amen ולא אמן חטופה nor the snatched Amen,”(18)Yerushalmi Berakoth 12.3 &c.

    The orphan Amen was then Amen was said, and he that spake weighed not, or knew not why or to what he so answered. To the same sense is מזמורא יתומה an orphan psalm ;(19)Avodah Zarah 24b that is, a psalm to which neither the name of the author is inscribed, nor the occasion of the composure. יתמא among the Talmudists is sometimes a fool, or unlearned. Let it be so, if you please, in this phrase. Such is the Amen foolishly to a thing not understood.

    Ver. 21 : Ἐν τῷ νόμῳ γέγραπται· In the law it is written. In the law, that is, in the Scripture : in opposition to דבריהם the words of the scribes. For that distinction was very usual in the schools. זה מתורה this we learn out of the law, זה מדבריהם, and this from the words of the scribes. דברי תורה אין צריכין חיזוק The words of the law, [that is, of the Scripture] have no need of confirmation. דברי סופרים צריכין חיזוק but the words of the scribes have need of confirmation.(20)Tosephot in Yevamoth cap. I

    The Former Prophets, and the Latter, and the [Pg. 266] hagiographa are each styled by the name of the law ; so that there is no need of further illustration. “Whence is the resurrection of the dead proved out of the law ? From these words, אָז יִבְנֶ, Josh. viii. 30. בָנָה לא נאמר It is not said, Then he ‘built’ [in the preterperfect tense], but יִבְנֶה he shall build [in the future tense], מכאן לתחיית המתים מן התורה Hence the resurrection of the dead is proved out of the law.”(21)Bavli Sanhedrin 91b

    Whence is the resurrection of the dead proved out of the law ? From thence that it is said, ‘Blessed are they that dwell in thine house ; עוֹד יְהַלְּלוּךָ they shall always praise thee,’ Psalm lxxxiv. 4. יְהַלְּלוּךָ לא נאמר It is not said, They do praise thee, but יְהַלְּלוּךָ They shall praise thee.Hence the resurrection of the dead is proved out of the law.

    “Whence is the resurrection of the dead proved out of the law ? From thence that it is said, ‘Thy watchmen shall lift up their voice. קוֹל יַחְדָיו יְרַנֵּנוּ They shall sing with their voice together,’ Isa. lii. 8. רִינּנוּ לא נאמר It is not said, They sing, but יְרַנֵּנוּ They shall sing. Hence the resurrection of the dead is proved out of the law.”

    Behold the Former Prophets called by the name of the Law : among which is the book of Joshua ; and the Latter Prophets, among which is the book of Isaiah ; and the Hagiographa, among which is the book of Psalms.

    Ver. 26. Ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ψαλμὸν ἔχει· Every one of you hath a psalm. That is, “When ye come together into one place, one is for having the time and worship spent chiefly in singing of psalms, another a tongue, another preaching,” &c.

    Ver. 27 : Κατὰ δύο ἤ τὸ πλεῖστον τρεῖς· By two, or at the most by three. The apostle permits the use of an unknown tongue, as you see ; and I ask again, of what tongue ? Let that be observed which he hath saith, ver. 22 ; “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” And unless you prove there were in the church such as believed not, which it implies, I would scarcely believe he permitted the use of unknown tongues under any such notion ; especially when he had said immediately before, “Let all [Pg. 267] things be done to edification.” But suppose that which we suppose of the Hebrew language, and the thing will suit well.

    This our most holy apostle saith of himself, chap. ix. 20, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews ;” which seems here to be done by him : but neither here nor any where else unless for edification, and that he might gain them. They would not be weaned from the old custom of the synagogue as to the use of the Hebrew tongue in their worship, and for the present he indulges them their fancy ; and this not vainly, since by the use of that tongue the hearers might be edified, a faithful interpreter standing by ; which in other languages could not be done any thing more than if all were uttered in the Corinthian language.

    ”If any speak in a tongue, let it be by two,” &c. Let one read the Scripture in the Hebrew language, let another pray, let a third preach. For according to these kinds of divine worship you will best divide the persons, that all may not do the same thing.

