1 Corinthians


8. Speaking in tongues, 12:1-14:40

v] The preference for prophecy


Continuing with the issue of tongue-speaking in the Corinthian congregation, Paul reminds his readers that whenever God's people have turned from him in the past, he has withdrawn his clear prophetic word and replaced it with riddles. Jumbled words from God are therefore a sign of judgement upon an unfaithful people. So, beware of tongues, because they can be a sign of judgement rather than blessing. God gives a clear word of prophecy to a faithful people. If a seeker comes into a Christian congregation where the word is in tongues, they will be denied a clear word from God and only think "your are out of your mind." Prophecy, on the other hand, will strike at the heart, convincing, convicting and converting.


i] Context: See 12:1-11.


ii] Background: See 7:6-9.


iii] Structure: The preference for Prophecy:

The proper use of tongue speaking in Christian worship #5:


In understanding be adults, v20.


Indistinct revelation is a sign of God's judgment, v21.


Tongues are for the faithless; prophecy for the faithful, v22.

Tongues confuse; prophesy convicts, v23-25.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul's argument at this point against tongue-speaking rests on the text of Isaiah 28:11-12. The people of Israel had failed to heed a clear word from the prophets of the Lord, so now they would hear a word that they could not understand. In the Old Testament, revelations to God's people in the form of an unfathomable utterance are signs of divine condemnation rather blessing. Isaiah's point is clear enough. God's word to Israel would now come from a foreign power, namely, the Assyrians, a people with a language that is gibberish to the Jewish ear; they would be the mouthpiece of God to his rebellious people - a sword of chastisement, not blessing. So, meaningless tongue-speaking is not necessarily a sign of divine blessing.

Prophecy, on the other hand, enriches God's people; it is indeed a blessing. Taking apistoi, v22, as "apostate" believers, members of the congregation who have in some way broken faith with the Lord (see note v22), and idiwtai, v23, as "outsiders / inquirers", the uninitiated who are not members, Paul makes the point that the babble of tongues does not have a positive effect - "they are bound to think you are crazy", Barclay. Yet, when such people come under the sound of prophecy, there is a positive effect - it "challenges and convicts their conscience. The secrets of their heats are laid bar, and the result will be that they will fling themselves down and worship God. 'Truly', they will say, 'God is among you'", Barclay.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 14:20

Paul's preference for prophecy, v20-25: i] Exhortation - In understanding be adults / mature, v20. In establishing his preference for prophecy Paul encourages his readers to be mature adults when it comes to their reasoning on issues of theology, particularly in relation to speaking in tongues.

mh .... ginesqe (ginomai) pres. imp. "stop" - [brothers] be not. Possibly a durative present; "do not continue to be."

taiV fresin (hn enoV) dat. "thinking" - [children] in the minds = understanding, thinking, outlook. As with th/ kakia/, "evil", the dative is adverbial, reference / respect; "with respect to your thinking."

alla "-" - but. Adversative; "do not continue to be childlike with respect to your thinking, but rather, be childlike with respect to malicious intent and (de) mature with respect to thinking" = "stop thinking like children. Think like mature people and be as innocent as babes", CEV.

th/ kakia/ (a) dat. "in regard to evil" - to evil [be childlike but/and in understanding become mature]. Dative of reference / respect; "with respect to."


ii] Textual support, v21. Through a paraphrase of Isaiah 28:11-12, Paul supports his argument. He notes that when God's people refuse to hear his word of grace, they then receive, not a clear word, but babble. God's word to his rebellious people Israel was the gibberish guttural chatter of the invading Assyrians who, under the divine will, executed God's chastisement upon his unfaithful people.

en + dat. "in [the law]" - in [the law it has been written]. Local, expressing space.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement, direct quote.

en + dat. "with" - in. Instrumental, expressing means; "by means of."

eJteroglwssoiV adj. "other tongues" - foreign languages, other languages, foreign tongues.

eJerwn gen. adj. "of foreigners" - [and in lips] of others. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "lips", "alien lips", possibly possessive, or even partitive.

