Re: 1Cor. 14:14

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Oct 09 1995 - 21:26:33 EDT

At 5:48 PM 10/9/95, David Moore wrote:

> But, then, how could Paul, in the context of Pagan practices - if
>they were essentially pagan - say "Thank God I pray in tongues more than
>you all"?

If you really want my opinion, I think Paul was being facetious here. Nor
do I think this is the only place in 1 Corinthians that Paul waxes ironic
or even sarcastic, and in several passages in 2 Corinthians he is all the
more ironic and sarcastic. It may in fact be the case that Paul does pray
in tongues, but I think this may also be one of those instances wherein he
is "all things to all men in order that ..."

While I am deadly serious in the paragraph above, I would also offer the
following in response to David's question:

Yes, Paul does say in 14:18 exactly what you have cited him as saying. But
then he goes on immediately in 14:19 to say, "But in congregational gather
I would rather (QELW ... H) say five words intelligibly (TWi NOI) in order
to instruct others than ten thousand words babbling (EN GLWSSHi). That is,
I think he makes the assertion of his own capacity for ecstatic speech as a
rhetorical ploy that enables him to state as strongly as he possibly can
that he doesn't really value that activity very highly.

To return to the passage about which I wrote this afternoon, the beginning
of this whole sequence in 1 Cor 12-14, at the very outset of chapter 12
Paul makes clear in 12:2 that there is nothing distinctly Christian about
ecstatic religious experience, and he appeals to his audience to remember
that they had such experiences as pagans. He then proceeds in 12:3 to
clarify the distinction between inspiration that is Christian and
inspiration that is not.

(And here let me add once more that Paul is here continuing in the vein of
pleading dialogue that he began with in the very first chapter of the
letter, urging the Corinthians to think in terms of shared community life
and mutual assistance rather than of private mystical quests that shut
members off from each other and renounce any mutual ethical

So in 12:3 he alludes (I believe) to the question which he will address
head-on in Chapter 15: does one take seriously the proposition of Jesus'
resurrection and the coming resurrection of believers? or does one suppose
that one has GNWSIS, that having come to faith one is now in spiritual
communion with the spiritual Christ and enjoys a blissful ecstasy in that
communion--in which case it is senseless to speak of any futuristic
eschatology, and also senseless to speak of a crucified Jesus or of a Jesus
of history at all; the only object of one's devotion is the heavenly
Christ, so: "Jesus be damned!"

To which anticipated stance of his opponents Paul says, "No one who speaks
by divine inspiration says, 'Jesus be damned!' and no one is able to say
'Jesus is Lord' EXCEPT through the holy spirit." The criterion of pneumatic
endowment is NOT the quality of ecstatic experience one can boast but
rather the confessional stance one takes regarding the historical Jesus.
And I think Paul expects that confessional stance, if it is honest, to find
expression in one's attitude and behavior toward fellow-members of one's
community, rather than--or more than--in private religious ecstasy.

Finally let me reiterate. It may in fact be the case that Paul values
ecstatic experience and glossolalia, although in my opinion the mysticism
he espouses comes to fuller expression in Phil 3:10-11, where he speaks of
experiencing conformation with the dying of Jesus. So I may be wrong when I
say that I really think Paul's statement in 1 Cor 14:18 is ironic rather
than straightforward. BUT--even if it is not ironic and he really means
that he engages in glossolalia MORE THAN ALL THE CORINTHIANS (how can that
NOT be ironic??)--still, in 14:19 he says he considers rational discourse
more valuable in the worshiping community.

And I go back to 1 Cor 13:1 once more: powerful rhetoric that for all
practical purposes relativizes both rhetoric and glossolalia if it does not
even hold them in contempt! The ultimate criterion of the validity of a
pneumatic endowment is whether or not it expresses AGAPH. And I'm convinced
that this is the reason why Paul has inserted the sublime Chapter 13 in the
middle of the whole discussion of pneumatic endowment: in order to
highlight the one that really counts, the one that, with faith and hope,
will still be around in the age-to-come.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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