    Ver. 29 : Προφῆται δὲ δύο ἤ τρεῖς λαλείτωσαν Let the prophets speak two or three. Let one sing, who ‘hath a psalm ;’ let another teach, who ‘hath a doctrine ;’ and if a third hath ‘exhortation or comfort,’ as ver. 3, let him also utter it.

    Ver. 30 : Ἐὰν δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀποκαλυφθῄ καθημένῳ· If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by. That is very frequently said of the Jewish doctors, היה יושב He sat : which means not so much this barely, he was sitting, as he taught out of the seat of the teacher, or he sat teaching, or ready to teach. So that indeed he sat and he taught are all one. Examples among the Talmudists are infinite. In the same sense the apostle : “If something be revealed to some minister who hath a seat among those that teach, &c., not revealed in that very instant ; but if he saith, that he hath received some revelation from God, then ὁ πρῶτος σιγάτω, let the first be silent ; let him be silent that ‘hath a psalm,’ and give way to him.”

    Ver. 35 : Αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστι γυναιξὶν ἐν ἐκκλησιᾳ λαλεῖν· For it is a shame for women to speak in the church. Compare that : “The Rabbins deliver, הכל עולין למניין שבעה [Pg. 268] Every one is reckoned within the number of seven” [of those that read the law in the synagogues on the sabbath day].(22)Megilla 23a ואפילו קטון ואפילו אישה “even a child, even a woman. But the wise men say, ‘Let not a woman read in the law,’ מפני כבוד ציבור for the honour of the synagogue.” Note that : it was a disgrace to the church if a woman read in it ; which was allowed even to a child, even to a servant : much more if she usurped any part of the ministerial office. It was also usual for one or the other sitting by to ask the teacher of this or that point : but this also the apostle forbids women and that for this reason, “Because it was not allowed women to speak, but let them be subject to their husbands,” ver. 24. It was allowed them to answer Amen with others, and to sing with the church ; but to speak any thing by themselves, it was forbidden them.

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    References   [ + ]

Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis

The Epiphanius text on the tongues problem in the first century Corinthian Church.

This fourth century or later writing is one of the most important texts in trying to rebuild a historical model for explaining the tongues problem at Corinth.

The text is customarily credited to Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in the fourth century. This text may have been heavily edited, redacted and even added over the centuries since its original release. We are not sure whether it is a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-century opinion. Even with this problem of textual criticism and dating, the work still reflects an ancient one.

However, the nature of Epiphanius assertion that there was a direct Jewish correlation to the problem tongues of Corinth suggests that this was part of the original text. Later editors or writers would not have added such a connection.

The Epiphanius text on the Corinthian conflict.

Here is the central part of the text found in Epiphanius’ Panarion Book I, Section III, Heresy 42 starting at Scholion XIII and XXI:

. . . Therefore languages are from a grace of the Spirit. Of what kind does the Apostle speak? He knew how not only the different Hebrew sounds, and manifold expressions in every single word with skills adorned with eloquence, but also the proud language of the Greeks; some who boast the ability to speak Attic, Aeolic, and being able to utter the language of the Dorics, of whom had caused the disturbances, and factions within the Corinthians, to which the Epistle was dispatched. . . . And he confessed the gift which is having the ability to proclaim [the oracles] with the Hebrew words and also teaching the Law to be a spiritual endowment. And he agreed that it is a spiritual grace to proclaim and to teach the Law in the Hebrew words.

The complete English text can be found here: The Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth in English, or, the translation completed by Frank Williams .

What did Epiphanius mean by this?

The Epiphanius text states two things about the Corinthian conflict: it was a clash between different Greek ethnic groups and the Hebrew language had some type of role in the Corinthian assembly. There was no reference to an out-of-this-world mystical experience, or something supernatural.

Hebrew, Greek, teaching the Law — these indicators combined suggest it to be a liturgical or didactic problem within the Corinthian gathering. This necessitates to find more information on early Church liturgy for answers.

The answer to the Corinthian tongues conflict may be found in understanding the contemporary Jewish structure during that time and how much the early Christian Church in Corinth adopted this custom. There are two ways to understand the background to this Epiphanius passage from the historical records:

  • It was the reading of the Law in Hebrew and an interpreter(s) translating it into the local vernacular that caused the problem. Jewish tradition had a specific liturgy concerning Jews worshiping together outside of Israel; the Law was to be read in Hebrew and an interpreter was to stand beside the reader and translate it into the local tongue. It could be inferred, though not conclusively from this, that the Corinthian Church had adopted this form of Jewish liturgy but ran into problems concerning which Greek language the interpreter was to use.

