With the spirit and with understanding: Tongues part 2

Ecclesiology Theology / Biblical Studies

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This is part two of a series on “speaking in tongues.” In part one I looked at the idea that there’s an angelic language, and those who speak in “tongues” might be speaking in the language of angels. There really wasn’t any good evidence that St Paul thought that way. However, most of what he wrote about speaking in other languages appears in 1 Corinthians 14, so that’s where we’re going to look in this article. I’m going to walk through part of that chapter here. Some people think that St Paul described speaking in tongues as the gift of speaking in a spiritual language that we do not understand, as a way of building ourselves up spiritually. Those who think this way, I maintain, need to read Paul a bit more carefully.

Many readers of 1 Corinthians have made the observation that reading it is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. St Paul didn’t just wake up one day and decide that he was going to tell the Christians in Corinth how to have a worship session, or what to do about food sacrificed to idols and so on. That would be a pretty strange thing to do. This letter, like all letters, is occasional in nature. It was written because of and in response to an occasion that called for it. The Corinthians were having problems and they had questions for Paul, so some of them (perhaps those who had finally had enough of what was going on in the church!) wrote to him. At one point Paul refers back to this letter, saying “Now, concerning the matters about which you wrote….” (7:1).

By looking at the matters that Paul addresses with the Corinthians and how he does so, we can get some idea of what he had heard that he needed to correct. In particular, there’s a phenomenon where it looks like Paul quotes a saying that originates with the Corinthians and then responds to it with a correction. A number of translations acknowledge this by adding speech marks around the saying that Paul may be quoting from the Corinthians. Here are a couple of examples, where I have adjusted the layout to emphasise “conversation” that Paul is having. First, from the beginning of chapter 7.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:
“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

And from 10:23-24

“All things are lawful.”
But not all things are helpful.
“All things are lawful.”
But not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

What is crucial to see, if this is what is happening here (and I think it is), is that the first claim – the one to which Paul responds – is not Paul’s initiative. That’s not what he wants to say to the church in Corinth, it’s what they have said, and he is replying to it. This doesn’t mean that it must be completely false (for it might be true but simply misapplied), but it does mean that we shouldn’t regard it as anything like “Pauline theology” just because Paul wrote the words here.

As we look at the various issues that Paul tackles with the Corinthian Christians, a picture emerges where a big part of the Corinthian problem was their view of spirituality. They thought that being spiritual meant discarding the mundane things of life and embracing the invisible, other-worldy and perhaps overly mystical. For example, they advocated an ascetic view of sex (saying “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”), they may have blurred the line between physically male and female (prompting a mention of homosexual acts in chapter 6 and an extended response on men and women in the church in chapter 11 and then a brief instruction later in chapter 14), some of them even saw no need for a bodily resurrection (a fact for which I am, ironically, pleased, given that this prompted Paul’s magnificent discourse on the resurrection in chapter 15), and it is quite likely that in their worship some of them wanted to transcend the natural or rational and act in a state of ecstasy or altered consciousness – something that would have been a familiar tendency in the paganism of the Roman Empire (think of the various oracles, for example). That this was a big part of the Corinthian problem is a view very well supported by Paul’s discourse on tongues and prophecy (especially the former) in 1 Corinthians 14. So let’s start progressing through this section of the letter now.

Verses 1-5. Summary: Everything we do as part of the church should be done in love for the other. Giving a prophecy that people can understand is therefore better than bringing a message or a prayer in a language that they don’t understand, because the former edifies them, while the latter does not.

St Paul begins the chapter by saying that the Corinthians should desire gifts (literally, they should desire “spirituals,” pneumatika, perhaps meaning spirituality more generally), but in the “way of love,” rather than what they were now doing. They should desire to prophesy rather than to speak in other languages, because “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church” (verse 4).

In context, “he who speaks in a language edifies himself” is not helpful advice on the purpose of the gift. On the contrary, it is a stinging rebuke, telling us what the gift is not for.

Countless guides to speaking in tongues that I have read or heard tell the audience something to the effect of: “The purpose of speaking in tongues in private is to edify yourself, see look: Paul says that anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies himself. So tongues can be used as a private prayer language where you pray, you do not understand what you say saying, and you are edified.” But in context, “he who speaks in a language edifies himself” is not helpful advice on the purpose of the gift. On the contrary, it is a stinging rebuke, telling us what the gift is not for. When the Corinthian audience heard the words “edifies himself,” the appropriate reaction would have been to turn red with shame. Throughout the chapter, Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to change their attitude. They had been making a show of their own liberty and spirituality at the expense of the good of the wider body of believers. When it comes to the use of the gifts, Paul’s efforts are devoted to trying to show that the use of all of the gifts should be governed by love, and their purpose is to benefit others. That is their fruit. If you bring a message in another tongue, then it must be interpreted so that whatever you say can benefit the others present. Otherwise you are benefiting only yourself, which is not loving and is hence not permissible. To infer from this that tongues therefore have a private proper function of self-edification quite misses the point. Once a message in another tongue is interpreted, it serves the same function as prophecy, namely the edification of others. If we’re going to infer that tongues has a proper function of private self-edification, we may as well infer that prophecy does too. After all, it edifies others, so why not ourselves?