tw/ law/ (oV) dat. "to [this] people" - [i will speak] to [this] people. Dative of indirect object / direction.

kai oud ou{twV "but even then" - not even thus. The adverb of manner ou{twV refers back to "the tramp of the invading enemy and their harsh guttural sounds speaking only of doom", Barnett, "but even (kai, adversative ascensive) then / with all this happening (ou{twV) Israel still did not (oud) recognize the day of the Lord / the day of judgment. "Not even if I do that will they obey", B&L.

mou gen. pro. "[they will not listen] to me" - [they will not hear] of me. Genitive of direct object after the eiV prefix verb "to harken, listen to."


iii] Argument, v22-25: Explaining the text, Paul makes the point that babble is not a divine revelation given to God's faithful people, but rather it is given to his unfaithful people, his stiff-necked people. This is very similar to the way Jesus treated his fellow Jews. They refused to respond to the gospel and so he spoke to them in parables, in riddles, so that hearing they would not hear. A clear word from God, on the other hand, such as prophecy, is not for rebels, but for the faithful.

With respect to the intended meaning of toiV pisteususin, "to the ones believing" and toiV apistoiV, "to the ones unbelieving", we are best to take "believers" to refer to faithful believers, and "unbelievers" to refer to apostate believers. This, of course, is open to debate, so "unbelievers" may mean unconverted. Also open to debate is the function of the dative, whether it is advantage or disadvantage. So, consider the two options:

"Unbelievers" = unconverted, dative of advantage, a sign for: "people in the Greco-Roman world regarded tongues and ecstatic speech as a sign of a divine presence", Pfitzner;

"Unbelievers" = unconverted, dative of disadvantage, a sign against, "if all the visitor hears is a babble of tongues he will conclude that the assembly of Christians is little different from cults like Dionysius or Cybele where people raved in unintelligible language", Barnett.

A divine revelation consisting of an outward display ("sign") of tongues (babble) is not given to those who trust the living God / the children of faith, but to those of God's people who are in rebellion, opposed to his words, a stiff-necked people, people like the children of Israel in the time of Isaiah the prophet. On the other hand, a divine revelation consisting of an outward display of prophecy (a clear word from God) is not given to God's stiff-necked children, but rather it is given to the children of faith. Note that Phillips' translation of this verse is bizarre; a rare slip by the master of English prose.

w{ste "then" - therefore. Here inferential, drawing a logical conclusion; "given that babble is a sign of God's condemnation on a stiff-necked people ...."

eiV + acc. "for" - [the tongues are] into. Here expressing purpose /end-view; "serves the purpose of a sign."

shmeion (on) "sign" - a sign. Taking the sense here of "an outward indicator." Tongues serve the purpose of being an outward indicator of God's revelation (v21), not to ......

ou toiV pisteuousin dat. adj. "not for believers" - not to the ones believing. This articular adjective, as with "unbelievers", serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object / interest (as noted above); "an outward indicator of God's revelation to/for, not the faithful, but the apostate." Paul is using the word to describe the children of faith, as opposed to toiV apistoiV, "the apostate / unbelievers", those children of God who do not listen / take note of God's word, like those who refused to listen to God's word of chastisement carried in the harsh babble of the Assyrians, v21.

alla "but" - but [the the ones unbelieving]. Adversative; "but".

hJ ... profhteia (a) "prophecy" - prophecy [is a sign]. In the New Testament period prophecy involved primary revelation, at times specific to a particular situation. In Corinthians 14 Paul seems to use the word in relation to secondary revelation, ie., the exposition of primary sources. Such a prophet would function to build up the people of God, take the Word of God and apply it to the heart and mind of church members, enabling them to grow their Christian life. It is generally held that the revelatory form of prophecy has ceased. "Prophecy, on the other hand, serves the purpose of being an outward indicator."

ou toiV apistoiV dat. adj. "not for unbelievers" - not to the unbelievers [but to the ones believing]. God doesn't give a clear word of revelation to the apostate, but to the faithful / the children of faith.