    This may be stretching the text more than what the writer intended and such a relationship cannot be concretely established.

  • Or, it could be that Hebrew was the language of instruction and religious devotion within the earliest Corinthian assembly. This tradition was continued from the Jewish synagogue. Those masters who were instructing/lecturing on the principles of the Christian faith did so in Hebrew, while an interpreter was required to translate it into the local vernacular. The conflict was in which Greek vernacular was most suited for the Corinthian congregation.

    This may be a more acceptable interpretation.

The Epiphanius’ text is a base element for a series of articles intending to prove either one of these hypotheses. The goal of this series is trace the role of the reader, speaker, and interpreter starting from the rites found in the Jewish diaspora, specifically Corinth, to its transition into Church office, if there is such a relationship, and mapping this evolving rite until the thirteenth century.

The text itself is one of the clearest and logical found so far written by a Church Father. However, this work, along with Jewish writings on public reading, are four centuries removed from the actual Corinthian tongues saga. It could be a later interpretation. This problem needs to be addressed.

Why has this text never been popular in describing the Corinthian tongues debate?

It is a mystery why this passage has never come up in any critical discussions on the problems tongues of Corinth. Frank Williams’ work, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35)(1)Martin Krause ed. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35). Translated by Frank Williams. New York: EJ Brill. 1987. Pg. 234ff or see it online, The Panarion of Epiphanius Scholion 13 and 21 contains an already available English translation, though he, nor anyone else makes no correlation to I Corinthians in the translation of the text found at the header scholion 13 and 21.

The only critical look into the position of Epiphanius on the gift of tongues is the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. The writing would lead the person to believe that Epiphanius wrote it to be an ecstatic utterance relative to the Montanist movement.(2)The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Samuel Macauley Jackson ed. Volume 11. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. The Tongues entry written by PKE Feine. Pg. 37. The Montanist correlation that was made from the Panarion XLVIII:4 is a weak one(3)The author, PKE Feine, quoted Epiphanius in Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses XLVIII:4) to support his view on Montanism. This text is in the process of being translated and will be posted later. and the writer, PKE Feine, ignored this Corinthian tongues passage altogether.

Epiphanius was attacking a person named Marcion for allegedly altering the text in I Corinthians 14:19 to suit his own needs. It is known that Marcion was the son of a Bishop, and perhaps was a Bishop himself, but at some point there was a clear break between himself and the institutional Church.

A translation problem with the key text.

The Epiphanius author(s) defined Marcion a heretic because Marcion had revised the I Corinthians 14:19 text. There is some confusion as to how Marcion revised it. There are two alternative Greek texts that give slightly different nuances:

The source-text Greek edition translated into English reads:

“Marcion mistakenly added: “according to the Law,” with, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”.(4) Πεπλανημένως ὁ Μαρκίων [μετὰ τὸ] «ἀλλὰ ἐν Ὲκκλησιᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι», προσέθετο «διὰ τὸν νὸμον». The English Bible translation is taken from I Corinthians 14:19 KJV

This would render I Corinthians 14:19 to read, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind according to the Law.”

This version fits nicely in with Epiphanius’ argument that Marcion is adding to the Bible and creating a heretical version. The Epiphanius text shortly afterwards uses this as a springboard to call Marcion many harsh names.

Whereas an alternative Greek text has:

“Marcion mistakes:“But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”, on the other hand differently “according to the Law.”(5) Πεπλανημένως ὁ Μαρκίων· Ἀλλὰ ἐν Ὲκκλησιᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι· ἑτέρως δὲ διὰ τὸν νὸμον.. Migne Patrologia Graeca, Volume 41, Column 791

This would render I Corinthians 14:19 to alternatively be read as, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church according to the Law.”

The fourth century and later Ambrosiaster text would agree more with the second argument:

“But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the Law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

The Ambrosiaster text demonstrates that there was some type of tradition connecting I Corinthians 14:19 with the Jewish Law. How widespread this tradition was throughout Christendom in the early centuries is not known.

