Criswell Theological Review 5.2 (1991) 259-286.

          Copyright © 1991 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 





        ANOTHER TONGUE: 1 COR 14:20-22

                          AND ISA 28:11-12



                                          DAVID E. LANIER

                              Criswell College, Dallas TX 75246



                                                I. Introduction


The relationship of Isa 28:11-12 to 1 Cor 14:20-22 in the writings of

Paul has long been an interpretive stumbling block. The exact correla-

tion of the historical setting of Isaiah’s passage to the conflict over

tongues in Corinth is difficult to fathom, and Paul's conclusion exacer-

bates the matter. J. B. Phillips went so far as to rewrite 1 Cor 14:22,

changing Paul's words to the exact opposite in four places. He ex-

plained such procedure in a footnote: "This is the sole instance of the

translator's departing from the accepted text. He felt bound to conclude

from the sense of the next three verses that we have here either a slip

of the pen on the part of Paul, or, more probably, a copyist's error.”1

            This is all the more remarkable when we reflect that it was done

with absolutely no manuscript support whatsoever; there are no major

variants or textual problems with the NT text itself. This paper will

attempt a historical and exegetical analysis of 1 Cor 14:21 and Its com-

panion verse in the OT to see if historical, linguistic, or interpretive

factors can help solve the impasse.

            The major problem is not with understanding the Isaiah passage;

the context itself is relatively clear. Paul's application of the passage


            1 J. B. Phillips, The New Testament m Modern English (New York: Macmillan,

1960) 552, n. 5. A good introductory survey of the problems involved can be found in

G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987)

676-85.  See also R P. Martin, The Spirit and the Congregation (Grand Rapids:  Eerd-

mans, 1984) 72-73.




presents the issue, for it seems to some as if he has written in total

disregard of the context and applied the passage in a way that contra-

dicts its NT context. For example, Paul makes the statement "tongues

are for unbelievers" when he has just been demonstrating how unin-

terpreted tongues in the Corinthian church would just cause unbe-

lievers to conclude that Christians are mad. Furthermore, he goes on

to say, "prophecy is not for unbelievers" in a context in which he will

go on to say that prophecy is one good way for an unbeliever to be

convicted and accept Christ.

            It is hoped that by careful analysis we might understand more

clearly what Paul is trying to say to Corinth and the principles by

which he is applying Isaiah's oracle to the Corinthian situation in

what seems to be a classic case of misunderstanding.


                        II. Background and Context of Isa 28:11-12


            Isa 28:11-12 fits into a larger section of the first half of the Book of

Isaiah. Chapters 28-33 are widely held to be Isaianic and contain a

collection of "woes" in which Isaiah is warning Judah about its ill-

fated alliance with Assyria. These woes are sandwiched between pro-

nouncements against foreign nations (chapters 24-27) and a collection

of eschatological prophecies (chapters 34-35).2 The prophet Isaiah

opens the section with a scathing denunciation of the drunkards of

Ephraim. He pronounces a woe upon them and predicts the downfall

of the northern kingdom at the hands of Assyria. Most commentators

who see the oracle as genuine predictive prophecy date it prior to the

fall of Samaria in 597-587 B.C.

            There was some danger that the rulers in Jerusalem would join in

this political alliance, and Isaiah is unsparing in his zeal to expose the

blindness and incompetence of Judah's and Israel's rulers. He never

wavers, however, in holding out God's purposes for Zion as something

which could not be thwarted even through the folly of men and the over-

whelming destruction which would be brought on them by Assyria.3

These emphases belong properly to the latter days of Isaiah's ministry.

            Isa 28:1-6 constitutes one oracle against the northern kingdom,

Ephraim, and leads into an indictment of Judah itself. The major ques-

tion with regard to vv 7-13 is whether Israel or Judah is being ad-

dressed. Whereas most commentators will begin the oracle against

Judah with v 7, Exum points out that the word "Jerusalem" does not ac-

tually appear until v 14. "This people" is being judged, but which people

is it? Not until v 14 are Jerusalem's leaders specifically called to task.


            2 IDB, 1962 ed., S.v. "Isaiah," by C. R North.

            3 Ibid.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   261


The best solution is probably to conclude that vv 1-13 are pronounced

against the northern kingdom and its capital Samaria but that the strong

parallels between vv 1-4 and 14-22 suffice to show the southern leaders

that their situation is not much different in the sight of God.4

            Verses 1-13 make it clear that destruction is coming to Ephraim

because the people have rejected instruction. In vv 1-6 we see the

spectacle of the drunken leaders of Ephraim. Beginning in v 7, the

priests and prophets themselves appear-drunken, sitting at a table

covered with filth and vomit.5 Isaiah asks who is left to learn the les-

son of God, the infants just weaned from milk? He then presents to

them the spectacle of extremely young children learning their first

principles while God addresses them in baby talk. But the wise

drunkards of Ephraim will not listen to the tedious repetitions of the

prophet; therefore, all the people will receive instruction from God

through the stammering tongues of Assyrians. "This people" has re-

fused the rest and covenant relationship offered by God; they have

mocked his prophet. Now they must endure a different lesson from

God, mediated through babbling masters. The message is one of utter

destruction and cruel exile: "That they might go and stumble back-

ward, be broken, snared, and taken captive."6

            The verses contained in Isa 28:11-12 constitute a prophecy of

warning which takes a mocking line (either spoken by God to the

little infants, the last who will hear, or by the scoffers themselves as a

taunt intended for Isaiah, according to the two most common inter-

pretations)7 and repeats it verbatim with a terrifying change of tone

and focus. The people who were so addressed by the prophet would

have had little trouble making the connection in their original Sitz im

Leben: the cruel Assyrians are going to be God's mouthpiece to speak

to "this people" (no longer called "his people"). They have disregarded

the paths of peace (cf. Deut 12:9 and 1 Kgs 8:56) and forged the chains

of their own slavery. O. Kaiser feels that v 12 presents a summary of

Isaiah's basic preaching: Yahweh states explicitly that since his mes-

sage through the prophet has been rejected by the people and their

leaders alike, the catastrophe that followed was a consequence they

had brought upon themselves by rejecting Yahweh's rest.8


            4 J. C. Exum, "Isaiah 28-32: A Literary Approach," SBLASP 17 (1979) 124.

            5 Ibid., 136.

            6 Isa. 28:1Sc. Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard

Bible unless otherwise noted.

            7 Exum, 134. I

            8 O. Kaiser, Isaiah 13-39: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 246,

Kaiser does not hold the prophecy to be predictive; he sees v 12 as the work of a redac-

tor writing after the fall of Samaria, the terminus a quo thus being set between 597 and

587 B.C.



            Whether vv 9-10 are placed in the mouth of God or those mock-

ing Isaiah for treating them like infants, one thing is clear: there is a

caricaturing tone presented (which is about to become deadly serious)

representing the prophecies of Isaiah to Ephraim. The introductory

word of our verses, yKi, "indeed," ''as a matter of fact," introduces a con-

trast and subtly begins to change the content of the message. In v 10

the mocking words of the drunkards (or of God speaking to children),

MwA ryrez; MwA ryfez; vqAlA vqa vqAlA vqa vgAlA vca vcAlA vca, reduce God's prophecy ad

absurdum. Verses 11-12 represent a very fateful link: in v 13, the same

words are heard again, this time with a deadly finality. What began as

mocking caricature has come to devastation and ruin. Their fate has

been sealed by the epitaph of Samaria in v 11: God had indeed told

them the paths of peace and rest, "but they would not listen,"9

            The text of Isa 28:11-12 preserved in the Masoretic tradition is

very stable, presenting only one variant reading noted by the Biblia

Hebraica Stuttgartensia.10 The qal perfect third person plural form

of hbAxA, xUbxA, "they were willing, desirous," reads hbAxA in the Great

Scroll of Isaiah, lQIsa11 Gesenius notes that an x was sometimes ap-

pended to the end of a word with a final u, i, or o (for example, xUbxA

in Isa 28:12). He takes it to be an early scribal error. This would, if

true, make the MT more conservative than the DSS lQIsa dating from

150-125 B.C.12 Some grammarians, however, take it to be the last ves-

tige of "Arabic orthography," a view Gesenius rejects. Davidson, for

example, considers the form to be paragogic x (appended either inor-

ganically or to give emphasis or modify the meaning of the word),

usual in the Arabic for the third person plural and found in the He-

brew as well (cf. Josh 10:24).13 The meanings of all the words which


            9 E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (3 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 2:277.

            10 BHS, 715.

            11 Besides this variant there are minor spelling variants, holem waw written defec-

tively three times in the MT, and the consonant h appended to the word Mhylx in lQIsa.