So, if a member who has broken fellowship in some way (apistoi), or someone who is an outsider, a seeker (idiwtai), happens to attend, and everyone is speaking in tongues, they are likely to think that the congregation is out of its mind. If, on the other hand, members are prophesying, preaching a clear word from God, then they will find themselves convicted, scrutinized and exposed by God's word. The consequence may well be that this person is converted, bows in submission to the Lord God and worships him.

oun "So" - therefore. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

ean + subj. "if" - if [the whole church]. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, .... then ...."

epi + acc. "-" - [comes together] in / to [the same place]. Spacial; "to the same place"; B&L.

glwssaiV (a) dat. "in tongues" - [and all speak] in tongues. The dative is adverbial, possibly instrumental, expressing means, or modal, expressing manner, "by/with tongues / ecstatic languages."

idiwtai (hV ou) "some who do not understand / inquirers" - [but/and enters] unlearned [or unbelievers]. Nominative subject of the verb "to enter." The word primarily means "untrained, unlearned, those not understanding", but is likely to refer to: "inquirers", TNIV; "uninitiated", Thiselton; "anyone in the position of an outsider", NRSV; "outsiders", Fitzmyer; "unacquainted with Christianity", Findlay. "These persons could include the non-Christian spouse, unconverted slaves, invited guests, or possibly the curious who might wander in", Garland. Garland thinks the word would not be used of a seeker, but this seems somewhat restrictive. They are probably not the "layperson, proselyte, catechumen, ordinary Christian (R&P)." Barrett suggests that idiwtai and apistoi together represent the "unbelieving outsider", but it is more likely that both words represent separate groups, ie., apostate believers and outsiders.

oJti "[will they not say] that" - [will they not say] that [you are out of your minds]? Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what "outsiders / inquirers" and "apostate" are likely to say / think when confronted by tongues - mainesqe, "they are mad, out of their mind."

ouk "not" - Used in a question expecting the answer "yes".


"Spirit inspired preaching will have a three stage effect on the [apostate or outsider]: conviction, scrutiny and exposure of his or her heart" prompting the reactions "conversion, submission and adoration", Fitzmyer, v24-25.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the argument to a contrasting point; "but / on the other hand".

ean "if" - [but] if [all prophesy and a certain apostate or outsider enters then]. Conditional clause, 3rd. class, "if, as may be the case ....... then ....".

elegcetai (elegcw) pres. pas. "he will be convicted [by all that he is a sinner] / they are convicted of sin" - he is convicted, reproved, exposed [by all]. Prophecy convicts, either of the truth or sin, or both; "everyone will bring guilt home to him", Cassirer.

anakrinetai (anakrinw) pres. pas. "will be judged / are brought under judgment" - he is judged]. Prophecy "calls the individual to account", Garland

uJpo + gen. "by" - by [all]. Expressing agency. Probably pantwn, "all", is neuter plural, so "by all that is said", Thiselton, rather than masculine plural "all those who are speaking / prophesying."


thV kardiaV (a) gen. "of [their] hearts" - [the secrets] of the heart [of him]. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / of source or place, limiting "secrets"; "the secrets which reside in his heart." Virtually "his secrets", Phillips.

fanera adj. "[are] laid bare" - [become] manifest, clear, evident. Predicate adjective. "Will be brought to light", Cassirer.

ou{twV adv. "so" - [and] thus. Here inferential, drawing a logical conclusion; "therefore."

peswn (piptw) aor. part. "they will fall down" - having fallen down. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to worship", or possibly adverbial, temporal.

epi + acc. "-" - upon [face]. Spacial.

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "God" - [he will worship] god. Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to worship."

apaggellwn (apaggellw) pres. part. "exclaiming" - proclaiming, declaring. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their worship.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement, direct speech.

ontwV adv. "really" - [god is] really, indeed, truly. Adverb of manner; "in all reality they encounter not simply human religion which constructs or projects a god; they encounter God, who draws forth authentic worship as he is authentically active and present among the believers", Barrett.

en + dat. "among" - in [you]. Local, space; "among".


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