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.
[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.