Concerning hmhylx we may have an example of h locale described by Gesenius as a

remnant of an early case ending appended to a substantive to express direction towards

an object, the original force of which should be disregarded when added to a substan-

tive with a preposition prefixed; after l, lx,, or dfa it is easily explained. E. Kautzsch, ed.,

Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, 2d ed (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910) p. 250. Hereafter

cited as Gesenius. Nagelsbach sees it as a note of interrogation, however. C. W. E. Na-

gelsbach, The Prophet Isaiah Theologically and Homiletically Expounded, A Commen-

tary on the Holy Scriptures (ed. J. P. Lange; 14 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1878)


            12 Gesenius, 81.

            13 B. Davidson, The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (2d ed.; London: Bag-

ster and Sons, 1850; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1982) 17. The same view is held

by Young, 2:278. The other variants can be seen in the first column of appendix 1.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   263


contain variants in the lQIsa remained substantially the same from

150-124 B.C. to A.D. 1009.


The Septuagint: Isa 28:10-13.14


            The major critical editions of the LXX have the same text

throughout the passage, although there are many minority readings

(see appendix 1 for the most significant variant readings). The most

important deviation from the MT comes in v 11: "He [YHWH] will

speak to this people" becomes "They [the heathen] will speak to this

people." This has serious implications for the reading of the passage

as a whole because it is no longer a message of judgment for ignoring

God's prophet but a message of valiant endurance under the persecu-

tions of the heathen.

            Similarly, the message is different. In the MT the stammering

lips came after the people had refused to hear God's original mes-

sage, "This [is] the rest, give rest to the weary, and this [is] the repose."

Now the heathen themselves are speaking the message with stam-

mering lips, "This [is] the rest to the hungering and this [is] the de-

struction." The people bravely resist this offer and thus expose

themselves to tribulation upon tribulation and hope upon hope. The

Lucianic MS tradition actually reads, "This [is] the rest to the hunger-

and this [is] the syntagma." which was a Greek battle formation.

Symmachus preserves the quotation from the MT with h[ h]remi<a

(rest) in the second position. It is one thing for them to turn down

offer from the Gentiles to cooperate or capitulate; it is quite an-

to refuse Isaiah's prophecies in order to forge a forbidden alli-

ance with those God knew would ultimately destroy them!

            The LXX also deviates in one other minor instance in v 12. The

phrase "This is the rest [you-pl.] cause to rest [obj.] the weary" (txzo

JyefAl, UHybihA hH,Unm.;ha) has been simplified by the LXX writer by the

omission of the hiphil imperative of HaUb, and the translation of l; de-

noting direct object (Brown-Driver-Briggs, s.v., "7") as a Greek dative:

“This [is] the rest to the hungering" (tou?to to> a]na<pauma t&? peinw?nti).

This does not affect the sense of the verses, but it shows paraphrastic,


            14 J. Ziegler, ed., Isaias, Septuaginta Vetus Testamentum Graecum (3d ed.; 18 vols.;

Gottingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983) 14.217-18. The text reads: 10. "Take tribula-

tion upon tribulation, hope upon hope, yet a little yet a little 11. through disparagement

of lips, through another language because they will speak to this people 12. saying to it,

“This [is] the rest to the hungering, and this [is] the destruction'; yet they were not will-

ing to hear. 13. And the word of the Lord God shall be to them tribulation upon tribula-

tion hope upon hope, yet a little yet a little, in order that they might go and fall

backward and they shall be crushed and shall be in danger, and shall be taken." The

LXX translation is the author's except for 13b-f which is after L. C. L Brenton.



simplifying tendency on the part of the LXX translator. Similarly, the

"inscrutable phrases" from Isaiah are translated into a smooth Greek

form and incorporated into the flow of the text itself in a manner that

obscures the irony of the original. The LXX remains a translation of

the MT, but it comes to the verge of interpretive paraphrase in sev-

eral places.15

            The word gfala means "mocking" or "derision" primarily and only

in a secondary sense "stammering (of barbarous language)."16 So the

LXX rendering o[ faulismo<j as "disparagement," "contempt" is not

etymologically far from the mark.17 The thrust of the passage is not

that the invaders sound like stammerers, but that they are using their

native language in a mocking, derisive way against the Hebrews.

Here again the original force of Isaiah's passage seems to have been

reversed. In this instance the divergence is not as serious, but taken

with the change of verb number and speaker, the LXX rendering is

substantively different from the MT. Paul will place the prophecy

back into the mouth of YHWH and the responsibility for disobedi-

ence back upon the children of Israel who ignored YHWH's warning.

It is this questionable quality of the LXX translation that led H. B.

Swete to write concerning Isa 28:11 (1 Cor 14:21): "The. . . quotation is

probably from memory. . . , but the Apostle's knowledge of the origi-

nal has enabled him to improve upon the faulty rendering of the

LXX.”18 (Emphasis mine.)


                                    III. An Exegesis of 1 Cor 14:20-22

Background and Context

            First Corinthians is generally considered to have been written by

the Apostle Paul from Ephesus in the mid-first century A.D. Though a

final verdict depends on whether his stay in Ephesus covered two or


            15 Cf. J. Ziegler's verdict from Untersuchungen zur Septuaginta des Buches Isaias

(1934): "[The translator) was not over-concerned to reproduce his original exactly, word

for word; he had no hesitation in simply omitting difficult or rare words if the sense of

the sentence was not thereby disturbed, or dividing up phrases or joining them to-

gether differently if he could not make sense of his original. Often he appears to have

been governed by a particular thought Thus in Isaiah we meet with many translations

which can properly be described as 'free.’” Quoted in Ernest Wurthwein, The Text of

the Old Testament (trans. E. F. Rhodes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 48.

            16 The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, 1979 ed.,

repro 1983, S.v. "gfala."

            17 LSJ, S.V. "fauli<zw." The verb form means to "hold cheap, worthless." The noun

form also appears as to> fauli<xma, -atoj, but the word does not appear in the NT.

            18 H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (rev. ed.; ed. R R

Ottley; Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1914) 402.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   265


three years, the letter appears to have been composed shortly before

his departure at Pentecost (1 Cor 16:8) either in early spring or late

winter A.D. 55. One of the crucial considerations in dating the book is

whether the Passover festival was going on at the time of writing (cf.

1 Cor 5:7-8). The most accepted chronology will take Pentecost as his

departure time with the resulting time frame cited above.19

            The recipients of the letter, the members of the church in

Corinth which Paul founded, were having problems with church

unity and were divided into carnal, warring factions. Paul's epistle in

several places seems to be addressing, questions on pressing issues

posed to him by the Corinthians themselves.20 One of these questions

is addressed in chapters 12-14. Paul's answer revolves around the rela-

tive value of tongues and prophecy. He begins chapter 12 by giving a

test by which to tell demonic inspiration from the genuine activity of

God (no person speaking by the Holy Spirit will call Jesus accursed,

1 Cor 12:3) and proceeds to demonstrate with a beautiful metaphor of

the human body how each component part of Christ's body needs and

is needed by the others. The varieties of gifts and abilities are to con-

tribute to the well-being of the whole body and are not to be used

selfishly as ends in themselves to benefit one faction alone. Chapter 13

asserts in language unmatched by world literature the spirit that

should underlie every endeavor in Christ's service: none of the gifts,

abilities, or talents men may possess are of value unless motivated by

the spirit of unconditional love. Chapter 14 represents an application

of sorts to the lofty and beautiful peak achieved in chapter 13. We

have come back down into the valley now and will see whether the

Corinthians have learned to apply the lesson of love. They seem to

have been exalting tongues as the sign for believers, a supreme gift

around which to rally the true body of Christ. Paul's intent is to show

that such behavior is childish and produces exactly the opposite re-

sults than those they should desire. The Corinthians have misunder-

stood the relative value of tongues and prophecy, have inverted them

as it were, and Paul delineates for them the implications of what they

have been doing.

            In the immediate context of the verses we will examine (1 Cor

14:20-25), Paul begins in vv 1-5 by telling the Corinthians to "pursue

love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy";

what he desires for them is perspective. Motivated by love, they are to


            19 IDB, 1964 ed., S.v. “First Corinthians,” by S. M Gilmour.

            20 They seem to have included questions concerning marriage and divorce (7:1-

40), food offered to idols (8:1-11:1), and the proper use of tongues in worship (12:1-14:40).

J. MacGorman, "Glossolalic Error and its Correction: 1 Corinthians 12-14,” Rev Exp 80

(1983) 389.



esteem spiritual gifts according to their benefit for others, not their

own selfish pursuits. Tongues do not edify men who do not under-

stand; they may indeed edify self and glorify God, but the one who

prophesies instructs and edifies others. Paul concludes this introduc-

tory section by saying that the one who prophesies is greater than the

one who speaks in a tongue (unless being interpreted it has value as

prophecy) because he builds up the body of Christ. (The Corinthians

in their immaturity have been virtually tearing up Christ's body.)