There is a third potential problem and that has to do with the similarity in the Greek between the word mind — νόος and Law — νόμος. They are very close in spelling with only a one letter difference. It could potentially be easy for a manuscript writer to confuse these and cause a transmission error. This may be a remote problem because the Greek grammar in this situation has them distinguished by case. Mind is in the dative case – νοΐ and Law is in the accusative — νὸμον. It would be hard to get them mixed up. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a play on words was happening here.

The writer(s) went on a tirade against Marcion and slandered him with homophobic references against having made such a change. However, the author(s) failed to realize that this change is not unique to Marcion and was present in some legitimate Christian communities as noted in the Ambrosiaster text above.

The text indicates that there was no certain correlation between the tongues of Pentecost and that of Corinth. They were two separate entities.■

For further reading see:

References   [ + ]

The Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth in English

A translation of the text attributed to the fourth century Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, regarding the problem tongues of Corinth. As translated from the Greek with assistance from a later Latin text:

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Schol. 13 and 21. Marcion mistakenly added: “according to the Law,” with, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”.

Refut. 13 and 21. Therefore languages are from a grace of the Spirit. Of what kind does the Apostle speak? He knew how not only the different Hebrew sounds, and manifold expressions in every single word with skills adorned with eloquence, but also the proud language of the Greeks; some who boast the ability to speak Attic, Aeolic, and being able to utter the language of the Dorics, of whom had caused the disturbances, and factions within the Corinthians, to which the Epistle was dispatched.

And he agreed that it is a spiritual grace to proclaim and to teach the Law in the Hebrew words.

Not only this but he had in this instance put those others of the boastful language of the Greeks into their place. He said that he speaks more languages than them, because he distinctly was a Hebrew of Hebrews, having been educated himself at the feet of Gamaliel, of which he was placing the writings of the Hebrews in praises, and shows being favors of the gifts of the Spirit. On which account he writes these things to Timothy, he was saying, that “you have learned from youth the sacred Scriptures”.(1)II Timothy 3:15 And indeed expands (from here), he was likewise affirming the equivalent things to those undertaken by the Greek poets and rhetorics, saying, “I speak in tongues more than you all”(2)I Corinthians 14:18 in order that it would show him to have been endowed with superior experience than the education of the Greek establishment. And indeed his style points him out to be imbued in education(3)προπαιδείᾳ, that while preaching the Gospel to the Athenians with wisdom, not even the Epicureans and the Stoics were able to match. These ones being refuted on account of the eloquence by him, in regards to the altar’s writing which contained a reading entitled, “to the unknown God,” when having been clearly read by him and immediately a clarification had been specified, “ What you worship without knowing, I announce this to you.”(4)Acts 17:23 and (refuted them) again, the following declaration, “A certain prophet of their own said:”

“Cretans always lie, wicked beasts, slothful bellies.”(5)Titus 1:12

In order that he should point out Epimenides who being the ancient philosopher, and founder of the idol in Crete from whom also Callimachus the Libyan who conveyed witness to this himself, concerning the falsehood about Jove saying:

“Cretans always lie. And the grave, O great King, the Cretans have built for you. But you do not die. You are everlasting.”

Now you see how the holy Apostle relates through the agency of languages. “But I wish five words in the Church with my mind,” That is to say with interpretation “to declare.” Just as the prophet brings to the light those things that have been supplied to the mind in the Holy Spirit, it benefits those listening through the office of prophecy. Thus it says, I wish to speak for the hearing and encouragement of the Church, not having acted as a guru that is building oneself up through an arrogance of Greek and indeed Hebrew, and consequently not the Church with respect to a language in which it understands.

