Tag Archives: Paul

The Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus, and Paul

Capturing the spirit of first-century Judaism through the window of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament writings.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give an important look into first-century Jewish life from a mainly Jewish-Hebrew perspective; a genre lacking until their advent. Most of our extra-biblical knowledge of Israel during the first-century was previously drawn from Jewish Greek and Aramaic writers.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of manuscripts generally published from 200 BC to 100 AD.1 The majority were found in caves around the Dead Sea and the West Bank region.

The manuscripts were originally the property of a community previously called the Qumran community but today goes by the title of Yaḥad (literally it means together, oneness, or more generally, unity). There is debate over whether this a correct term, or whether Qumran would be a better fit. Yaḥad is used here simply because it has a more common usage in modern Dead Sea Scroll discussions and its uniqueness to the English language denotes a foreign, mysterious entity that has yet to be completely unravelled—a case that exists for these people.

It is unknown how widespread this movement was. Perhaps it had satellite communities from Damascus, Syria, all the way to Alexandria, Egypt. Maybe there was only one group in Qumran, or they were ideologically similar groups with loose connections between each other. Since they are not noted by the New Testament texts or the Talmud, they were likely a small movement with little political, social, or religious influence on the greater Jewish community. Their importance rests in the fact they are one of the few bodies from the first-century to leave behind any written evidence.

As one reads the entire collation of Dead Sea Scroll texts as found in the book, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition,2 a picture emerges of the Yaḥad as an extremist group—perhaps even ascetic. This is a community of people gathered together trying to go back 1200 years to the times of Moses and recreate a similar environment.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition is an excellent resource.

A little history of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The collection of writings called the Dead Sea Scrolls is large and diverse. The assemblage contains bible texts, hymns, psalms (biblical ones and new ones created by them), apocryphal literature, and rules for community life. They were written mostly in Hebrew, fewer in Aramaic, and lesser in Greek, Latin, and Nabatean. The community life texts contain small snippets about who they were, their liturgy and religious devotion.

The texts referring to the Yaḥad community way of life and religion are the ones looked at here.

Whether the communities were as old as the manuscripts themselves or only a brief generational thing, I don’t know.

Due to Rome’s military occupation and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and Masada by Vespasian and Titus in 70 AD, the Yaḥad communities put their scrolls in caves for safekeeping. This was a good idea because their communities were physically located in the same region as Masada.

The high mountain fortress of Masada, originally built by Herod the Great as an escape option against the powerful and scheming Egyptian leader, Cleopatra, and to a lesser degree, any possible Jewish revolt, was a last major place of resistance against Rome.3 And if you read Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, the ending went badly for the resistance fighters. After the Romans had breached the wall and entered, they found carcasses strewn about. The results of a mass suicide.

An aerial view of present day Masada

Due to the severity of the war, and Rome’s desire to vanquish the conquered foes through death, slavery, or exile, the people of the Yaḥad never reclaimed the scrolls. Even if this theory does not hold true, one can look 65 years later. The human memory of the cave scrolls was surely erased. The Emporer Hadrian’s virtual annihilation of the Jewish population after the Bar Kochba revolt guaranteed such a state.

One of the many caves that housed the collections of Dead Sea Scrolls

Luck was on our side that these manuscripts were put into these remote locations—a place with low humidity, few or no bugs, or animals. The caves are situated high—some are visible as a hole in the middle of a sheer cliff. They are hard to access and the inhospitably hot climate did not attract human activity around this area for over 1800 years.

All we know about the Yaḥad is by their own writings left behind in the caves. The texts of the New Testament, nor do the Talmud, directly refer to them.

Are Essenes or Therapeutae Greek terms for the Yaḥad movement?

Were they the Essenes described by Josephus?4 Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. He was part of the revolt against Rome, captured, and initially made a slave. Aside from the New Testament writings, his works are the most detailed and complete about this era. Within his narratives he describes a curious sect called the Essenes. Lively debates exist over whether the Essenes are the Greek equivalent of the Yaḥad. Regardless, the parallels are very close.

Or were they the Therapeutae described by Philo of Alexandria?5 Philo was a Jewish philosopher and writer in the first-century who lived in Roman-controlled Egypt. There are matching practices between the Therapeutae and the Yaḥad but there is a problem. Philo may be guilty of trying too hard to ameliorate his narrow world-view Greek-reading audience with the Jewish world. If the Yaḥad is a related group, his coverage avoids the problems of their rigorous adherence to purification, social order, and isolationism in order to achieve his aims. Consequently, he puts them in a utopian light. I think the Therapeutae are the same group, but Philo’s overarching theme of defending Judaism against the backdrop of a powerful international Greek culture and influence thwarts a definitive connection.

The Teacher of Righteousness

The Teacher of Righteousness (מורה צדקה) is one of the most intriguing subjects found within the Dead Sea Scrolls and remains an unsolved mystery. There is not enough information to complete a picture of this person or narrative but its fun to try and make a guess. The Teacher of Righteousness is historically associated with the founding of the Yaḥad and its break from the Temple authority. This supposedly happened because of a serious conflict with a corrupt priest. Who exactly were the Teacher of Righteousness and his adversary, the corrupt priest? Nobody knows. Lawrence H. Schiffman, a leading scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls, has deeply considered this issue can only conclude that this event probably occurred during the early Hasmonean empire. Probably around 140 BC.6 One DSS text maintained it happened 390 years after falling to Nebuchadnezzar (Col. i (= 4Q266 2 i-ii; 4Q268 1)). This makes it around 197 BC and creates many difficulties.

What we do know is that this unnamed person was the leader of a schism from the Temple with a priestly class called the sons of Zadok. If one takes a Wikipedia page on the sons of Zadok at face value, they had both literal and allegorical meanings. It is hard to distinguish how it is used here.7 8

The followers of the Teachers of Righteousness felt that they were a faithful remnant while the Wicked Priest, who represented the greater Jewish community, had compromised and corrupted the faith.

One DSS text relates the Teacher of Righteousness as a present person.9 The present TOR may relate to the community receiving the passed-down teachings of the teacher, not the teacher himself. The TOR is found in one apocalyptic verse, where he is announced to precede the Messiah.10 Once again, I don’t think it is relating to a future appearance of the TOR but that the establishment of his teachings and practices are a necessary prerequisite to hasten the Messiah’s arrival.

However, these are not as strong a position as the historical figure.

Whether true history, allegory, a self-patronizing myth created by the Yaḥad to give them status, or as some propose, a proto-Christ, will probably never fully be demystified.

A hyper identity sect

The Yaḥad hardly wanted anything to do with the gentile world or the benefits their economies offered. Their idea of purification was radical and protecting the Jewish image from any improper contact with a greater gentile world was an important part of their narrative.

No-one should sell clean animals or birds, to the gentiles lest they sacrifice them. . . . And he should not sell them anything from his granary or his press, at any price.11

They viewed themselves as morally and religiously superior to the rest of the world:

. . . honour him by this: by consecrating yourself to him, in accordance to the fact that he has placed you as a holy of holies [over all] the earth, and among all the [g]o[ds] he has cast your lot.12

Paul too, in his expanding the Jewish faith to a gentile world, was a serious threat to this type of thinking. Their doctrine of racial and religious purity would have immediately judged him as a traitor. This indeed did happen. The Book of Acts recalls Paul being accosted in the Temple for allegedly allowing gentiles in the Temple and a throng of people immediately attempted to beat him to death. Without the intervention of Roman soldiers he probably would have died. Paul later testified that he did not bring in any gentile or violate the Temple. If such purity views were common in the lands of Judah, or even by a vocal, vigilant, and aggressive minority such as the Yaḥad, it is not surprising that Paul needed a Roman escort out of Jerusalem.13

The language of the Yaḥad

A superficial look presents an absence of Greek or Latin loanwords in their texts. They had some Aramaic but not much. This linguistic purity appears very unusual to me.