            Verses 6-19 illustrate the point Paul has been making in several

ways and build up to a stronger, even more personal metaphor from

the Apostle.  If a bugle gives an uncertain call, the soldiers will be

confused and unprepared for battle. If the Corinthian believers are

"speaking into the air," they will remain foreigners to those around

them; and the uninformed unbelievers among them will not even be

able to add "amen" to their praises and thanksgivings to God. This be-

havior is unfruitful; the unbelievers are neither convicted nor edified.

Paul speaks the strongest conclusion yet in vv 18-19: he himself

speaks with tongues and understands as well as they do the benefits

they hold; indeed, he thanks God for this gift. Then comes his verdict:

he had rather speak five words to the genuine instruction of others

than ten thousand incomprehensible words.

            The first verse of our section represents a strong admonition to

the Corinthian Christians to be mature in their understanding and

babes in malice, the implication being that they had been acting in

just the opposite fashion. In selfishly exalting unintelligible tongues

as a sign for believers, they were babes in understanding, babbling

like selfish infants. The unbelievers were not being convicted, and the

believers were not being edified--the Corinthians had only been "ma-

ture in malice"--albeit unwittingly. The argument thus far presented

runs: untranslated tongues do no more than to confuse unbelievers

and leave the church unedified. Prophecy, on the other hand, edifies

the church and allows the unbeliever to say his "amen" to their giving

of thanks--he does not feel like a foreigner shut out of God's plans.

Paul's point is that in reversing their priorities and elevating tongues

above prophecy, they had gotten the opposite of the desired result. Isa

28:11-12 illustrates "from the law" this exact phenomenon: untrans-

lated tongues harden unbelievers in their unbelief, whereas clear

prophecy has always been intended to build up those who will be-

lieve and apply it.

            The use of Isa 28:11-12 in 1 Cor 14:21 constitutes one of the nine

le<gei ku<rioj quotations of the NT (four are Paul's). All of these cita-

tions vary from both the LXX and the MT not only in omission or ad-

dition of wording but in the actual substance of the text itself. In six

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   267


instances (1 Cor 14:21 is one) the phrase le<gei ku<rioj is an addition to

the text of the OT. The five non-Pauline references have the phrase or

its equivalent in the OT text.21 It could be that in this instance Paul is

drawing upon his apostolic status and authority to drive his point

home. Ellis says concerning these quotations:

                 le<gei ku<rioj is the badge of prophetic pronouncement in the OT. Its

            presence in the NT probably has an equivalent significance and may give

            a clue to understanding the role which the NT exegete--or better, the NT

            prophet--considered himself to fill. The gift of prophecy was highly re-

            garded in the apostolic age [cf. 1 Corinthians 14]; it was a specific gift or

            appointment of the Holy Spirit; and it was not conferred upon all. Early

            Christians without doubt used the word in full light of its OT signifi-

            cance, and, indeed, some of the functions most peculiar to OT prophets,

            such as predictive utterance, appear in their NT counterpart.22


            Ellis holds that his particular use of a le<gei ku<rioj quotation con-

cerns the judicial significance of "tongues," and after R. Harris consid-

ers it to be one part of a testimonia collection within the "framework

of anti-Jewish polemic.”23 This may well be so, but it is important to

note that no anti-Jewish polemic is being carried on in 1 Corinthians

14; rather, the emphasis seems to be upon lessening the emotional

value of tongues vis-a-vis prophecy by citing an OT example of the

negative impact tongues have upon unbelievers and then contrasting

it with the results mature Corinthian Christians should desire "in

love.”24 J. Sweet feels (after Ellis) that the quotation had been used in

anti-Jewish polemic as part of a testimonia collection concerned with

explaining the disbelief of the Jews and divine judgment upon Israel

(cf. Rom 12:19 [Deut 32:35] and Rom 14:11 [Is a 45:25 and 49:18 or Deut

32:40]). He explains that as the Corinthians' speaking in tongues

served as a sign of divine judgment against unbelieving Jews, now

Paul turns their own apologetic against them as a sign against imma-

ture believers.25 It is in this context that Sweet cites J. Barr's admoni-

tion, "It seems that we generally have to see the use of quotations not

against the context from which the quotations were taken, which is


            21 E. E. Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament (n.p., 1957; repr., Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1981) 107.

            22 Ibid., 109.

            23 Ibid., 108.

            24 Sweet feels that the Corinthians have claimed that “tongues serve as a sign for

Christians," and that Paul is trying to reverse this claim in favor of prophecy. He ex-

plains the riddle of v 22 by placing the words “tongues are a sign for believers" in the

mouths of the Corinthians. J. P. M. Sweet, “A Sign for Unbelievers: Paul's Attitude to

Glossolalia," NTS 13 (1967) 241.

            25 Ibid., 243-44.



the modern literary approach, but against the context of what the

early Christians were doing with them.”26 These points are well

taken; but until it can be proved that Paul is using Isa 28:11-12 in dis-

regard of its context, it is safer to assume that Paul not only was

aware of its OT context but perhaps makes use of it here to prove his

point. At any rate it is difficult to understand why Paul would have

made an anti-Jewish polemic an integral part of this passage which is

not .primarily addressing itself to why the Jews are not accepting

Christ but rather why the Corinthians are not acting as mature believ-

ers. The point is that if the Corinthians conduct worship as they

ought; both Jew and Gentile will be convicted and converted and the

body of Christ will be properly edified simultaneously.27

            Paul's text-form28 differs from both the MT and the LXX al-

though it appears at first glance that is closer to the MT.29 Paul's use

of coordinating conjunctions and prepositions seems to correspond

more closely to the Hebrew than the LXX version. There is however

early evidence from Origen that points to the fact that 1 Cor 14:21 and

the text-form used by Aquila may have close affinities. Origen states

in Philocalia 9.2. concerning 1 Cor 14:21:

            But also the prophecy of Isaiah is also called "law" by the Apostle, as he

says, "In the law it is written; 'with men of other tongues and with other

lips I shall speak to this people, and even so they will not hearken unto

me,' says the Lord." For I found the equivalent of this saying in the

translation of Aquila.30 (Emphasis mine.)


            26 Cited in Sweet, 242-43, n. 6.

            27 Cf. D. L Baker, "The main theme of the chapter [is]: prophecy and speaking in

tongues both have a place in the lives of Christians, but in the Church prophecy is pref-

erable because it edifies all who are present. Speaking in tongues may also be used in

public worship if it is properly interpreted, but the effect on unbelievers should be

borne in mind. Although it is a sign to them, they will probably conclude that those wor-

shipping are mad, whereas the effect of prophecy is to bring conviction and conversion."

Baker, "Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12-14," EvQ 46 (October/December 1974) 233. If

this is so, it is difficult to fit Isa 28:11-12 into it in the primary sense of an anti-Jewish po-

lemic. That does not fit the NT context and does not appear to be Paul's point.

            28 UBSGNT, 3d ed., 610.

            29 Sweet, 243. Hering disagrees, however, with this assessment. Jean Hering, The

First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (trans. A W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock;

London: Epworth, 1962) 152, n. 14. See appendix 1.

            30  ]Alla> kai> h[ tou?  ]Hsai<ou profetei<a no<moj para> t&? a]posto<l& le<getai,

fa<skonti: e]n e[teroglw<ssoij kai> e]n xei<lesin e[te<roij lalh<sw t&? la&? tou<t&, kai> ou]d ]

ou!twj ei]sakou<sontai< mou, le<gei ku<rioj.  Eu$ron ga>r ta> i]sodunamou?nta> t^? le<cei

tau<t^ tau<t^ e]n t^? tou?  ]Akou<lou e]rmhnei<q kei<mena. (Emphasis mine.) Origen, Philocalie,

1-20 sur les ecritures et La lettre a Africanus sur l'histoire de Suzanne (trans. M. Harl and N. de

Lange; Paris: Cerf, 1983) 352. This quote dates from the time of Hadrian. Hering, 152, n. 14.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   269


            The NT text has no variants marked in the UBSGNT, although a

few minor variants exist.  [Eteroglw<ssoij is rendered e[te<raij glw<ssaij

in F G Vulgate (in aliis linguis) Tertullian; and the reading EV

xei<lesin e[te<rwn, "with lips of strangers," in x B A 17 and other cur-

sives is rendered  e]n xei<lesin e[te<roij, "with strange lips," by P46 and

the majority text tradition including D E F G K L P. Robertson and

Plummer consider these to be scribal corrections, but none of them

substantively affects the reading.31 This renders Phillips' verdict on

the text quoted in the introduction extremely problematic. We are

dealing with a solid text in 1 Cor 14:22--totally untouched by scribal

alteration in any extant manuscript.

