Re: 1 Cor. 1:5-7

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Oct 12 1995 - 16:07:40 EDT

At 2:05 PM 10/12/95, Bruce Terry wrote:
>On Wed, 11 Oct 1995, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>>Bruce, we had a little thread back during the summer, I think, on the
>>difference between KAINOS and NEOS. KAINOS means newly-created,
>>newly-invented, unprecedented. I don't think that tongues new only to the
>>speaker would count as KAINAI.
>Carl, your post sent me to Trench (p. 206), where I find something similar:
>"In like manner the phrase KAINAI GLWSSAI (Mark xvi.17) does not suggest the
>recent commencement of this miraculous speaking with tongues, but *the
>unlikeness of these tongues to any that went before* [emphasis mine--bt];
>therefore called hETERAI GLWSSAI elsewhere (Acts ii.4), tongues unwonted and
>different from any hitherto known.
>Trench seems to agree with you as to the significance of KAINOS, but then to
>say that these tongues were the same as on the day of Pentecost.

But why would he say that? In an effort to harmonize the passages about
"tongues" in different places in the NT? But the inconsistency is plain to

Let me briefly restate a view that is not, I think, original with me, that
will seem to some to be over-rationalizing, but that is the only way I can
make sense of the narrative of Acts 2. I believe that Luke offers us in
Acts 2 a symbolic account of a historic--not historical but
historic--event. The event is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church
and Luke depicts it in grand colors on a broad canvas the way we like to
think of this event as happening on a specific day, the day of Pentecost.
John's gospel has the gift of the Spirit coming on the disciples in the
upper room on Easter evening. Matthew's gospel tells of a risen and
ascended Jesus' commission to the church on a mountaintop in Galilee and
declares his presence WITH those whom he addresses "to the end of the
Aion." In my view all three of these accounts are referring to the
self-same phenomenon, the coming of the Spirit on the church. Personally, I
don't see any need to choose between the three accounts as to which one is
more TRUE historically, because I believe the EVENT of the coming of the
Spirit is historical-but not actually one that can be pinpointed as taking
place at one and only one time and place--and that we have three different
stories told in the church about HOW the event took place.

Now, in Luke's Pentecost account we have tongues of fire swooping down and
resting on the assembled believers. This is a visual representation of what
I take to be a non-visible (but nonetheless real) happening. Fire is one of
the manifestations of the nearness of God in Jewish tradition (I don't
think I have to name instances, but I could). Luke's account of the baptism
of Jesus turned the "like a dove" of Mark into SWMATIKWi EIDEI hWS
PERISTERAN. I think he's doing the same sort of thing in Acts 2. As for the
tongues, the occasion of this discussion, it is said that there are
gathered in Jerusalem persons (he says JEWS, but does he really think that
there are Jews of every nationality?) of EVERY NATIONALITY IN THE WORLD.
Does anyone believe this to be LITERALLY true? We are told that, when the
voices speak, each one attests that he hears the mighty acts of God--the
gospel--being proclaimed in his own native tongue. I can't see this is
anything else but Luke's representation of the SIGNIFICANCE of the coming
of the Spirit: it reunifies the humanity that has been dispersed since the
time of the Tower of Babel, but it does this proleptically: it is not
something that happens in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost; rather it is a
drama that is to be actualized in the days and years ahead, but this is the
true meaning of the coming of the Spirit on believers, and the languages
that Luke has in mind are the real spoken languages of the nationalities of
the world. Now it may be that Luke has drawn upon the phenomenon of
glossolalia as a model for his dramatic narrative, but that's not to say
that the tongue-speaking in Acts 2 is really the same thing as the
tongue-speaking in 1 Cor 12-14 or in the longer ending of Mark.

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

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