The Yaḥad and the Temple

There is a premise that the Yaḥad had dismissed the Temple as being too corrupt and had replaced it with their own set of practices. However, I cannot find satisfactory evidence in the writings to prove such a point. There is no statement that outrightly calls for the abandonment of the Temple.

Rather there is some evidence that the Temple is central to their belief system. It is exemplified by the fact that members covenant not to have any sexual activity in the holy city of Jerusalem in respect to its holiness.14 On the other hand, there is a conflict. The Temple Scroll is very similar in wording to the Damascus Document about Temple observance but it is futuristic. Whereas the Damascus Document seems to press for present observance of the Temple, the Temple Scroll writer(s) pushes for a future state. They see themselves preparing for a restorative Judaism that includes a new Temple that is totally pure. The Temple Scroll outlines plans on a new Temple building and how patrons should enter and behave while in the holy city. These similarities make it hard to distinguish whether the Yaḥad were obligated to perform such ascetic rights now or only in the future.

I would suspect that their restorative idea of Judaism and emphatic emphasis on purification in order to bring along the end-times would lead to them being very strict in their conduct of the Herodian Temple and the holy city.

The Damascus Document implies a present rule of conduct with the Temple, while the Temple Scroll emphasizes a future requirement when the Temple is cleansed and rebuilt.

Leadership structure of the Yaḥad

The Yaḥad were rigorous about rank and order. The Inspector of the Many (המבקר הרבים or המקבר היחד) was the top of the order. He was a combination of a mayor, lawyer, philanthropist, and judge. He gave the final interpretation of any matters relating to Judaic Law. This position required the man to be 30 to 50 years of age and multilingual;15 he was responsible for dealing in matters with outside authorities.

Admission to the congregational assembly meetings was restricted to those who were in good health. Those with any skin disorder, age-related walking problems, blind, deaf, etc., were not permitted to sit with the men of renown.16

This community did share all things in common—but that is if you are a qualified member. Any violation of the community covenant could lead to minor or severe penalties.17 Speaking out of order, falling asleep, or even giggling inappropriately could lead to punishments. Acts of disrespect were especially frowned upon.18Also, some food items were defined with a higher sense of purity and privilege. Some qualified for this type of food while others did not.

There is much more about the leadership structure that can be drawn from these texts. For a more thorough look, see Geza Vermes’, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English; especially under the header, Qumran and the New Testament. Pg. 44ff.19 Dr. Vermes was one the earlier scholars to study the Dead Sea Scrolls and his publications on the subject became the standard for many years. I would like to provide one insight that goes along with the flow of thought here—the absolute authority of the Inspector:

But an additional task of the mebaqqer [Inspector] in the towns was to ensure that no friendly contact occurred between his congregation and anyone outside the sect. Whatever exchanges took place had to be paid for; and even these transactions were to be subject to his consent.20

The Yaḥad and miracles

One the key characteristics of the New Testament Gospels and the earlier part of the Book of Acts are the appeals to miracles.

However, it is surprising there is very little reference to mysticism or miracles in the Yaḥad community. There are a few notes about demons but they are not preoccupied by it. Purification by far is their greatest ambition.

The Yaḥad writings and Jesus

In reference to the New Testament texts, there are similarities in thought. This is not surprising because the texts come from the same era. They both draw from the same spirit of the age. Generally speaking, the Judaism presented in the New Testament texts is far more welcoming to the non-Jew, tolerant, and comprehensive, than the rule of life ordered by those communities living in the Judean desert. These desert dwellers lived in a very insulated world.

One has to be careful with such a generality. John the Baptist falls into the description of a Qumran member.

Jesus was likely aware of them and conflicted with their rigorous view of the Sabbath. His assertion that it was OK to violate the Sabbath in order to rescue an animal or son trapped in a watery place on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5) contradicted the Yaḥad. They had a rule that if a person is trapped in a watery place on the Sabbath, he cannot be retrieved by any device. The use of any device such as a rope or ladder would violate the rules of the Sabbath. The rescue must manually occur by the extension of the hands21 and/or the use of personal garments worn by the person.22 Otherwise, the person was left to die. A hand extension or assistance for any animal found in a watery place on the Sabbath was forbidden. The animal was left to die. Jesus contradicted this practice as too extreme. It went beyond the intent of the Law.

It may seem crass for readers today, but the idea of falling into a well was an important discussion during this period. Later Rabbinic leaders went over this problem in great detail.23

Also the beatitudes that Jesus gave which contained the formula blessed are the…24 is also contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls.25 They are not parallel texts. They just contain the same formulaic beginning. However, I would strongly caution against Jesus borrowing from the Qumran community on this. They both borrowed from the spirit of the times.

The Yaḥad shares the same apocalyptic doctrine as the New Testament on the lineage of the Messiah. They also shared that he would come from the tribe of Judah:

Until the messiah of righteousness comes, the branch of David. For to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of the kingship of his people for everlasting generations. . .26

But then contradicts itself in another place where the Messiah comes from the Aaronic line.27

Conclusion

Although the Yaḥad have many differences from the themes and message of the New Testament writings, there are similarities in writing style and influences. It is clear they are both developed from the same cultural milieu.

It was a great pleasure to read these texts and every Bible reader should add the English translations to their reading list.

There is much more information in these texts than I have mentioned. This is just the beginning.

Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

A look at the problem tongues of Corinth being an internal linguistic struggle between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This is part 2 of an 7 part series on the mystery tongues of Corinth. Part 1, The Role of Hebrew in the Jewish Aramaic World, covered how Hebrew became the language of religion and worship in Aramaic Judaism. The precedence about Hebrew established here transferred over to Jews living in a Greek world.

When you add that the ancient synagogue liturgy of Hebrew as the language of instruction was adopted in the Corinthian assembly, then we are getting close to finding a good answer to the question of Corinthian tongues.

This conclusion is greatly strengthened by a fourth-century church father by the name of Epiphanius. He did not stop at explaining the tongues of Corinth as being a problem of Hebrew instruction. He further commented it was a linguistic conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This article is an investigation into the ancient Greek world to see if these language conflicts were a problem.

This necessitates a critical journey into the ancient Greek world, Jewish Hellenism, Paul, and references from the New Testament to find answers.

Introduction

The Greek-Jewish faith is one of the biggest background stories to the New Testament writings and the fledgling Jewish Messianic movement—one that was later to entirely break off from its parent and be called Christianity.

If it was not for the dominant presence of the Greek language and culture in the Jesus narrative, the story of salvation would never have become an international phenomenon. The resurrection was timed perfectly for an explosive expansion for all mankind to hear.

Greek Judaism has a different story than the Aramaic one. One of the biggest differences is that the Aramaic Jews developed a wealth of literature for posterity, while the Greek Jews have left very little.

This lack of literature does not negate the influence of Greek culture and language on Jewish life because of an obvious overarching fact. The impact of the Greek language and culture on first-century Judaism and everyone else within the Meditteranean, North Africa, and the Middle-East regions is so great that it cannot be calculated.

It is no coincidence that the New Testament was written in Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic.

In fact, no other language or culture, except perhaps English, has had so great a universal impact.