            The texts of the MT, LXX, and NT differ so much that definite

signs of literary dependence are difficult to find. Hering concludes that

Paul may either be quoting from memory or is dependent upon an

ancient translation of Isaiah in Greek which Aquila used also.32

H. Conzelmann leans toward the latter possibility as a warning

against concluding that Paul is "simply altering the text freely."33

Michel believes that since e[teroglw<ssoij is found in no other Greek

translation, it must derive directly from Aquila's Vorlage.34 Conzel-

mann, however, rightly observes that some originality on the part of

Paul might be found. He feels the shift into first person, "I will speak,"

and the addition of "even so" stem from Paul's own hand.35

            When we compare the three text-forms (see appendix 1), we see

that the most drastic deviation on the part of Paul comes in his omis-

sion of the entirety of the positive prophecy, " . . . unto whom he said,

“This [is] the rest; cause the weary to rest, and this [is] the repose.' . . ." In

keeping with this omission, Paul changes the past tense verb-infinitive

combination ("and they were not willing to hear" [NT]; faOmw; xUbxA xlov

[MT]; kai> ou]k h[qe<lhsan a]kou<ein [LXX]) into the prophetic past kai> oud ]

ou!twj ei]sakou<sontai, using the future tense to express the certainty of

the rebellion.

            Paul also makes a drastic departure from the LXX in reassigning

the quotation to the mouth of YHWH. No longer are the Assyrians

speaking in stammering tongues to brave, resistant Israel; rather,


            31 A Robertson and A Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the

First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911) 317. Hereafter

cited as Robertson and Plummer.

            32 Hering, 152, n. 14.

            33 H. Conzelmann, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (trans.

J. W. Leitch; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 242, n. 14.

            34 O. Michel, Paulus und seine Bibel (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchge-

sellschaft, 1972) 65.

            35 Conzelmann, 242.



YHWH himself is speaking through the stammering tongues a judg-

ment on recalcitrant Israel. And as if a simple change in verb person

and number is not enough, Paul underlines their rebellion four times:

"in the law it is written. ..I will speak. ..they will not hear me, says

the Lord." The LXX lalh<sousi has thus been brought closer in line

with the MT rBedaya, as the subject speaking is again YHWH. The un-

derlined words and phrases above are not in the LXX or MT and

seem to be Paul's emphasis.

            Paul's word e[teroglw<ssoij may represent a keener understanding

of the Hebrew hpAWA ygefEla if we conceive of the masculine adjective

plural construct as "stammerers of lip." The LXX has only the imper-

sonal faulismo>n xeile<wn, "disparagement of lips." Paul's phrase e]n

xei<lesin e[te<rwn, "with lips of strangers," differs in number and modifi-

cation from the Hebrew tr,h,xa NOwlAB; "with a strange tongue," which

the LXX renders much closer to the MT with dia> glw<sshj e[te<raj. This

could well reflect a text tradition unknown today; there does not seem

to be any reason for Paul to alter the text for emphasis at this point. He

deviates from all known Hebrew and Greek texts--with the possible

exception of the unknown text--form of Aquila, which remains an

argument from silence. The v;, "yet," before xUbxA may account for

Paul's use of ou]de<, which Paul strengthens by the addition of ou!twj.

The addition of mou is in accord with the shift to the first person of the

main verb, but this is merely bringing the text back in line with its

original context, obscured by the LXX. As G. Archer states, "The NT

wording heightens the meaning in the light of Israel's opposition to

God's Word."36 To this we might add that Paul does not spare; he im-

plies that their rebellion against God's prophecy through the men of

other languages amounts to a rejection of God himself.  ]Eisakou<w

means more than "hear" in a Semitic context; it means "heed," "obey,"

"shema." Paul's omission of the positive prophecy cited by Isaiah

might have been for thematic reasons; we need not infer that Paul's

text omitted it. Tentatively we may say that Paul seems to be height-

ening the connection between God's use of unintelligible tongues to

rebuke his people and their obstinate refusal to heed and obey, which

has led to the catastrophe of exile. Whether Paul sees himself as cor-

recting the faulty rendering of the LXX (after Swete) we cannot say;

however, the result of Paul's quotation seems to take the reader closer

to the spirit of the original prophecy. We hear God again speaking

through stammering tongues to his stiff-necked people; we see again

obstinate refusal leading to oppression and exile. Though Paul's text-


            36 G. L Archer and G. C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Tes-

tament: A Complete Survey (Chicago: Moody, 1983) 107.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   271


form is far from the MT, the thrust of what he says is much closer to

the MT than the LXX; and certain factors in Paul's use of the text

serve to heighten the notes of resistance, judgment, and punishment

even further than the MT itself. Paul does not seem to want his read-

ers to miss the point through his subtlety. Israel spurned God, and the

stammering tongues were an unmistakable sign of God's judgment.


Exegesis and Interpretation

            In the long and troubled history of the interpretation of 1 Cor

14:20-25, three factors emerge as interpretive problems. First, there is

the problem of the significance of Isa 28:11-12. Does it really fit the

Corinthian situation, and if so how? Is it being applied with no

thought to its former context, which seems at first glance to be totally

unrelated to the situation in Corinth? Second, what are the precise

meanings of the key words shmei?on, a@pistoi, glw?ssa, and pisteu<ontej?

Do they connote the same throughout, or do their meanings shift in

mid-passage as some commentators assert? Third, what is the connec-

tion of v 22 to the context? Why do the illustrations of it in vv 23-24

seem flatly to contradict it? This last problem remains the most diffi-

cult of all for we must somehow explain why "tongues are a sign for

unbelievers" (v 22) in a context where they just think the Christians

are mad (vv 16, 23) and why "prophecy is . . . not for unbelievers" in a

context in which an unbeliever is convicted and falls on his face wor-

shipping as a result of clear prophecy (vv 24-25).37

            14:20 Paul begins in v 20 by giving an imperative to the Corin-

thians. They are not to be children in understanding but babes in

malice. He is telling them to grow up: "In understanding be mature."

This command may have brought to Paul's mind the immediate con-

text of Isa 28:11-12 where Isaiah is asking the rhetorical question of

Ephraim, "Whom will he [YHWH] teach knowledge? And whom will

he [YHWH] make to understand the message? Those just weaned

from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts?" We cannot claim to

have penetrated the mind of the Apostle at this point; we only note

that there are two links in the immediate context of both passages: a

call for understanding and a search for mature believers to apply

God's message. The theme of babies is applied ironically in each con-

text. The application itself is different: Isaiah is lamenting that no one

but perhaps the suckling infants is bothering to listen to God's mes-

sage anymore in Ephraim; whereas Paul is ironically telling the

Corinthians that if they are going to be babies about anything, let it

be about evil or malice (kaki<a) but not about spiritual understanding.


            37 P. Roberts, "A Sign-Christian or Pagan?" Exp Tim 90 (April 1979) 199.



So we find three thematic, contextual affinities in the semantic do-

mains of knowledge, babies, and a call to a mature hearkening to

God's word.

            14:21 Paul begins the Isaiah quote with the phrase "in the law";

he refers to the entire OT as law and seems to be making an appeal to

divine authority.38 The word ge<graptai might take perfective force in

the sense of "it stands written," i.e., that the authority is continuing

into the present and needs to be heeded; or it may be a stock introduc-

tory phrase "it is written," merely noting that the quotation is located

in Scripture itself. The primary questions we have to ask at this point

are why Paul chose this particular Isaiah passage and why he in-

cluded it here. G. Findlay notes that Paul has been arguing the supe-

riority of prophecy over tongues in the first 19 verses of 1 Corinthians

14 and includes the OT citation "not by way of Scriptural proof, but in

solemn asseveration of what [Paul] has intimated. . . respecting the in-

feriority of Glossolalia. . . . The passage of Isaiah reveals a principle

applying to all such modes of speech on God's part."39 Conzelmann

holds that Paul is extending his train of thought as follows:

            Scripture predicts speaking in tongues as a God-given sign, but this

            sign has no attention paid to it. Thus the tone is first of all critical, and

            does not agree with the previous train of thought. For Paul's argument so

            far had been based on the fact that men cannot understand speaking with

            tongues, whereas in the quotation it is based on1he fact that they will not

            understand. The application which follows [v 22] operates once more with

            the idea of inability, thus the quotation is made use of only for the one

            thought, that speaking with tongues is a "sign" (namely, for unbelievers).40

Conzelmann is correct that Paul is seeing tongues as a sign of divine

judgment on unbelievers; Paul himself says as much in v 22. But Paul

also demonstrates in v 22 that he is dealing with the same topic he

has discussed all along: the relative value of tongues over against

prophecy. In other words, tongues were a sign, but in the OT context

they possessed only the negative value of rebuke unto judgment.


