Re: 1Cor13:1 tongues of angels

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Tue Mar 10 1998 - 20:34:59 EST

As I was saying when I was so unexpectedly interrupted ...

Resend of a post which disappeared into the ether during the b-greek

Fellow b-greekers:

There have been some very interesting contributions indeed on this thread,
which seems now to have prettywell run its course.

A couple of (belated) comments that I would like to add.

Firstly, has anyone else noticed the translation of our verse, 1
Corinthians 13:1, in J.B.Phillips? He has, "If I speak with the eloquence
of men and of angels, but have no love ..." That is, he takes it that
Paul's reference is to speaking well, or, as well as one possibly could,
even beyond normal human ability.

This is in line with the interpretation favoured by some contributors to
the b-greek discussion. It sits well with the context, in which Paul is
describing several situations where he (speaking of himself
representatively) does something at a very high level of proficiency or
sacrifice, but acts without love. An angel is above all else a messenger -
which is primarily and originally what the word meant. He is the perfect
messenger of God, always delivering God's message clearly and accurately.

So I take Paul's meaning to be, "If I were to speak [God's message] as well
as any man can - indeed, if I were to speak as effectively as the angels of
God [in their role of delivering the message of God], but have no love ..."

Secondly, there was some discussion on the list as to the language(s) which
angels spoke. Now it is undoubtedly possible that angels may have, and
speak, a unique and distinctive angelic language. But if so, we have no
knowledge of it. If this verse refers to such a language it is the only
such reference in all of Scripture. Rather, what we do know from Scripture
about angels when they speak is that they spoke in the language of the
person whom they were addressing, and he/she understood perfectly what was
being said. I would presume the angels spoke Hebrew to Hagar (Genesis
16:7), Aramaic to the shepherds (Luke 2:10), Greek to Philip (Acts 8:26)
and maybe Paul (Acts 27:23), Latin to Cornelius (Acts 10:4). The language
used by the angelic messenger is never named in these (or any other)
references and therefore this issue could be a quodlibet to argue; but one
thing is certain: the language used was always a human language understood
by the person addressed.

It makes more sense therefore, it seems to me, to take it that the
reference in 1 Cor 13:1 to angels speaking in GLWSSAI is to angels speaking
in human languages (as the occasion required), and being totally effective
in getting their message across. This contrasts with the total situation
that Paul is dealing with in this part of 1 Corinthians, where one of the
problems he is addressing is that some of the Corinthians were speaking and
not being understood.

Thirdly, it is significant (it seems to me) to note that Paul writes, EAN
with the subjunctive. This is a Class Three Condition: an Uncertain
Condition. It does not indicate that Paul actually does what he refers to:
he is posing a hypothetical possibility, best translated, "If I were to
speak ..." This verse is sometimes appealed to in support of glossalia, as
indicating that Paul himself spoke "the languages of angels", interpreted
as "heavenly languages", this verse being linked with 14:18, "I thank God
that I speak in tongues more than all of you". But 13:1 will not bear this
weight. Paul is saying, "If I were to do [such and such, whatever the such
and such may be]", without indicating whether or not he does do so.

As to whether 14:18 refers to supernatural, non-human languages: that is
another issue and separate from the one I am addressing above.



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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