Hellenistic Judaism was an influential group in the first century

Adolf von Harnack built a geographical portrait of Jewish populations in the Roman Empire. The results are found his excellent book, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity. Approximately 1 million Jews lived in Syria during the reign of Nero which comprised about 13% of the population. In Egypt, there were about a million Jews comprising about 7% of the population. 1.5 million Jews resided in Cyrene, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Rome, Gaul, Spain, etc. Surprisingly, Jerusalem and Palestine had a smaller footprint, 700,000. Harnack calculated about 7% of the Roman Empire was Jewish1

It is traditionally held that the Roman Empire around the first century was approximately 50 million.2 His calculation does roughly fit within this formula.

How Harnack acquired these statistics is not known. He concluded this over a century ago. New statistics have not been found that either prove or disprove his results. I have to rest on his high reputation alone. These statistics are subject to change if improved and substantiated information comes forward.

These findings do not include the Jewish population in the then Parthian empire which included Babylon.

Harnack outlined a framework where Jews living in Greek-dominated lands were far larger than those that lived in the Roman-ruled Middle-East. As a researcher, this statistic was startling, especially in light of the lack of Jewish-Greek literature available for this period. One would think with such a great mass of Jewish-Greeks living at that time there would be a broad representation of Jewish-Greek literature. Outside of the publications representing the New Testament, Philo, and Josephus, this is not the case.3 But then, there are hardly any pieces of Jewish-Aramaic literature available in the first century either. The production of Aramaic literature comes at a later time.

As noted above, the Jewish community that lived abroad, which is called the diaspora, was larger than the one that lived in Israel major. The population rival to the diaspora Greek-speaking Jews was the Aramaic ones who resided in Syria and in the Parthian empire. Those who principally spoke Aramaic or Hebrew were called Hebrews while those Jews whose lifestyle was heavily influenced by Greek culture and Greek converts were called Ἑλληνιστάς Hellenistas4

The New Testament letters make a distinction between the two but it is not an adversative relationship. There was no Greek Jewish institution separate from the Temple or a distinctiveness from the foundations of the Hebrew faith. Nor was there any Jewish-Greek nationalist movement or hierarchical leadership structure. The small reference to the Hellenizers portray a group striving to maintain the Hebrew faith while living in a Greek world.

The narrative of Pentecost in the Book of Acts did not recognize Jewish Hellenists as an institution or separate movement either. The geographic outlay of the Pentecost outburst did not rest on the Greek language or the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Rather, it outlined all the Jewish communities that existed from the Parthian Empire (starting from the western boundaries of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan) to the westerly reaches of the Mediterranean basin. The focus was on native languages and not Greek. The narrative suggests that Greek was not the mother-tongue of these peoples referred to in the Greek diaspora, but rather connected together by Greek as the international common tongue. Even Parthia, one of the greatest rivals to Rome, had recognized Greek as one of their official tongues. Greek was the glue that held everyone together throughout the Jewish world. This is similar to the position the English language holds in the world today.

The narrative of Pentecost showed that Jews of all the nations flocked to Jerusalem, and especially looked upon the Temple as the source of authority. They recognized Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish faith.

As is documented throughout this series, the Hebrew language was a source of unity. The Hebrew culture and liturgy were not antithetical to the Jewish Greek identity.

The Septuagint

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.5 The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.6. 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.7 . . .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.8

The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that it may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.9

If one uses the epitaphs on Jewish tombs uncovered in Rome with dates beginning from 63 BC and ending at 300 AD, it shows how powerful the Greek language had become – even at the expense of Latin. Out of the 534 names, 76% had a Greek name, 23% Latin, and only five contained Hebrew, Aramaic, or hybrid name.10

A Greek perspective on Hebrew and 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.

Julian was an Emperor of the Roman empire for two short years (361–363 AD). During this period, Rome was in a divided and crumbling state. In order to restore Rome to its former glory, he felt it necessary to undermine the Christian religion and reinstate the ancient Roman customs. His anti-Christian polemical writings, although not available today in original form, were very popular and widespread.

This popularity went beyond his grave. Later Christian leaders such as Cyril of Alexandria (378–444 AD), were compelled to write a defense against his volleys. Because of Cyril’s treatise against Julian, we find excerpts of Julian’s original message, and are able to somewhat piece together Julian’s original thoughts.

Cyril of Alexandria charged that Greek should not be given so high a status and that it has only a utilitarian value. The Hebrew language has a higher standing because it is a sacred language that most, including himself, did not know and therefore must resort to Greek. Here is an excerpt of his actual response to Julian’s high assertion:

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.11

Even the Latin world highly exalted the Greek language. 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.”12

If one applies the superiority of Greek over Hebrew into the Corinthian saga, then it would be a conflict over the abandonment of Hebrew for only Greek. I don’t think this was the case here. Hellenistic Jews still had a great attachment to Jerusalem and its customs during this time. Jerusalem had yet to start the insurrection or suffer its crushing defeat. The loss of Hebrew would have been too much a religious shift for Paul or the original Jews of Corinth to make.

Corinthian Pride

The people of Corinth took great pride in their Greek language and culture. This is best reflected in an oration of a second-century speech by a philosopher by the name of Favorinus. Favorinus was a popular speaker and teacher in Athens and throughout the Roman empire. He was greatly celebrated and had statues erected in his honor. In the case of Corinth, his statue had disappeared and he wrote a speech urging its return. Whether he actually spoke this in person at Corinth, we do not know, but we do have his written speech. Favorinus was originally from the Gaul region (inside or around modern France) and was of the Roman upper-class who by great expense had adopted the Greek language and culture so as to be viewed as a Greek. He felt that Corinth ought to appreciate his acquired Greek identity among many other traits. His speech demonstrated that the Corinthian community had strongly favoured native Greek peoples and contained great suspicion to foreigners who adapted to their ways.13

Even though there is more to come about linguistic infighting, it already comes as no surprise that Paul, an Antiochan Jew, who likely spoke Attic, along with Hebrew and Aramaic, encountered problems navigating through the Corinthian ethos whose native tongue was Doric.

Tension over which Greek language should be the official one of the Corinthian assembly

Now it is time to delve further about the conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

Epiphanius’ explanation needs a detailed look into these three Greek dialects. The following results are a detour from the usual approach in the Gift of Tongues Project which stresses use of source texts. The familiarity of Greek literature before the first-century AD is outside the expertise of the author and therefore reliant on third-party analysis.

This picture was found at Wikipedia with the following citation:

Geographical distribution of the dialects of ancient Greek, in the classical era. Not shown: dialects of the western colonies of Magna Graecia. Map re-drawn after a source map in: Roger D. Woodard (2008), “Greek dialects”, in: The Ancient Languages of Europe, ed. Roger D. Woodard, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.51. (= partial re-published version of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ancient Languages, 2004)

This map represents the language groups around 200 BC. There is no map that could be found for the first century. According to Epiphanius, this was still a close representation for the first century.

As was stated in the introduction, Corinth was not an old city, but a new one reestablished and colonized by Rome. It attracted a wide spectrum of peoples and languages.

Corinth was almost in the epicentre where these three language groups bordered.

There were two types of Attic – the native Attic spoken by Athenians, and those that spoke a derivative of Attic throughout the Macedonian Empire broadly labelled by moderns as Koine. Attic was designated the language of the Greek empire by Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.14 It evolved as an official language for over three-hundred years before the Christian era, separate from that of the Athenian experience, and became the primary, and if not, an important secondary language for the inhabitants of conquered lands. This internationalized Attic is commonly referred to today as Koine Greek. The international version became its own brand, surpassing that of its parent by a significant magnitude. Athens was slightly east of Corinth.