            38 F. F. Bruce, I and 2 Corinthians (London: Oliphants, 1971) 132-33. “According to

Jewish usage, the whole OT can be so designated." Conzelmann, 242. Paul uses o[ no<moj

to refer to Scripture at large in Rom 3:19, and John at 10:34. G. G. Findlay, Apostles,

Romans, First Corinthians, Expositor's Greek Testament (ed, W. Robertson Nicoll; 5

vols.; n.p., n.d.; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970) 2.909. Hereafter cited as Findlay.

Also cf. F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953) 330.

            39 Findlay, 2.909.

            40 Conzelmann, 242. Cf. Kidner, “Paul's quotation of v 11 in 1 Cor 14.21 is thus a re-

minder . . . that unknown tongues are not God's greeting to a believing congregation but

His rebuke to an unbelieving one." Cited in Grudem, 387.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   273


Paul's argument proceeds further than that, as we see in his reintro-

duction of the theme of prophecy versus tongues in v 22.

            Excursus on shmei?on. It is obvious that Paul is citing Isa 28:11-12

to show that stammering lips and other tongues are a "sign" (shmei?on)

for unbelievers. But what are we to understand by "sign"? The major

divisions among commentators come over whether we are to take

"sign" in a positive or negative sense.41 J. Ruef, for example, sees

"sign" in the NT context as referring to the positive presence of God

at conversion,42 whereas K. Stendahl holds it had an almost com-

pletely negative connotation for Paul--a "mere sign" that only led to

hardening and unbelief.43 Most commentators will follow Stendahl

and affirm that "sign" in this context applies to one of judgment (as in

Isa 20:3, Deut 28:45-49, or Luke 2:34), that it is not a means by which

one comes to know God but a means of hardening hearts.44 Ruef has

two problems with this approach. First, in the NT context the people

did not have a chance to understand what the speaker meant; in the

OT context they had rejected the clear preaching of the prophet; and

the Israelites had not obeyed. Second, tongues were viewed by the

Corinthians as a positive sign, a sign of the presence of God's Spirit.

Paul does not seem to be arguing his case in such a way as to allow

the unbelievers to be shut off in their disbelief but rather to hold out

hope for their repentance (vv 24-25).45

            Perhaps the best way to view the concept of "sign" is to take it as

a neutral term connoting evidence of divine activity whether for judg-

ment or blessing. In the OT context of Deut 28:45-49, tongues of other

nations were an unmistakable sign of God's disapproval of Israel for

their disobedience; tongues were a sign of the curse that would follow

upon their disregarding the law as given to Moses. "All these curses"

were to overtake them if they disobeyed:

            and they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed

            forever, because thou servedst not the Lord thy God. . . . The Lord shall

            bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth. . . a nation

            whose tongue thou shalt-not understand. . . (KJV-emphasis mine).


John refers to the glorious miracles of Jesus as "signs"; Luke records

how the birth of Messiah would be a sign which would be spoken


            41 Roberts, 199.

            42 Ibid.

            43 Stendahl, 115. Stendahl cites 1 Cor 1:22, Rom 4:11, 2 Cor 12:12, Rom 15:19, and

2 Thess 2:9 as evidence of Paul's negative attitude toward "mere signs.” Only in John

are miracles called "signs.n Ibid.

            44 Cf. TDNT, S.v. "shmei?on,” by K H. Rengstdorf for an illustration of this viewpoint.

            45 J. S. Ruef, Paul's First Letter to Corinth (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977) 151-52.



against. Jesus, however, uses the word in the negative sense when a

wicked generation keeps asking him for a sign: "the sign of the prophet

Jonah" is a bewildering puzzle to his audience. "Sign" like "miracle" or

"parable" can be a vehicle for light or darkness depending on the spiri-

tual receptivity of the hearer. If we interpret sign in this neutral sense,

we will have no difficulty with "prophecy is [a sign] for believers" (if

indeed those words are elliptically supplied by Paul in v 22). In the NT

context, a "sign" of God's activity could well be used in a positive sense,

just as in John's gospel--to lead people to Christ. Both Paul and

the Corinthians seem to be aware of this.46

            14:21 (continued) So Paul sets Isa 28:11-12 in a context in which he

seems to be asking the Corinthians to examine what the law (Scrip-

ture itself) says about the sign value of tongues: they were prophesied

by Isaiah as a sign of judgment on unbelievers (in the OT context,

children of Israel who had turned a deaf ear to God's petitions for

obedience and offers of rest).47 But what sort of tongues do we mean?

 ]En e[teroglw<ssoij "by men of foreign tongues," in the Isaiah context

refers to uninterpreted human languages that fall upon the ears of

unrepentant Hebrews as "stammering." But glw?ssa in Corinth refers

to unintelligible utterances spoken in the context of Christian wor-

ship (vv 1-6). Whether they refer to human languages (Acts 2) or mys-

terious, unintelligible tongues of angels (1 Cor 13:1) is a matter of

debate to commentators. R. H. Gundry holds, against what he consid-

ers to be an overwhelming consensus, that the tongues in Corinth

were bona fide foreign languages. He notes that the majority of NT

and Greek literary references refer to meaningful human speech

(used in that sense 30 times in the LXX alone). Similarly, outside of

the passages in question (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 14), the biblical Greek

contains only two references to unintelligible speech as glw?ssa (Isa

29:24, 32:4 [LXX]).48 In the context of our passage, however, Paul has

already written of speaking with the tongues of men or of angels in

13:1. Gundry takes this reference as hypothetical, not necessarily


            46 For treatments on signs as positive or negative in Scripture see Grudem, 387-92

and Fee, 681-82.

            47 Sweet feels that Isa 28:11-12 had been used by the Corinthians “to justify glosso-

lalia against Jewish aspersions” and Paul turns the tables on them. Sweet, 244.

            48 R. H. Gundry, “’'Ecstatic Utterance’ (NEB)?" JTS 17 (1966) 299-300. Against this

view one might argue why an unbeliever, upon hearing someone speaking in what was

obviously an unfamiliar foreign language, would conclude that the speaker was crazy.

It seems that what we have in Corinth was an unusual manifestation of the Spirit of

God. Cf. C. H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians (New York: Crossroad, 1987) 89-91; F. F.

Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerd-

mans, 1971) 1.'33; Grosheide, 332. For the opposite view see J. G. Davies, “Pentecost and

Glossolalia," JTS (1952) 228-31. Conzelmann maintains a neutral position, 242, n. 19.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   275


rooted in facts as they were. But prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving up

of possessions to feed the poor, and being martyred (13:1-2) were

surely not hypothetical to the Corinthians. Tongues at Corinth seem

to have constituted a spiritual manifestation that needed spiritual in-

terpretation and mature control. We cannot prove conclusively from

the evidence we have that they were indeed speaking in a heavenly

language unknown by men; neither can we prove the reverse, but

such a singular, mysterious working of God's Spirit would not have to

conform to the lexical norms familiar to men. It seems more plau-

sible, judging from the context, that tongues of men and angels were

in danger of being abused, that unbelievers considered the Christians

mad in exercising the gift, that tongues had meaning but only when

translated, and that Paul himself had the gift but wanted to do the

thing which edified the believers and instructed the unbelievers in

love: prophesy.

            There are major differences between glw?ssa in the Isaiah pas-

sage and in Corinth. The uninterpreted Assyrian language of Isaiah

28 was a form of punishment for unbelief.49 The uninterpreted (heav-

enly?) language of Paul's day was occurring among believers in an at-

titude of worship. One represents God speaking through the heathen

to his own unbelieving people; the other represents the Holy Spirit

speaking through a believing Christian to edify himself or, upon in-

terpretation, the entire church fellowship. The common link seems to

be the impact upon unbelievers: untranslated tongues in both in-

stances effectively shut off the unbeliever in his unbelief. In Isaiah's

day this had constituted a judgment of God, but Paul seems to be ask-

ing the Corinthians if they desire to use their spiritual gifts to bring

the same judgment upon the unbelievers among them. It is obvious

from vv 25-26 which Paul prefers: "Let all things be done for edifica-

tion." Findlay well summarizes the arguments thus far advanced:


            God spoke to Israel through the strange Assyrian tongue in retribution,

            not to confirm their faith but to consummate their unbelief. The Glosso-

            lalia may serve a similar melancholy purpose in the Church. This analogy


            49 Robertson and Plummer note that the connection of the Isaiah passage in

1 Corinthians is difficult and propose the following logic on the part of Paul:  “’I have

pointed out that tongues are a blessed experience to the individual believer, and that, if

interpreted, they may benefit the believing congregation. Tongues have a further use,

as a sign to unbelievers; not a convincing, saving sign, but a judicial sign. Just as the dis-

obedient Jews, who refused to listen to the clear and intelligible language of foreign in-

vaders, so those who now fail to believe the Gospel are chastised by hearing wonderful

sounds which they cannot understand.’ If this is correct, we may compare Christ's use

of parables to veil His meaning from those who could not or would not receive it.”

