Re: 1 Cor 14:27--number agreement

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Jun 23 1998 - 17:37:02 EDT

Since this has sat in my BG In-box for a week with no answer, I'll venture
a response as something (as Jonathan puts it) "for the rest to shoot down."

At 11:37 AM -0400 6/16/98, Trevor M Peterson wrote:
>I've come out of lurking once again with more of a question than an
>answer. In dialogue about 1 Corinthians 14, an acquaintance raised a
>view I had never heard before, that he claims came from a Classics
>scholar (so I'd be especially interested in comments from any of similar
>TREIS refer to LOGOI (from v. 19) or to speakers (as most of the versions
>seem to render it)? His arguments for LOGOI were as follows:

Let me say at the outset that I think the DUO and TREIS refer to persons,
not LOGOI. I'll respond to the specifics below, but let me say that my
basic reason for this is that DUO and TREIS are identical in the nominative
and superlative, LOGOUS really ought to be spelled out if it were intended
to be understood with DUO H TREIS. I would translate the whole verse
LOOSELY as "And if there's to be any speaking in tongues, then it should be
by pair or group of three persons, each speaking in turn, and a single
person should interpret."

>1) The singular TIS requires that only one person be in view as a
>speaker, which rules out the possibility of two or three speakers.

I think that's treating the logic too strictly; I rather suppose that EITE
TIS LALEI GLWSSHI means, "If anyone (at all) speaks in a tongue ...," and
then we must suppose Paul is willing to accept this possibility that
SOMEONE may do it, but that he wants to LIMIT the extent of this activity
in public worship, and so he says, "If anyone does it at all, then no more
than two or three should do it at a time, and they should do it in turn,
and there should always be a single interpreter." That's how I'd understand
it. I will admit, however, and perhaps it is important that I state this
clearly, that I understand Paul in this chapter to be urging that what is
done in worship should be primarily in terms of shared intelligible
experience rather than in the private mystical expression of individual

>2) The singular LALEI also requires that only one person be in view as a

But I've said I think this is a loose way of indicating the possibility
that there be any speaking in tongues at all--as when we say, "Does anyone
have an objection?" and we may very well anticipate that there will be half
a dozen objections. So, I take it, Paul suggests the possibility and then
warns that he's NOT prepared for half a dozen individuals speaking in
tongues, and certainly not simultaneously.

>Basically, what it comes down to is the lack of number agreement between
>TIS LALEI and DUO H TO PLEISTON TREIS. My initial thought is that the
>prepositional phrase does not require numerical agreement and that TIS
>could be singular to focus on the idea of one speaker at a time.
>Furthermore, ANA MEROS would seem a bit odd as requiring that two or
>three oracles or proclamations be issued individually. How else would
>one person speak them? Finally, I know that hEIS can be used as a simple
>pronoun, but in a context where one sentence includes DUO, TREIS, and
>hEIS, I'm tempted to take all three as applying to the same sort of
>thing; i.e., people.

I agree. But take notice that the DUO and TREIS are accusative and (at
least in terms of NT Koine) plural, whereas hEIS is nominative and singular
to agree with DIERMHNEUETW.

>My lack of understanding as to how numerals tend to function in Greek is
>a handicap for me in this situation. But I am trying to consider all the
>angles. Even if there is a rigid requirement that they agree in
>Classical, would there necessarily be the same in Koine? A bit further
>off the topic of this list, could Semitic number agreement have affected
>Paul's wording, since Hebrew tends to use numerals with singular forms?

Actually I think the TIS could have been used the same way in Classical
Attic. Nor do I think there's any Semitic influence involved here; while
Paul has Jewish phrasing in certain phrases such as EIS DOXAN QEOU, I think
that he has these from long-since Hellenized expressions and that the Greek
he speaks, he speaks as a native of a Greek-speaking city, Tarsus and not
as a second language.

So, after a week, the target is up for sharpshooters.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243

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