Epiphanius was likely referring to the Attic spoken by the Athenians, not the massively influential Koine child.

Koine became the literary standard throughout the Greek Empire, but it did not sideline the various Greek spoken dialects throughout Greece major and immediately east of it on the Asiatic coast in the first century.

The people who lived in first-century Corinth spoke a Doric dialect. Which one was in use during the time of Paul or how much it was influenced by Attic is not entirely known. They shared the Doric family of languages with the Athenian rival city of Sparta in the south. The Doric family of dialects continued to flourish under the Attic radar until at least the third century AD.15

A very small number of people in Greece still speak a Doric dialect called Tsakonian. Here is an interesting video on the differences between Tsakonian and Attic.

Favorinus in his oration to the Corinthians demonstrated a high respect for the Doric language in order to secure his statue being returned.16 This demonstrates that Paul was in an environment where sensitivities to the Greek language, especially Doric, were prevalent.

Aeolic slightly to the north was utilized by the city of Thebes and surrounding areas. An older historian from the 1800s, Ernst Curtis, believed the Aeolic tongue as not a dialect, but the mother of all the Greek languages.17 It is unclear whether the Aeolic Greeks felt this same idea of primacy, but it was a Greek dialect nonetheless representing a major ethnic group in Greece.

One major Greek language group was missing in Epiphanius’ account, Ionic. This dialect had merged with Attic by the first century and lost its own independent use. Epiphanius could have simply been too general, ignorant of language histories, or simply biased against Ionic when he wrote this. We will assume this is not the case in order to finish answering Epiphanius’ assertion.

Paul was dealing with a multicultural problem regarding not only the acceptance of Hebrew as the principal language of instruction but was stepping into a political minefield regarding which Greek language would be the standard one for the liturgy.

What does this all mean?

The background evidence on the Greek life and culture supplied supports Epiphanius’ assertion that the Corinthian tongues conflict was between Doric, Aeolic and Attic Greeks. It makes reasonable sense that can be supported by history.

It also demonstrates the impact of the Greek language and culture was everywhere in Paul’s time and it cannot be omitted while reading his first letter to the Corinthians.

The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World

The influence of Aramaic and Hebrew on Jewish life around the first-century.

The goal of any information gleaned from this inquiry is to find a possible connection with Hebrew being a part of the first-century Corinthian liturgy. A subsequent purpose is to confirm or deny an assertion by the fourth-century Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, that the mystery tongues of Corinth had its roots in the Hebrew language.

We cannot assume any synagogue outside of Israel, let alone Corinth, used the Hebrew language as part of their religious service. So, it requires digging deeper into the relationship between Hebrew and Aramaic to find answers.

Introduction

This is a difficult investigation given that Aramaic was the standard language of the eastern shores of the Mediteranean all the way to the borders of Afghanistan, and maybe even further. Its influence was so great and its similarity to Hebrew quite close, that it is hard to find where Hebrew fit in.

The investigation unfolds how wide and expansive the Aramaic influence became. Secondly, one discovers about the Hebrew language from the most ancient times, its use and disuse throughout the centuries, and how it became a sacred language.

The Greek language and culture had a similar impact, but this is left for another article.

The topic is full of controversies between various scholars. Because of the large breadth of subject matter, this article tends to go on some interesting tangents. It is hoped the reader doesn’t mind, as this has been a fun research adventure.

The universal power of Aramaic, and later, Greek languages were important contributors to the Jewish faith. Both Aramaic and Greek were universal languages of law and commerce that dominated Jewish life and thought during different and often overlapping epochs. However, because of these influences, Hebrew was pushed aside as the mother tongue in Jewish life. On the other hand, it was still retained as a religious language. Small pockets in southern Israel may have used the language in everyday usage, but this was a minority.

Perhaps the assertion about Hebrew is too great. Scholars are all over the map about the use of Hebrew after 500 BC.

The important part of the Hebrew language narrative is this: the Hebrew language became a vital component in retaining a distinct Jewish identity under occupation and in foreign lands.

The use of Hebrew as the native tongue from 1200 to around 700 BC is considered an acceptable theory. The interchangeability of Hebrew and Aramaic throughout the 600 BC to around 400 AD is highly controversial that contains a variety, if not, opposite arguments. Once Alexander the Great arrived on the scene and conquered a great many regions, ethnic groups, and languages, this changed the linguistic story again. Greek overtook Aramaic as the universal language of commerce, law, and literature in the Middle East, but not entirely. The combination of these three make for a complex relationship.

The fall of Hebrew and the rise of Aramaic.

Hebrew and Aramaic are offshoots of Canaanite family of languages (which includes Phoenician). This fact is forwarded by the revered paleographer Joseph Naveh,1 the late influential philologist, linguist and member of the Israeli based Academy of the Hebrew Language, Edward Yechezkel Kutscher,2 and the current professor of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, at the Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Gad Sarfatti.3

Both Aramaic and Hebrew drew from Phoenician for their respective writing scripts. In fact, from the tenth to ninth-centuries BC, Phoenician held an international status.4 Phoenician is severely under-represented in historic coverage, but is one of the leading contributors to the writing systems we use today. The Aramaic language remained more closely aligned with the Phoenician writing system until the 700s, where it began to alter its letters.5 The Hebrew writing system began this morphosis much earlier.

The patriarch of the Israeli people, Jacob, was firstly called a wandering Aramean in the Book of Deuteronomy.6 This reference shows how close the Aramean and Hebrew cultures and languages are finely woven together.7

In fact, the influence of Aramaic is seen weaved throughout the Hebrew language history. After the fall of the Persians to the Greeks, the Jewish scribes adapted the Aramaic script exclusive to their culture and language which is called the Jewish Script. The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of this Jewish script. The ancient Hebrew script did continue, albeit in a minority position. This writing system is best represented today in the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Hebrew was supplanted by Aramaic as early as 740 BC when the Assyrians conquered and controlled Northern Israel. As a result, many Israelites were exiled as slaves throughout the Assyrian empire and those that remained were forced under Assyrian rule.8 This was the era where the idiom the lost ten tribes was established. These peoples were never allowed to return in any great quantity.

The Hebrew language likely died in northern Israel with all the Israelites who were deported.

The language story is different with the kingdom of Judah. The tribe remained independent until about 600 BC when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and deported a great number of its citizens.

The Hebrew language still remained intact with the kingdom of Judah. A Biblical account about a Babylonian military buildup around Jerusalem showed vibrancy of the Hebrew language here. The Jerusalem leaders requested the Babylonians to only speak in Aramaic when shouting their demands. When the Babylonians openly shouted in Hebrew, the common person understood. If they spoke in Aramaic, only the elite of Jerusalem could comprehend.9

The Babylonian Empire was overtaken by the Persians, and a new ruler controlled the lands. Aramaic remained the principle language. Around 537 BC, the Persian King, Cyrus, granted exiled remnants of the tribe of Judah to return to Jerusalem. One of the important figures in this re-establishment was Ezra the Scribe.

Not much is known about Ezra, except that he comes from a priestly line and that he was born in Babylon. 10 He was a Levite, not from the tribe of Judah. His aims were to reconstitute the Hebrew faith throughout the Hebrew nation. The center for the Hebrew faith was Jerusalem, and any rebirth or restoration would have to be issued from here.