Robertson and Plummer, 316.



            does not support any more than that of vv. 10f the notion that the

            tongues of Corinth were foreign languages.50


            So we conclude that Paul either renders the Isaiah text freely or

draws upon a now unknown Greek text-form. In so doing he changes

the subject of the main verb from the "he" (YHWH) of the MT and

"they" of the LXX to "I" (YHWH). He omits the former part of Isa

28:12 and thus condenses his argument to focus on the direct disobedi-

ence to God. His additions at the close of Isa 28:12 underscore this

point. Paul's second clause, kai> ou]d ] ou!twj ei]sakou<sontai< mou, is based

upon the Isaiah verse but with a consideration increase in force, sig-

naled by the addition of ou!twj and mou. His use of ei]sakou<sontai is in-

teresting: the word shares the meaning of u[pakou<w in the language of

the LXX and classical Greek and carries the force of "obey" or "to

hear with attention or effect.”51 Paul seems to be rendering faOmw; in

the full OT covenantal sense. If they did not obey, they had not

heard--and it was God, not man, they spurned. The language of the

original has been condensed and adapted by Paul, and the effect is

much stronger than the LXX form ou]k h]qe<lhsan a]kou<ein.52 The point

is not that they were unwilling to listen to those of stammering

tongue (LXX) but that even though YHWH himself made the appeal,

they would not hearken to me, says the Lord.

            14:22 This verse represents the major problem of interpretation

in the chapter. When taken as an application to the Corinthian situa-

tion, the illustrations seem flatly to contradict the assertions.53 Most

commentators take the verse to represent the Corinthian situation and

seek by grammatical or lexical means to account for the seeming in-

consistencies. There is no consensus, and the approaches offered seem

to be as numerous as the commentators themselves.

            One approach (L. Morris, Hering, S. L. Johnson, and Findlay) sug-

gests that Paul is making a distinction between two kinds of a!pistoi:

those who have heard the word and rejected it (v 22), and those who


            50 Findlay, 910.

            51 Ibid.

            52 Robertson and Plummer, 316-17.

            53 In other words, how do we reconcile "tongues are a sign. ..not for believers"

(v 22) to 14:4 where the believer is edified by tongues, and "prophecy is not for unbe-

lievers" (v 22) to 14:24-25 where an unbeliever worships God as the result of all proph-

esying? Cf. Grudem: "Paul's instructions in 1 Cor 14:20-25 have often seemed

perplexing, primarily because he calls tongues a sign for unbelievers (v 22), but then

seems to discourage the use of tongues when unbelievers are present (v 23). Similarly,

he says that the use of prophecy is for believers (v 22), but then encourages the use of

prophecy when unbelievers are present (vv 24-25).” Grudem, 381.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   277


are about to become believers (vv 23-25).54 Roberts takes offense at

the shift in semantic meaning; for a@pistoi and shmei?on by such ap-

proaches; for example, Barrett takes prophecy and tongues as negative

signs of judgment and, in Roberts' view, cuts v 22 off from its context,

thus producing an even greater impasse. Ruef explains v 22 by saying

that tongues are a sign to unbelievers in that they are participants in

God's Spirit, which Roberts feels is a contradiction in terms.55

            Sweet feels that Paul is deliberately exploiting the ambiguity of

a@pistoj. Paul warns the Corinthians that according to the law, tongues

are meant as a sign against (dativus incommodi) unbelievers (see

note 55 below); therefore, for those who reject God's simple message,

tongues are not as the Corinthians seem to assume--a sign for the

benefit of believers, but one which will harden the unbelievers. On

the other hand, prophecy is a sign for believers in the effect it has on

unbelievers. Sweet concludes:

            On this view he is deliberately exploiting the ambiguity of a@pistoj    ('dis-

            believer', v 22; 'unbeliever', vv 23-24) and of the dative, but such shifts of

            meaning are common enough in Paul. There is no need to suppose he gen-

            uinely thinks that tongues are intended by God to harden unbelievers.

            The case in verse 23 is hypothetical; his concern is with the Corinthians.56


            B. C. Johanson handles the problem of v 22 by taking the verse as

a rhetorical question which Paul has formulated by inference from Isa

28:11-12. He sees it as being placed in the mouth of an imaginary

opponent and intended by Paul to represent the childish reasoning of

the glossolalists which he has already disparaged in v 20. Taken thus,

w 23-25 could be seen as Paul's rebuttal to the absurdity of their

charge (v 22).57 O. Robertson sees shmei?on as referring to Deut 28:49, a

sign of covenantal curse or blessing, and concludes that the same sign

could then serve as a judgment on unbelievers-a covenantal curse.58


            54 Ibid. Hering, 152-53. L Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

(Grand Rapids; InterVarsity, 1958) 195-96.

            55 Roberts, 200. He reconciles the problem by following B. Anderson to say that

shmei?on refers to "divine or spiritual activity" that communicates that God is present

and at work (cf. Isa 7:14-the Immanuel sign). Ibid. Cf. E. B. Allo, "Ici shmei?on est simple-

ment unsigne'de l'activite divine, prodigieux ou non, donne en faveur ou en defaveur

de quelqu'un, avec datif commodi ou incommodi." E. B. Allo, Premiere epitre aux Corin-

thiens (Paris: n.p., 1934), 365. Allo takes the Greek to refer to a dative of advantage or dis-

advantage, where toi?j could be translated "for" or "against." Sweet, 242. Fee, 681.

            56 Sweet. 242.

            57 B. C. Johanson, "Tongues, A Sign for Unbelievers?: A Structural and Exegetical

Study of 1 Corinthians XIV. 20-25," NTS 25 (January 1979) 202.

            58 O. P. Robertson, "Tongues: Sign of Covenantal Curse and Blessing," WTJ 38

(1975) 44, 46.



But tongues would serve simultaneously as a sign of covenantal bless-

ing as God poured out his spirit on all flesh. Tongues are "for unbeliev-

ers" in that they give a divine warning to unbelieving Israel--God has

been true to his word in Deut 28:49 and brought the covenantal curse

to pass. Thus the tongues give witness to God's judgment on unrepen-

tant Israel.59 Robertson resolves the conflict in v 22 by noting that

there is a general difference between tongues and prophecy. Tongues

are a "sign;" prophesy is not ("prophesy is for believers"--Robertson

does not supply the words "for a sign"). They are an indicator whereas

prophecy serves as a communicator; i.e., tongues call attention to the

mighty acts of God whereas prophecy calls the unbeliever to repen-

tance and faith.60 Barrett likewise notes that Paul uses Isa 8:14 and

28:16 in other contexts to demonstrate possible positive and negative

effects of the same gift.61 Stendahl takes issue with Barrett who under-

stands ''as a sign" from the first clause and reads "prophecy as a sign

not for the unbelievers." Stendahl feels that the resolution of the prob-

lem lies in the omission of the supplied words. He holds that Paul is ar-

guing that according to the law glossolalia is a mere sign, incapable of

leading unbelievers to faith. Of course, to the believer glossolalia is not

such a sign for he has faith and has heard God's word. Prophecy is to-

ward faith (here Stendahl seems to construe the dative of reference,

lessening the idea of personal emphasis) and not toward the harden-

ing of unbelief.62 (Emphasis mine.)

            The final problem we must treat is the relationship of the Isaiah

context (divine judgment upon the unbelieving) to the Corinthian


            59 It is to be noted here that in the larger context of Isa 28:11-12 is found "Behold

I lay in Zion a stone. . ." (Isa 28:16).

            60 Robertson, 52. But he does not as adequately account for the reverse statements

"prophecy is not for unbelievers" and "tongues are not a sign for believers" in the con-

text and why the illustrations seem to contradict them. Sweet holds that these phrases

we put in for rhetorical balance and that Paul's main point is not value in general but

sign value. Sweet, 244, n. 2.

            61 Cited in T. C. Smith, D. Moody, and R B. Brown, Acts-1 Corinthians, Broadman

Bible Commentary (ed. C.]. Allen; 12 vols.; Nashville: Broadman, 1969-1973), 10.380.