For you, O Marcion, have added this: “according to the Law,” as though it is the Apostle writing: “I wish five words in the Church according to the Law.” Be ashamed, a second Babylon and a new confusion of Sodom. How long are you going to confound the languages? How long will you continue to contend against those who are harmed nothing by you? For you seek to subjugate angelic powers, throwing the words of truth from the Church out, saying to holy Lot, “Bring out the men.”(6)Genesis 19:5 As a result the thing which you endeavour, you endeavour against yourself. You will not toss away the words of truth, but will impose yourself into blindness, and you tarry in the darkest(7) ἐζοφωμένῃ Latin has: densissima. night, groping for the door, and not finding until the sun is to be brought up and you are to see the day of judgement, in which the fire is to meet with your falsehood. As you see, this is expected for you. For it is not ordained by the Apostle “According to the Law,” but this is added by you. Because if the Apostle said, “According to the Law,” he was to speak agreeably with his Lord, He did not come in order to abolish the Law, but that he should fulfill.(8)Matthew 5:17

Schol. 14 and 22. It was written in the Law, “In foreign tongues and lips I will speak to this people.”(9)Isaiah 28:11

Refut. 14 and 22. If the Lord did not fulfill what had been foretold in the Law, what use was the Apostle recalling those things are being fulfilled from the Law in the New Covenant? In which way the Saviour also showed, that he was (the embodiment of) this himself, and spoken in the Law at that time, and outlined by a threat, saying to them, “On which account I am offended with this generation,” and he said, “they always err in the heart.” And, “I have sworn, if they will enter into my rest.”(10)Psalms 95:10, this is reduced from the typical Septuagint: ὡς ὤμοσα ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ μου as I swore in my wrath Therefore he declared the intention to speak in foreign languages to them, as he also has spoken. They (the people) never came. For this matter is found speaking to his disciples: “To you it has been given the mysteries of the kingdom.”(11)Matthew 13:11 “For [I speak] to these ones in parables that while seeing, they do not see,” etc.(12)Matthew 13:13 And so everywhere in the New Covenant has been fulfilled from the Old, it is in all clearness, not another God and a different one [for each covenant] but the two Covenants are combined together of the same one.

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References   [ + ]

The Latin Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth

The Epiphanius text on the problem tongues of Corinth in the Latin.

The following copy was produced around 1543 by Janus Cornarius — a person who was extremely gifted in this field and very well trusted for a consistent and accurate translation.

Why digitize a Latin translation that is over a thousand years removed from the Greek original? The Latin has value in three ways: assistance in understanding a Greek word or phrase not readily found in Greek dictionaries or grammars, an accuracy checker for anyone doing an English translation of this text, and to see if the Latin translator had a different interpretation himself than what the Greek actually meant. It gives an idea if a doctrine had changed over time.

The Greek original can be found at The Greek Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Below is the Latin copy found in Migne Patrologia Graeca, Volume 41, Columns 791-795.
Adversus Hæreses Lib. I. Tom. III – Hæres. XLII
. Franciscus Oehler’s edition , Corporis Haereseologici. Tomus Secundus. Continens S. Epiphanii Episcopi Constantiensis. Panariorum, was frequently consulted for accuracy.(1)Corporis Haereseologici. Tomus Secundus. Continens S. Epiphanii Episcopi Constantiensis. Panariorum. Franciscus Oehler, ed. Berolini: A. Asher et Socios. 1859. Pg. 659ff :

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Schol. 13 et 21. Perperam ista concepit: Sed in ecclesia volo quinque verba sensu meo loqui: aliter enim scripsit, et ob legem, adjecit.

Refut. 13 et 21. Linguæ igitur a spiritus sancti gratia derivantur. Ejusmodi porro, de quibus apostolus loquitur, linguæ sunt, ut non Hebraicas modo voces comprehendant, quae in singularis vocabulis præclarem quandam ac sapientem varietatem exhibent, sed et alia quoque idiomatum discrimina, quae nonnulli Graecæ linguæ periti, cui insitus quidam fastus ac vanitas est, gloriose jactabant, qualis est Attica, Æolica, ac Dorica proprietas, quarum freti scientia nonnulli turbas illas Corinthi ac seditiones excitarant, ad quos ideo hanc apostolus epistolam dedit. In qua primum singularis cujusdam esse beneficii docet Hebraicis uti vocabulis posse ac legem docere. Deinde ut Graeci sermonis tumorem arrogantiamque comprimeret, sese linguarum illorum usu instructiorem illis ipsis esse monuit, quod Hebræus ab Hebræis esset oriundus, et ad pedes Gamalielis institutus. Ita Hebraicæ linguæ scientiam in laude posuit, et inter spiritus sancti beneficia numeravit. Unde et ad Timotheum de iisdem scribens, Tu, inquit, ab adolescentia sacras Litteras didicisti. Quod vero ad illam eruditionem politiores quoque Graecorum litteras, hoc est poëticas ac rhetoricas, adjecerit, iisce verbis expressit : Abundantius vobis omnibus linguis loquor, uti se Græcarum disciplinarum excellentiori quodam usu præditum esse monstraret. Nam et scribendi genus ipsum quo utitur, humanitatis illum studiis haud mediocriter imbutum fuisse declarat, ut ne Epicurei quidem ipsi Stoicive possent resistere ; quos omnes cum aræ illius inscriptionem ejusmodi, Ignoto Deo, erudite legisset, summa cum eloquentia artificioseque refutavit, id ipsumque ita declaravit : Quem ignorantes colitis, hunc annuntio vobis. Item illud alio loco dixit, Dixit quidam proprius illorum propheta.