He came at a critical point of Hebrew history. The nation of Israel, along with the Temple and all its traditions, had collapsed. The people were dispersed and no longer masters of their own destinies. There was an identity crisis. How could a member of the tribe of Judah, or one of the ten tribes, retain their ancient identity? Ezra’s task was for the reconstruction of the ancient Hebrew faith.

The Babylonian influenced Israelites who lived in the more northern reaches of Israel for almost 283 years were totally acculturated. Aramaic customs and language were the norm. Their assimilation into the bigger culture was a great challenge to reverse.

The members of the tribe of Judah were under occupation for over 130 years—a little over three generations. If one uses current immigration stats as a measuring stick, the third generation usually loses the original language in favour of the larger one.11 Ezra himself discovered 50% of Jewish children did not know the language of Judah12 at all during this time. For those 50% that did know the language, Hebrew may have been a second language to them. He did not qualify whether this fluency was beginner or advanced.

Ezra was pragmatic and realized rebuilding the Israelite identity through education and reinstituting the language were two very different but important entities. The following narrative taken from the Book of Nehemiah demonstrates the new direction the Israelite identity was heading:

Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.

Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. . .

They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.13

Were the people listening in Aramaic or Hebrew?

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.

The word combinations emphasize instructing over translating in either the original or the modern Hebrew sense. The emphasis here was on education, not language.

A shift on understanding this Biblical text happens later on where it is understood more from a language perspective. This is particularly found in later Jewish Babylonian Aramaic writings. The traditional interpretation became this: Ezra read from the Law in the original Hebrew and a translator and/or translators stood by immediately explaining the reading in Aramaic.

The Talmud Babli Sanhedrin 21a and b have an interesting commentary on both the writing script and language employed by Ezra:

Mar Zutra or, as some say, Mar ‘Ukba said: Originally the Torah was given to Israel in Hebrew characters and in the sacred [Hebrew] language; later, in the times of Ezra, the Torah was given in Ashshurith script and Aramaic language. [Finally], they selected for Israel the Ashshurith script and Hebrew language, leaving the Hebrew characters and Aramaic language for the hedyototh. Who are meant by the ‘hedyototh’? — R. Hisda answers: The Cutheans. And what is meant by Hebrew characters? — R. Hisda said: The libuna’ah script.14

The Talmud reference infers Ezra transformed the rite from Aramaic only (often referred to as Assyrian) to a new combination that included both Hebrew as a sacred language and Aramaic as the native tongue. The Hebrew script was dropped for an Aramaic one but the underlying text remained in Hebrew while the old Hebrew script was reserved for the Cutheans – otherwise known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans history is a clouded one. They were allegedly a group of Assyrians, either forced or voluntary, that came to northern Israel after the expulsion of the Israelites and mixed in with the northern Hebrew residents that were allowed to remain. The Samaritans believed (and still do) that they adhere to the true religion of the Israelites before the fall to Babylon. Their main literary source is the Samaritan Pentateuch whose script is in old Hebrew. Traditional historic Judaism has always been at arms-length with this group and often openly hostile.15

What is meant by the libuna’ah script? Rashi is alleged to have explained it as “Large characters as employed in amulets.”16 An amulet is a physical object usually worn by a person that is considered to have magical properties of protection. They were written mostly in Aramaic and sometimes in Hebrew.17

Sanhedrin 21a and b show the progression of Hebrew as a religious language and the cross-over into Aramaic. It is not a complete assimilation but a dual relationship.

A graphic example showing the Aramaic influence on the Hebrew writing system.

The above image demonstrates the influence of Aramaic on the Hebrew writing system. The verse is a portion of Deuteronomy 31:24.

  1. The Israelites around King David’s time used paleo-Hebrew as its writing system. The sample here is from the Samaritan Pentetauch which has traditionally maintained the paleo-Hebrew script even until today.18

  2. This Dead Sea Scroll example comes from a fragment.19 It is written in Aramaic script but has a distinct Judaic influence. Some call it the Jewish Script, while others call it the Square Script. The image has been colourized by me from the black and white original for aesthetic purposes.

  3. This sample is from the Aleppo Codex (10th century AD, copied in Tiberius, Israel).20 Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this was one of the oldest Biblical Hebrew texts available. This style and period is called the Masoretic text. It is an advancement of the earlier Aramaic influenced Jewish Script. This has become the standard Hebrew religious script in use today.

Public Reading in Hebrew. Interpreting in the local language.

The references found in Talmud Megillah 9a to 24b, probably written around the fourth-century, have scattered references to the rite of reading the Scripture in the original language of Hebrew and simultaneously being translated into Aramaic. The amount of readers, and the number of interpreters varied according to the sacredness of the text. The Megillah references demonstrate the tensions between the use of Hebrew and its adaptation to the Aramaic Jewish community. In addition, the resolutions are uneven in application but do show some general evolution.

More information on the Jewish custom of reading in Hebrew with an interpreter(s) can be found at The Jewish Reader in the Ancient Liturgy

Instructing in Hebrew. Interpreting in the local language.

An ancient Jewish custom was created about religious instruction outside of Israel. The instructor teaches in Hebrew while a third party simultaneously translates it Aramaic. This custom was expanded to mean instruction in Hebrew while a third party simultaneously translated it in Greek, Latin, or whatever the local language.

For more information see The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

How invasive was the Aramaic language in the Middle East?

One can see a shift from Biblical Hebrew to Aramaic in many, but not all, pieces of literature after 600 BC. Part of the Book of Daniel was written in Aramaic. The non-canonical books; Tobit, Jubilees, Enoch, the Greek Esther, and the second book of Maccabees were written in Aramaic21

Josephus wrote his War of the Jews originally in what is understood to be Aramaic and later translated it into Greek.22 However, Aramaic may be a leap in thought. He stated that his book, the Wars of the Jews, was originally written in his native language (τῇ πατρίῳ and sent to the upper Barbarians. He did not define his native tongue, which could have been Aramaic, or a cross between Aramaic and Hebrew (Galilean). However, Aramaic is strengthened by the statement about upper Barbarians. The upper Barbarians were likely the eastern reaches of the Middle-East who spoke Aramaic.

There are numerous transliterated Semitisms found in the Greek New Testament that are labelled Aramaic. On first glance, this appears correct. On the other hand, some researchers, especially David Bivin and Joshua Tilton, have found this type of conclusion too simplistic. David Bivin has spent most of his adult life studying the intersection of languages in first-century Judea, and he, along with Joshua Tilton manage a website, jerusalemperspective.com, that is focused on better understanding Jesus’ life and teachings. They have constructed a page devoted to the Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels whereby they caution against any quick conclusions. They find that it is hard to distinguish between Aramaic and Hebrew transliterations found in the Greek. Firstly, because Hebrew and Aramaic are close relatives linguistically. Secondly, because there were Greek transliteration traditions borrowed from earlier texts that don’t reflect the current language. Therefore, one should not use transliterations as a tool for discovering what language was spoken during the first-century.

Aramaic is blamed in a Latin church document called the Ambrosiaster text on the problem in the early church of Corinth — Hebrew women speaking Aramaic in the Corinthian assembly unannounced.23 This too could be the solution to the Corinthian tongues controversy, but Epiphanius’ account of it being the problem of instructing in Hebrew and a dispute between different Greek ethnic groups appears a more viable one.

It is inconceivable to believe that the Jewish faith existed without the Hebrew language. 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.”24 This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

The picture being developed through all this is one of Aramaic being the dominant language of home and civil affairs, and Hebrew, having pockets of localized usage, and emphasized for religious instruction.