            62 Stendahl, 116, n. 9. He notes the RSV translation, "tongues are a sign not for be-

lievers but for unbelievers," overlooks the wording of ei]j shmei?on, "for a sign." (Cf. BAG,

"with the vocation, use, or end indicated... 1 Cor 14:22," S.v. "ei]j.") Stendahl reads the

first clause "Thus [according to the quotation from Isa. 28:11] glossolalia becomes [Elvat

ei]j] a (mere) sign not for believers but for unbelieyers." Stendahl, 115, n. 7. This writer

feels that the expression can best be accounted for by Semitic influence; that is, in the

NT we often find LXX quotes or Semitic phrases using ei]j plus the accusative in place

of the predicate noun. Blass notes that the LXX uses it fairly consistently as a transla-

tion of 7. It would thus be "tongues are a sign" according to older Greek idioms under

Semitic influence. A T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the

Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934) 457-58.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   279


situation in which Paul seems anxious that the unbelievers have a

chance to convert. Those commentators who want to emphasize Paul's

holding out of grace toward unbelievers have trouble with the Isaiah

context and often conclude that Paul is using Isa 28:11-12 irrespective

of the context of divine judgment.63 On the other hand, those who hold

that Paul cites the Isaiah passage for its historical significance have

problems explaining his application in vv 23-24, as it appears to draw

the opposite conclusions from v 22. Commentators who take this form

of reasoning include Bruce, Rengstdorf, Allo, and J. MacGorman. Allo

is illustrative of the attempt to make the Isaiah quotation serve the

Corinthian context. The Corinthian unbelievers should realize by ob-

serving tongues that they are in the same situation as the unbelievers

of Isaiah's day--a sign that God is abandoning unbelieving Israel and

allowing it to return to Gentile domination.64 Sweet takes issue with

this and holds it is difficult to conclude that Paul could have expected

his hearers to be so familiar with the Isaiah context and to read so

much out of two isolated verses. He notes that although Paul does not

seem to be drawing the quotation "from the blue," he does not seem to

be using it in the context with which they would have been familiar;

and it "points to a rather different interpretation."65 We will attempt

to address this problem in the final section.


                        IV. The Relationship Between Isa 28:11-12 and

                               1 Cor 14:21-22: A Tentative Conclusion


            Now that the major interpretive issues have been examined, we

must attempt to draw our findings together in such a way as to draw

out, not further obscure, Paul's meaning. Several presuppositions are

made: first, this approach assumes that Paul understood the judgment

context of Isa 28:11-12 and that in applying the passage, he is aware

that tongues were a sign of judgment upon hardened unbelievers.

Second, no appeal will be made to unannounced shifts in grammar

(such as from dative of advantage to disadvantage) unless warranted

by the context. Third, if we are forced to reinterpret a word--"unbe-

liever," for example--it will be only because context demands it.


            63 Michel, pp 167-68. Michel sees it as an example of rabbinic teaching taken out

of original context. Robertson and Plummer argue that tongues are not a sign but are

intended only to serve as such. Robertson and Plummer, 317. They do conclude that this

sign by proxy” is for judgment rather than salvation.

            64 Allo, 365-66.

            65 Sweet, 242. A Strobel, Der erste Brief an die Korinther, Zurcher Bibelkommen-

tare (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1989) 220. Strobel sees Paul as writing “ungenau

nach rabbinischer Manier.”



            Let us first examine the common elements in the OT and NT con-

texts. Both passages involve a call to maturity and link the concept of

knowledge with that of babies: "Do not be children in your thinking

yet in evil be babes" (1 Cor 14:20); "Whom would he [YHWH] teach

knowledge? ...Those just weaned from milk?" (Isa 28:9; emphasis

mine.) The basic difference between the contexts is that Isaiah's words

come ironically, implying that the people are beyond help and only

the babies would bother to listen. Paul is directing his admonition pri-

marily to the believers and is trying to get them to show signs of spiri-

tual maturity. In other words, Paul and Isaiah have different purposes

in mind, suited to their contexts. I would like to propose that Paul is

presenting two parallel arguments: one based upon the OT context

(1 Cor 14:21-22) and one upon the NT context (1 Cor 14:23-24). Whereas

Isaiah's "call to maturity" constitutes a turning of unbelievers over to

divine wrath because of disobedience, Paul's "call to maturity" consti-

tutes a call to mature Christianity on the part of the Corinthians with

the opposite result in mind: to bring the unbelievers to Christ.

            Another common element is unintelligible language which in

Isaiah's context is a human language serving as an unmistakable sign

of God's wrath or, after Robertson, a sign of a covenantal curse. In

Corinth the unintelligible language was a grace gift to believers and a

sign of God's presence and new covenant; it only shut off unbelievers

in their unbelief if left uninterpreted--showing them to be aliens and

foreigners and causing them to conclude the Christians were mad

(14:23). In the Isaiah context hardening as a result of unintelligible

tongues was a divine result of having rejected God's clear message. In

the Corinthian context the hardening of unbelievers is an undesired

result of the selfish, unloving actions of immature believers. These

unbelievers had not had the chance to hear God's clear message (14:1-

19) but should be given the chance (14:23-26). The believers in Isaiah's

day were nonexistent in Ephraim; that is why Isaiah has God preach-

ing through him in the nursery. Perhaps these would be the "weary"

ones of the land who would accept God's rest and covenant terrns-

those who would hear and obey. In Corinth the believers were not OT

Israelites but Christians; they were those who had responded to God's

message of grace in Jesus Christ. As Vv 24-25 suggest, some of the

a@pistoi in Corinth would respond if given a chance. So the unbeliev-

ers in Isaiah's day were Israelites who had defiantly rejected God's

covenant rest in order to forge illegitimate alliances politically and

spiritually. They were entrenched, hardened rebels against God. In

Corinth the unbelievers are present in the services (14:16, 23-25) but

will not hear the clear message "if all speak in tongues" (v 23) and

will be shut off in unbelief, concluding "they are mad." If, however,

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   281


"all prophesy," the unbeliever is converted, falls down convicted and

worships God (v 25). We are thus forced by the context to reinterpret

"unbeliever" in this manner. "Sign," conceived as a neutral manifesta-

tion of God's activity, may like "miracle" or "parable" be a blessing to

one who believes or a curse to one who rejects. Paul cites only the

negative function of the sign from Isaiah 28 and asks rhetorically if

that is really what the tongues faction desires to accomplish with

these unbelievers.

            Paul cites Isa 28:11-12 as an OT example of the judgmental na-

ture of uninterpreted tongues upon the covenant people of God, the

implication being that they were under the law and had forfeited the

grace of God through disobedience. 1 Cor 14:22 in its entirety is per-

fectly adaptable to the OT context and can be taken as a midrash on

v 21 (the Isaiah quote) to prove the point that tongues can have only a

damning effect when the prophecy of God goes unheeded.66

"Tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers" explains

part of the Isaiah context: under the law uninterpreted (mere) tongues

served as a sign of God's judgment upon unbelievers and led to judg-

ment and destruction. The obverse is also true (of the Isaiah context):

prophecy (which had gone unheeded in Ephraim) was intended all

along for those who would respond and live in obedience to it. The

purpose of the positive prophecy in the Isaiah quote had been to pro-

mote mercy and lead the weary to live in covenant fellowship with

God. The OT quote (v 21) and midrash (v 22) do not apply to the

Corinthian situation;--and this is precisely Paul's point--they are un-

der grace! His implied conclusion, proved in v 22 and signaled in the

text by w!ste, can be summed up as follows: therefore, in the OT con-

text (in the law) prophecy is superior to tongues. Tongues in Isaiah

were just a sign of judgment unto destruction, but prophecy was in-

tended to lead believers into the blessings of the covenant, as indeed

it would have, had anyone in Ephraim listened to God and obeyed


            Paul's immediate appeal to the Corinthian context implies, "Now

you do not want to use tongues to destroy people, do you?" (cf. 1 Cor

13:1). "Therefore" (ou#n) signals a shift in context. He cites two contem-

porary hypothetical illustrations to the Corinthians to show that since

their situation is opposite (not preaching condemnation but repentance


            66 Cf. Roberts, “It is tempting. . . to treat the succeeding verses as an exposition of

this quotation, rather than a further comment on the circumstances at Corinth, which

are dealt with in the rest of Ch.l4. ff Roberts, 201. Fee argues well for a chiastic structure

in v 22 (ABB' A') as application for an exhortation (v 20) backed in rabbinical fashion by

an appeal to an OT text (v 21). Seen in this fashion, vv 23-25 serve as concluding illus-

trations. Fee, 677, 681. (See appendix 2.)



unto salvation, not law but grace), their priorities should be opposite;

and they should therefore cease exalting tongues over prophecy.

            Seen in this way, a rhetorical disjoint occurs between vv 22 and

23, and Paul begins making a parallel argument in light of their

changed situation. His first illustration is: "If all speak in [uninter-

preted] tongues," the unbeliever will conclude "you are mad." This is

from the Corinthians' own standpoint an undesired result. The unbe-

liever, thus hardened, has had no chance for grace, no opportunity to

hear the gospel, as mature Christians would notice.