Cretenses semper mendaces, malæ bestiæ, ventres pigri.

Epimenidem veterem philosophum intelligens, Mithræ cujusdam apud Cretenses idoli sacerdotem. De quo et Callimachus Libycus poeta idem testimonium falso ad institutum suum transtulit, cum ita de Jove cecinit :

Creta quidem assidue mendax. Rex magne, sepulcrum

Creta tuum exstruxit, sed te mores nulla subegit.

Vides quorsum ille de linguis Apostoli sermo pertineat : Volo quinque verba in Ecclesia sensu meo, hoc est cum interpretatione, loqui. Quemadmodum propheta quæ sibi sancti Spiritus afflatu in animum immissa fuerint in medium proferens, auditoribus suis per prophetiam illam affert utilitatem, ita ego, inquit, loqui sic cupio, ut me Ecclesia omnis audiat, et ædificari possit, non ut Græce aut Hebraicæ linguæ scientia elatus me unum, qui eam scilicet intelligam, non Ecclesiam ipsam, ædificem. Tu vero illud addidisti, Marcio, ob legem, quasi ita scripserit Apostolus : Volo quinque verba in Ecclesia propter legem. Pudeat te, secunda Babylon, ac Sodomorum nova confusio. Quousque linguas istas confundes ? Quousque contra eos quibus nocere nihil potes tuam armabis audaciam ? Nam angelis vim moliris afferre, et ab Ecclesia veritatis sermones abjudicas, quasi ita sanctum Lot alloquare : Educ viros illos. Verum tuus in te conatus recidet ; nec ideo veritatis illos sermones ejicis, sed tibimetipsi cæcitatem infligis, atque in densissima noctis caligine versaris, fores palpans, nec inveniens, donec sol ortus fuerit, tuque judicii diem aspicias, in quo mendaciis tuis vindex ignis occurrat. Nam hic te, uti vides, exspectat. Cæterum apud Apostolum non legitur, propter legem ; sed illud a te perperam est adjectum. Quod si istud addidisset, consentaneum ei foret, quod ab ejus Domino fuerat dictum : Non venisse se ut legem solveret, sed ut adimpleret.

Schol. 14 et 22. In lege scriptum est : Quoniam in aliis linguis et labiis aliis loquar populo huic.

Refut. 14 et 22. Nisi illa quæ in lege prædicta fuerant Dominus implesset, quid attinebat Apostolum ea commemorare, quæ ex lege veteri fuerant in Novo Testamento perfecta ? Quemadmodum et Salvator ipse demonstrat, eumdem se esse, qui tum in lege locutus est, in hunc modum interminatus : Ideo offensus fui generationi huic, et dixi, Semper hi errant corde ; et : Juravi si introibunt in requiem meam. Propterea in aliis linguis locuturum se esse denuntiavit, ut et locutus est ; nec ingressi illi sunt. Hujusmodi enim quiddam discipulis suis dixisse legitur : Vobis datum est nosse mysteria regni dei ; illus autem in parabolis, ut videntes non videant, etc. Cum itaque in Novo Testamento ea ubique sint impleta, quæ in Vetere continebantur, dubitare nemo potest, quin ejusdem ambo Testamenta Dei sint, non alterius ac diversi.

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