Any savvy reader knowledgeable of Aramaic will realize that the references to Aramaic are general terms. Aramaic, like any international language, had many dialects and localisms which should be noted. For those interested in finding out exactly what the important ones relative to this narrative are, go to Israel’s Dead Sea Scroll website. For a later history of the Aramaic language go to peshitta.org’s website for information. Another good historical reference that includes the state of the Aramaic language today is the article Where Do Languages Go to Die?

The rise of Jewish literature

Jewish-Aramaic literature began to slowly grow in prominence after the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian and Titus in 70 AD. The center of Judaism moved from Jerusalem to a central Israel city called Yavneh. This was directly influenced by the Romans. Yavneh was one of many cities whom the Romans moved those who had surrendered.25 This city was of particular interest because this is the place where Johanan Ben Zakkai was placed and began his leadership to rebuild the Jewish identity. His influence was felt both in the Jewish Middle-East and abroad.

Jewish-Greek literature did not follow the same pattern. Publication and distribution of Jewish-Greek literature was hardly existent. Neither is there any indication of a formal Jewish-Greek structure of religious life or leadership hierarchy. This never developed. It is also remarkable that there are so few pieces of Jewish-Greek poetry or literature about the loss of the Temple from the first or second-century.

Why is there so little? It is hard to find substantiated information on this subject from open access sites or books. Perhaps most Jews that lived in the diaspora were slaves from the various revolts against Rome and were not granted privileges or luxuries such as the art of writing – a process usually reserved for the wealthy. Or, as a conquered entity, the diasporan Jews were treated as a third-class residents such as Irish-Catholics in the 1800s under Protestant rule, the Incas under Spanish supervision, natives in North America by colonialists, or the African slaves in U.S. by plantation owners. Life and conditions were so harsh with these groups that no leadership, social, or literary culture was allowed to thrive. These thoughts are just speculations. There has been no documentation found so far that conclusively explains this lack of Jewish-Greek documentation around the first-century.

Did Hebrew completely die as a mother-tongue?

This is a highly-disputed question among academics concerned in these matters. The following shows just how divided scholars are.

Bernard Spolsky, Professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who is well-regarded for his expertise in applied linguistics, looked into the matter of the use of Hebrew in post-deportation Israel and concluded that Hebrew was utilized more in southern than northern Israel.

It does seem however that Hebrew was better maintained, or at least less influenced by Aramaic and other languages in Judea than in Galilee, an area where a great number of other peoples had been settled during the Babylonian exile.”26

Spolsky argues that one should not rule out the use of Hebrew entirely. The Dead Sea Scrolls show Hebrew progressing as a language. He rightly points out the Mishnah was written in a Hebrew form. It could easily have been written in Aramaic if the loss of Hebrew was so dramatic, but it was not. He also does not believe that Hebrew was relegated entirely to the language of academies and rabbis.27

The learned professor from the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Edward Yechezkel Kutscher, if he was still alive today, would have argued a slight emendation to Spolsky’s reference to the Mishhah being in Hebrew form. He believed that Mishnaic Hebrew was an evolving form of literature. Mishnaic Hebrew died out somewhere in the second-century AD, and was used only as a literary medium after that period.28 In fact, the first movement that first composited the Mishnah in written form around 200 AD, did not fully understand the Hebrew words.29

Catherine Hezser, in her book, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, believed that prior to 165 BC, Hebrew was restricted only to the priestly class. After 165 BC (The Maccabean period where Israel became an independent state), Hebrew expanded to a greater mass of people.30 As for education, Greek was preferred because of the economic and business advantages.31 Only a passive knowledge of Hebrew was required by elementary school Aramaic students.32

The book, Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda edited by William Horbury contests that the cultural elite only knew Aramaic, and the peasantry conversed in Hebrew.33

The late Gedaliah Alon, a very well studied professor at the Hebrew University, contended that Hebrew and Aramaic were well documented and coexisted throughout the Greek diaspora. However, he simply teased the reader and stated that he would not dwell on this in any detail.34

Julio Trebolle Barrera, a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, also finds that Hebrew continued.

The linguistic map of Palestine around the turn of the era and at the moment when Christianity was born is marked by great differences in language. In Jerusalem and Judaea, Hebrew was spoken for preference, with Aramaic as a second language. Hebrew underwent a period of renaissance starting from the nationalistic revolt by the Maccabess (mid-2nd cent. BCE). At the same time there was also a true renaissance of Hebrew literature (Ben Sira, Tobit, Jubiless, Testament of Naphtali, writing of the Qumran Community, etc.). The coining of money with Hebrew inscription is further proof of the revival of Hebrew and of its official importance. Jesus of Nazareth definitely spoke Aramaic, but it cannot be excluded that he also used Hebrew and even Greek. In the Mediterranean coastal area and in the Galilee region they preferred to speak Aramaic somewhat more than Greek. In this area Hebrew was only a literary language.35

According to Irenaeous, Eusebius, and Jerome, the Book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.36 This is a discounted theory today, but it shows that the ancient writers appealed to source Hebrew literature for credibility of the faith.

See Hebrew and the First Language of Mankind for more info on Hebrew considered as a divine language of religion.

A reference from the Sefer Haggada demonstrates how far Aramaic was encroaching on the Hebrew language and there was resistance to it. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”37 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.”38

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.39

By the ninth-century AD, Hebrew definitely had been dead for many centuries. The writing system continued to lack vowels. Greek, along with Latin, with their vowels and punctuation, became much easier vehicles for the expansion of literacy. The only way to know how to pronounce a Hebrew or Aramaic word properly was passed on through generations by oral traditions which was easily influenced by localisms. The pressures to adapt the Jewish script had yet another motivation – the transmission of Jewish thought in life was becoming increasingly wrapped in the knowledge of three dead languages – Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, and Aramaic. This skill was very technical and fewer people had this ability as each generation passed. The loss of pronunciation naturally led to ambiguity of interpretation.

A Jewish group of scholars and Karaite scribes in Tiberius and Jerusalem, called the Masoretes, laboured to retain the ancient pronunciation and speech that existed in the ancient Hebrew text. The tradition set-forth by Ben Asher standardized these additions, called niqqud, in the tenth century. The creation of the niqqud system inserted vowels and alternative vocalizations of consonants in the text. This system became common in the eleventh-century and afterwards as part of the Hebrew text. These were placed above and below the consonants.

For more information see A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible

What does this all mean?

In general terms, with a few exceptions, we can conclude the following. Hebrew was spoken as a native language in and around Jerusalem during the first-century, but it did not extend much further. Aramaic was the language for the majority of Jews who lived east of the Mediteranean to the borders of modern day Afghanistan. Jewish leadership after the destruction of the Temple moved to Aramaic as the central language of communication but Hebrew still held the role of a sacred language in religious worship and instruction.

The Aramaic language was so influential in Jewish life, it is conceivable that those Jews who immigrated to Greek-dominated lands brought Aramaic with them: Greek for commerce and civil affairs, Aramaic for family life, and Hebrew for religious needs.

The findings show it is plausible that the role of Hebrew as a sacred language was potentially the cause of Paul’s address about tongues in I Corinthians.

———

A Jewish-Greek Perspective on the Tongues of Corinth

The following is a journey into identifying speaking in tongues through Hebrew and Greek Jewish traditions.

This is an introduction to a series of articles devoted to this subject.

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: the use of Aramaic as the principal language of conflict in Corinth. This could be a solution if more information comes forward. For the time being it will be relegated a distant third option and only small snippets of this subject will be addressed. 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: antisemitism 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.

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.

Praying in tongues is another part of the liturgy that will be analyzed in a separate article.