            On the other hand, "if all prophesy," this same unbeliever is

"convinced by all" and "judged by all" (v 24). He falls down and wor-

ships God and bears witness that God is truly inhabiting the praises

of his people (v 25). This is the desired result in the new context, but

the implied conclusion reached (vv 23-25) is that prophecy is superior

to tongues in the grace context as well. Uninterpreted tongues only

isolate and alienate unbelievers while edifying the individual be-

liever, but prophecy both edifies the people of God and convicts unbe-

lievers. Paul's conclusion is therefore inescapable: "For you can all

prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encour-

aged" (v 31; emphasis mine.) If tongues are used, they must be inter-

preted (v 28); if not, let the would-be abusers remain silent. So Paul

has, with one argument drawn from the OT context plus an appended

midrash for the benefit of his non-Jewish converts, argued that

prophecy is superior to tongues.67 Then, turning right around and

drawing an example from the Corinthians' own situation, he has

proved the same. In v 37 he seals the argument with an appeal to ap-

ostolic authority: "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiri-

tual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the

commandments of the Lord."

            Having thus spoken, he summarizes the point he has made con-

cerning the relative value of tongues and prophecy: "Therefore, breth-

ren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with

tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order" (vv 39-40). This

is what it means to be "mature in understanding" and "babes in malice."


            67 For treatment of this verse as midrash see Martin, 72, and Strobel, 220. Ellis

sees it as an application of the pesher method of application, going behind the Greek to

a treatment of the Hebrew ur-text. “[Paul's] idea of a quotation was not a worshipping of

the letter or 'parroting' of the text; neither was it an eisegesis which arbitrarily imposed

a foreign meaning upon the text. It was rather, in his eyes, a quotation-exposition, a

Midrash pesher, which drew from the text the meaning originally implanted there by

the Spirit and expressed that meaning in the most appropriate words and phrases

known to him.” Ellis, 146.

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   283


                                    APPENDIX 1

                        A COMPARISON OF TEXT-FORMS


MT -A.D. 1009                      NT -A.D. 55-56                     LXX -ca. 400 B.C.

(lQIsa-150-125 B.C.)

Isa. 28:11-12                                     1 Cor. 14:21                          Isa. 28:11-12

Because                                              --                                             --


With                                        With                                        Through

B;                      ]En                                         dia<

Stammerings (of)                  Other Languages                    Disparagement

ygefEla                 e[teroglw<ssoij                  faulismo<n (ou)


Speech, Lip                                        --                                 -Of Lips

hpAWA                                       xeile<wn

And                                         And                                                     --

v;                     kai<

With                                        With                                        By

b;                    e]n                                            dia<

A Tongue                                Lips                                         A Language

NOwlA                 xei<lesin                               glw<sshj

Strange, Alien                        Of Strangers (Other)             Another (Crafty

tr,h,xA                 Others                                     Deceitful)

                                                e]te<rwn   (e]te<roij)               e]te<raj   (do<liaj)

                                                x, B A      P46                                     Sah, 538

--                                                         --                                 Because That? For?

                                                                                                o!ti         (e@ti)   (--)

                                                                                                RCBaSah, HieLuc

He (YHWH) will speak        I (YHWH) will speak            They will speak

rBeday;                 lalh<sw                                lalh<sousi

To this people                        To this people                        To this people

hz,.ha MfAhA-lx,           t&? la&? tou<t&                     t&? la&? tou<t&

Unto whom                                        --                                             --

rw,xE                       --                                             --

He (YHWH) Said                              --                                 Saying

rmaxA                                       le<gontej

Unto them                                          --                                 Unto Him (Them)(-)

Mhe,ylexE (hmhylx )                                                               au]t&?     au]toi?j

                                                                                                LQ Sc R C BS*BA Luc



                                    APPENDIX 1 (cont.)

                        A COMPARISON OF TEXT-FORMS


MT-A.D.1009                        NT-A.D. 55-56                      LXX-ca. 400 B.C.

(lQIsa-150-125 B.C.)

Isa. 28:11-12                                     1 Cor. 14:21                          Isa. 28:11-12 c

This                                                     --                                 This (is)

txzo (txvz )                                                                          tou?to

The rest, quietude                              --                                 The rest

hHAUnm;.ha                                     to> a]na<pauma

(You-pl) Cause to Rest                     --                                             --

UHynihA                             --                                             --

(obj.) The weary,                               --                                 To the hungering

exhausted JyefAl,               --                                 t&? peinw?nti

And this (is)                                       --                                 And this (is)

txzov; (txvzv)                                    --                                 kai> tou?to

The repose                                         --                                 The Destruction

hfaGaTaha                                                --                                     Battle Array Rest

                                                                                                to> suntri<mma RCBaTht

                                                                                                to> su<ntagma h[ h[remi<a

                                                                                                Luc      s

And not                                               And even so, not        And not

xlov; (xvlv)                                         kai< ou]d ] ou!twj        kai< ou]k

They were willing                                          --                     They willed

xUbxA (vbx)                                                   --                     h[qe<lhsan (h!qelan, on)

                                                                                                             S    Luc   Tht

To hear                                               Will they hear            To hear

 fOmw;                      ei]sakou<sontai<       a]kou<ein (a]kou<sai)


--                                                         Me (YHWH)              --


--                                                         Says (the) Lord (YHWH)     --

                                                            le<gei ku<rioj


Luc= Lucianic versions        S = Sinaiticus             *original hand IVc

Sah= Sahidic version                                                 ccorrector IV/Vc

R = Rahlfs edition                 Hie = Hieronymus

C = Gottingen critical ed.     B = Yaticanus IVc

Ba = Bagster's edition           s' = Symmachus

Q = Marchalianus VIc            Tht = Theodotion

N = Sinaiticus NT                  A = Alexandririus Vc

            David E. Lanier: WITH STAMMERING LIPS                   285


                                    APPENDIX 2

                        A CALL TO MATURITY

            Thesis: "Do not be children in your thinking,

                        yet in evil be babes" 1 Cor. 14:20

            ("Whom would He teach knowledge? . . . those just

                        weaned from milk?" Isa 28:9)


OT CONTEXT-(in the law")                            NT CONTEXT--(“under grace”)

1. call to maturity: unheeded by Israel    1. call to maturity: contingent upon obe-

                                                                                    dience to Paul

2. stammering lips: unintelligible human   2. glossolalia: unintelligible (angelic?) lan-

    language leading to hardening; a sign of              guage leading to alienation, hardening

    God's judgment (28:11)                                    of unbelievers when left untranslated

                                                                            (14:23). A grace gift of God's presence

3. unbelievers: Israelites who had heard             3. unbelievers: Corinthian Jews and Gen-

    God's clear message and rejected it. Des-         tiles who had not heard the gospel

    tined for judgment (28:12-13)                           clearly. Able to repent and believe


4. (believers: Israelites who would hear             4. believers: Christians

    and obey the prophet, thus obtaining


5. sign: evidence of God's activity (nega-           5. sign: evidence of God's activity (negative

     tive)                                                                 or positive)


Argument I (Neg) Isa. 28:11-12 (14:21)           Argument II (POS) The Contemporary

                        and Midrash (14:22)                                         Situation (14:23-25)

A (w!ste) Unintelligible tongues are a sign         A (ou#n) If all speak with (uninterpreted)

    not for believers but for unbelievers:     tongues: the unbeliever concludes “you

    they are (in Isaiah) only a sign of God's              are mad"; as a foreigner he is hardened

    judgment leading to hardening and de-               and isolated in his unbelief with no

    struction (unde-sired result in Corinth)               chance for a clear hearing of gospel (un-

                                                                            desired result)

B. But prophecy is for believers not unbe-         B. But if all prophecy: the unbeliever is

     lievers: Isaiah's positive prophecy was               convicted by all, called to account by all,

     intended for those who would hear and             falls on face, worships God, and con-

     obey it, not spurn it as nothing. Led to               cludes “God is truly among you (de-

     rest and relationship with God (desired              sired result)


C. (Implied conclusion: therefore in the OT        C. (Implied conclusion: therefore in the

     context [vv. 21-22] prophecy is superior           present[NTJ context [23-25] prophecy

     to tongues: Tongues were just a negative           superior to tongues. Tongues left un-

     sign unto destruction and exile, but        translated only isolate and confuse un-

     prophecy was intended to build up be-              believers, but prophecy both builds up

     lievers if Ephraim had heeded)                           the people of God and converts unbe-


D. (Implied connection: You do not want to      D. Conclusion: “You can all prophesy one

     destroy unbelievers, do you? [1 Cor. 13))      by one so that all may learn and all may

                                                                             be exhorted" (14:31)



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