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 about Corinthian tongues over the last five-hundred years.

  • A historical Catholic view. Early Catholic writers and leaders, except 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. Therefore, any research on the Corinthian tongues problem is only for historical purposes. The tongues of Corinth have 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. 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 seven-part series:

  1. The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World. The rise of Aramaic and the loss of Hebrew in the everyday Jewish life. How they compensated for this using interpreters/speakers in the their liturgy and education.

  2. Greek, Hellenic Judaism, and the Problem Tongues of Corinth The rise of Greek as the primary language of most Jews and how they adapted the ancient faith to accommodate 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. 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

Building a portrait of speaking in tongues from a first-century liturgical perspective is fraught with difficulties. The greatest obstacle is lack of primary material from this period. More substantive information can be gleaned from fourth-century ones.

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

Mr. Graves is right. Although there are a few literary pieces to draw from around the first-century, and some even earlier, the most substantive information comes from the fourth-century. It is necessary to both reconstruct and also deconstruct from there.

One must be ever aware that the syngagogue liturgies have evolved over that 300 year period. The fourth-century or so Rabbinic leaders and writers may have revised their own liturgy history to fit their own contemporary narrative too.

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.

There is considerable debate about the role, function and even existence of the synagogue in first-century Judaism. 2 This series of articles assumes that the synagogue had already an established existence in both Israel and the diaspora during the first-century. This supposition is clearly indicated by the references found in the New Testament texts. The liturgy practice of speaking and interpreting in the synagogue and how it was performed in Corinth are the features looked at here.

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 Mummius3 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. If Corinth follows the pattern of Rome, the Jewish population was very poor.4 The city prospered quickly. Corinth became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.5

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 Mediteranean 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.6 He was educated under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first-century, Gamaliel I.7 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.8

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.9

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”10

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.11

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.12

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 Romans13 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 Jesus14

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 missing.

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 centre 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 severance 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.15

  • 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.16

. . . 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.17

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

7 Facts About Speaking in Tongues

A seven point historic portrait on the christian doctrine of speaking in tongues. The conclusions have been derived from the Gift of Tongues Project. A research work that has a fourfold aim of locating, digitizing, translating source texts and tracing perceptions from inception to modern times.

These seven points may change if any new documents arise with important new clues.

Click on any of the conclusions for more documentation.

The goal of tracing the perceptions of tongues through the centuries may not necessarily align with the actual realities that surrounds the events. The realities are up to the reader to decide. Go to the The Gift of Tongues Project for the source information.

This is only a general summation. There are many more details and movements at the above link.

*7 does not have a clickable link because no documented study has been found.

A snippet from Chrysostom's "The Holy Pentecost"

A translation from a portion of John Chrysostom’s On the Holy Pentecost as it relates to the miraculous event of Pentecost found in the Book of Acts.

As translated from the Greek: Εἰς τὴν Ἁγίαν Πεντηκοστήν by S. Joannis Chrysostomi. MPG Vol. 50, Col. 458 – 461. Homily 1:4(b) — 5. Translation by Charles A. Sullivan.

Draft 3

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4(b). Therefore why does it say that such a sign does not happen now? Keep your attention with me along with important details here. For I hear from many, continually and always seeking this question. Why then were all those speaking in languages at that time, and now no longer? We must first learn in this instance what is the act of speaking in languages and then we will discuss the case as well. Therefore, what does it mean to speak in languages? The person in the process of being baptized immediately was uttering in the sound of the Indians, Egyptians, Persians, Scythians, and Thracians — one man was taking on many languages. And indeed if these ones back then had been baptized now, then you are to immediately hear at that moment these uttering in different sounds. Additionally, with Paul, it says [in Scripture], since he found some who were baptized in the baptism of John, he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.””1 And he immediately urged them to be baptized. “And when Paul lays his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they were speaking in all languages.”2

Why then had the gift been limited, and now this has been removed from mankind? Do you see that the manifestation of signs which has been withdrawn is not a feature of God dishonoring but of Him exceedingly honoring us? How? I am going to relate. Men were disposed to a most stupid ideal back then. Since these ones were recently delivered, their reason was still really thick-witted, and lacking common sense. For they had been fervent and occupied with anything pertaining to the corporal, and not once, never did the thought of the incorporal gifts exist with them, neither did they know at some point what a grace is seen only with the mind,3 and being observed by faith alone. For that reason the grace begat signs.

For regarding the gifts of the spirit, some are invisible, and are understood by faith alone and some display a visible sign for the sake of assuring unbelievers. But on the other hand concerning these invisible things, it is exhibited as an observable sign for the sake of assuring unbelievers. I am going to relate such a thing. The remission of sins is a matter of heart and mind,4 a grace that is invisible. For how our sins are being removed, we do not see with eyes of the flesh. What kind of thing is this? Because the soul is the thing which is being cleansed, the soul does not observe with the eyes of the flesh. Therefore, the cleansing of sins is a kind of gift that is apprehended by the mind, which cannot be visible to the eyes of the body. Now even though speaking in tongues itself comes from the spiritual work of the Spirit, it nevertheless provides a sign that is physically perceptible and easily seen by unbelievers. For regarding the work which happens inside the soul, I say of the invisible, because the external language being heard is a certain manifestation and proof. According to this thought Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”5

I emphatically do not have the need for signs now. On what account? I have obviously learned to believe in the Master also apart from a giving of a sign. For the unbeliever requires an assurance. I believe that I am in no need of an assurance nor a sign. But even if I should not speak in a language, I know that I have been cleansed from sins. However, these ones were not to believe at that time, unless they received a sign. For this reason a sign was given to them, which they believed as an assurance of the faith. Therefore, the giving of the signs was not as for the believers, but as for the unbelievers in order that they should have become believers. So that Paul likewise says, “The signs are not for those who believe, but for those who are unbelievers.”6 Do you see that the manifestation of signs which has been withdrawn is not a feature of God dishonoring but of Him honoring us?7 For if one wishes to demonstrate our faith, we believe this has been done without an assurance of a pledge or signs with it. Except those ones who have received first the sign and pledge, do not believe it concerning the unseen things. I, on the other hand, indeed show a complete faith without this. This is therefore the reason why signs are not happening now.

5. I wished to also speak about the occasion of the festival and demonstrate in the end what Pentecost is, and a reason why in this festival the grace is being given, and the reason why with languages of fire, and why after ten days. But I see that to be a teaching extending out for a long time. On which account I am going to bring an end to the word while adding a few thoughts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come… there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves.”8

Not “fire,” literally, but “as fire,” so that you should have suspicion of nothing perceptible relating to the Spirit. For with respect with what happened at the Jordan rivers, the dove did not descend literally, but in the form of a dove. Thus, it is also in this place here not literally a fire, but a kind of fire. And it was majestically said, “like a violent rushing wind,”9 Why did Ezekiel not receive the gift of prophecy through the likeness of fire but through a book,10 but the Apostles receive the gift through the agency of fire? For concerning this it says that he gave the head of a scroll11 into his mouth, and there was written lamentation, a mournful song, and woe, and it had been written on the inside and outside. He ate it and it became in the mouth as sweet as honey. When it comes to the apostles it is not so. Rather “and they appeared to them tongues as fire.”12 Why then was there a scroll and letters there, but tongue and fire here? Because the former goes forth to speak out against sins, and to mourn the Jewish calamities. The latter were going forth to destroy the sins of the world. For this reason Ezekiel was receiving a small book, telling of the coming misfortunes, but the apostles were receiving fire, so as to thoroughly burn-up the sins of the world, and to obliterate all of it. For just as the fire falls upon thistles13 and easily destroys all of it, thus also the grace of the Spirit consumes the sins of mankind. But the stupid Jews, while these things were happening, ought to be fearful, tremble and revere the gift being bestowed, contrarily point it out as a silly state, accusing drunkenness against the apostles who have been filled of the Spirit. “These ones, it says, “are full of sweet wine.”14 Pay attention to the senseless pride of mankind, and contemplate at this moment the integrity of angels. For the angels see the start of our rising-up, they were rejoicing and said, “Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in!”15 These men on the other hand say, who had just seen the grace of the Spirit descending to us, that the ones who are receiving the gift are drunk, and the season of the calendar did not constrain them. For wine in the springtime would not likely have been found at any occasion, nevertheless it was still spring. Therefore, let these ones be left alone. We nevertheless go about considering the reckoning of a benevolent God. Christ received the first fruit of our nature and rewarded us with the grace of the Spirit. Just like it was produced in a lengthy war, and when the battle was in the process of being finished, and peace was going to be accomplished, and those who have enmity towards others offer pledges and securities to these parties. It has also happened in this way between God and human nature. He sent in it pledges and securities, the first-fruit which Christ took up.16 He himself sent back to us the Holy Spirit in place of pledges and securities.17 That indeed we have pledges and securities, evident from this time forward. For it is necessary the offsprings of royalty to be pledges and securities. It was on this account that the Holy Spirit had been sent down to us, as to whom is the substance of the most high king, and the one who had been raised up was from the offspring of royal lineage on our behalf. After all, he was from the seed of David. On which account I am no longer scared because our first fruit rests on high. Therefore, granted that someone should say to me “endless worm”, even “unquenchable fire,” and about other penalties and retributions, I do not dread any more. Well, I do indeed fear, but albeit I do not despair about my own salvation. Really, unless God was thinking about the great deeds about our offsprings, he would not have taken the first fruit on high. Before this, these ones watch throughout heaven, and reflect upon the non-material deeds, we see more clearly our worthlessness after the comparison regarding the deeds from on high. Now, still while we wished to know our nobility, we look up on high to heaven to the royal throne itself. In fact in that place the first fruit which had been taken up from us, was about to seat down. Thus, the Son of God also will come judging us. On which account we are going to be prepared, so as to not be deprived of this glory, because by all means He will come, the person connected with our Master will last. He will come bringing armies, brigades of angels, companies of archangels, hosts of martyrs, choirs of righteous ones, assemblies of prophets and apostles, and in the midst of these immaterial armies, the King appears in something which is too great for words and unexplainable glory. ■

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The Greek text can be found at the Orthodox Fathers website, Εἰς τὴν Ἁγίαν Πεντηκοστήν

John of Damascus on Tongues: Notes

Notes on John of Damascus’ work, Commentary of I Corinthians, chapters 13 and 14, as it relates to the christian doctrine of tongues.

John of Damascus

John of Damascus was an eighth-century church leader who lived in Syria under Muslim rule. The Greek texts originally written by him have been passed on through the ages and may have been heavily edited. Whatever historical information exists about him tends to be of mythical proportions. It is hard to separate the man from the myth.

A commentary on I Corinthians is credited to him. Whether the text accurately represents his original thought isn’t the most important point. For the purpose of the Gift of Tongues Project it represents the perception of tongues during the eighth- to tenth-centuries.

Discovering an old commentary on I Corinthians is always exciting because it offers potential to solve the Corinthian’s tongues riddle. However, his work doesn’t solve the problem but does offer a small clue. His text suggests Paul was addressing a problem of foreign languages. This will be explained in more detail below.

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia claims that he was the “the last of the Greek Fathers.” How the article arrived at this conclusion is not known. The same article proceeds to add, “His genius was not for original theological development, but for compilation of an encyclopedic character.” This became clearer as the translation of his Commentary on I Corinthians proceeded. His style reminded me of the structure and style used by the Latin writer, Thomas Aquinas, four centuries later. Aquinas liked to stitch together thoughts from a variety of sources and offer those considerations with the fewest words possible, assuming the reader understood the background and meaning. Damascus did the same thing. It gave some sense that John of Damascus was thinking in Latin and writing in Greek. Perhaps this wasn’t the correct approach and so the following was contemplated: he was thinking in Arabic and writing in Greek. The Greek style had a heavy dependency on participles rather verbs which showed something different not seen before and there was nothing that could explain this. However, there was not enough information to substantiate either claim.

His coverage of tongues and angels in I Corinthians 13 follows the thought originally penned by Origen that it was hyperbolic language and then borrows from Chyrsostom that angels don’t have bodies,1 using the same verbs and nouns, but constructed slightly different than what Chrysostom used.

Damascus made one important omission in his commentary — he doesn’t refer to Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues. One would expect a Greek author and Church writer such as John of Damascus to quote liberally from the fourth-century Nazianzus who covered the topic in great detail and caused a great deal of controversy for centuries. This is surprising. The only logical conclusion found so far is that the controversy that Nazianzus began was discussed in the Western Latin Church — a large portion of the argument in the Western circles had to do with the improper Latin translation and hinged on this. It wasn’t an issue on the Eastern Greek front, nor in Damascus’ mind.

For more information on Gregory Nazianzus theory on the miracle of speaking or hearing, and transmission problems into Latin see: Rufinus’ Grand Omission.

The actual Greek text is found in Migne Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 95. Epistola in Corinth. The text itself is divided into two: Biblical citation followed by a short commentary. The Biblical citations have only minor differences than the standard Greek Bible text. I did not spend much time on translating the Greek when Biblical citations were made, relying instead on what is found in the New American Standard Bible. However, I had to make some changes to reflect what Damascus understood the text to mean. For example, I changed the English noun tongues which now has a much wider semantic range than what was intended 500 years ago, to languages, which is more specific to the initial intention.2

Now that the details have been examined it is time to move on to the important global question. What did John of Damascus believe speaking in tongues to be? His commentary lacks any serious historical narrative and is a homily divided on love, and the subject of corporate good instead of individualism. He briefly touches on the gift of tongues as the human power to speak in a foreign language. He does not ascribe any emotional or supernatural attachment to this office.

His commentary on 14:10-12, does mildly clarify his understanding of the text:

[v10-12a] “There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.3 So it is also with you.”

That is, so many languages, so many sounds, Scythian, Thracian, Roman, Persian, Mauretanian, Egyptian, other myriads of nations.

He directly connects foreign languages with Paul’s I Corinthians text.

This commentary does not recognize any controversy or doctrine inherited from the Montanist movement relative to tongues. This is consistent with the overwhelming majority of ecclesiastical texts on the subject. ■

Want to know more about what John of Damascus wrote? The following is a link to his actual text: John of Damascus on Tongues: an English Translation.

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 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 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—instructed3 the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear4 and giving the meaning5 so that the people understood6 what was being read.7

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 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 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 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 peresh11 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 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

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

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

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

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

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 anaplêrôn18 as keimenos19 — 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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 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 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

  • 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 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 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 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 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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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 The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.19. 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 . . .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

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

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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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 England1 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 Talmudicæ2 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 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 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 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 interpreters6 was faulty in infinite places ; the Targum7 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

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 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 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

    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 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 “One goes in the street and finds a purse” מהו What is to be done with it?14 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 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 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 &c. But “they answered not אמן יתומה the orphan Amen ולא אמן חטופה nor the snatched Amen,”18 &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 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

    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

    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 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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