Treating tongues as a private tool where one speaks in a language that they do not understand for the purpose of self-edification misses the point of Paul’s distinction between tongues and prophecy here. Why is prophecy edifying in a way that an uninterpreted message in another language is not? Because the hearers understand it. That is the only way it could be edifying. Why is a message in another tongue edifying to the gathered church when it is interpreted? Because they can now understand it. If they did not understand it then they would not be edified, which is why interpretation is required. So how then could Paul possibly have imagined that a person who is praying privately in a language that they do not understand could be edified by what they say? Throughout the chapter, Paul presupposes that a person understands what they are saying when they speak in a language that the others do not understand – or at very least, he never introduces the (quite unexpected) assumption that they speak but do not know what they are saying. Indeed, when he describes what happens without interpretation, he says that “you may give thanks well enough, but your brother is not edified.” In other words – it might make sense to you, but it doesn’t make sense to your brother, so you may be edified, but he isn’t.”

Following on from this, Paul uses the analogy of musical instruments. If you just played random notes, it wouldn’t really be music. But that’s how it sounds when you speak in a language that the other person doesn’t understand. And “so it is with you” (v.9) i.e. in the case of speaking in other languages in Corinth. Paul observes (verse 10) that there are many languages in the world (phonē strictly means “sound” rather than “language,” but a number of translations give “language” here because that’s what it clearly indicates in this sentence). But if I don’t know the meaning of that language (again, phonē), then I am a foreigner to the speaker and they are a foreigner to me (and that’s why “language” was used as the translation, because it is something spoken, and because it makes another person a foreigner to me if I don’t understand it). The comparison to a foreigner does not make the case, but contributes to it, that speaking in a language in this passage refers to a person speaking in a foreign language, i.e. one that they understand but we do not.

The fruit of using the gifts as they are intended in the church is the edification of the church.

Beginning in verse 14, St Paul writes that “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” There are some who read this as though Paul had written “my spirit prays, but my mind does not.” The New Living translation does an exceptionally poor job here: “my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying.” This isn’t what Paul wrote, nor is it strictly implied. Paul says that his spirit prays, but his mind or understanding (nous can suggest either, as indicated in numerous translations) is “unfruitful.” This is the only time in this passage that Paul mentions the “fruit” of prayer or prophecy, or at least, fruitlessness (akarpos = “without fruit”). In all of this discussion, like a persistent theme that Paul won’t let go, what do we find that might amount to concept of bearing fruit? What is the fruit or end-product or goal of using the gifts here? At a quick count, I see Paul referring to this seven times in this chapter – edification. The fruit of using the gifts as they are intended in the church is the edification of the church. If Paul prays in a language that the others present do not understand (and nobody interprets what he says), then sure, he gives thanks well enough (v.17) – in other words, his spirit prays just fine, but that’s internal to himself. That’s in his own understanding or mind (nous), and what is only in his own head doesn’t bear any fruit. It doesn’t edify the church.

Next, Paul appears to go back to quoting from the Corinthians and then replying to them.

What should I do then?
“I will pray with the spirit!”
But I will pray with the mind also.
“I will sing praise with the spirit!”
But I will sing praise with the mind also.
Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

To pray “with the spirit” does not mean “without understanding,” any more than praying “with understanding” means to pray without the spirit!

In light of contemporary discussions around speaking in tongues, something important stands out here.1 If anyone in this conversation with the Corinthians is saying that when they speak in tongues, they are praying in the spirit and not with their mind, so they do not understand what they are saying, it is not Paul but the Corinthians – whose error Paul is correcting. It is not as though Paul is saying of himself: “Listen, Corinthians, I want you to know that sometimes I pray with the spirit and without understanding, and at other times I pray with understanding.” This view of what Paul is saying misses the point entirely. To pray “with the spirit” does not mean “without understanding” (although the wayward Corinthians may have thought so), any more than praying “with understanding” means to pray without the spirit! Instead, Paul is responding to the cry “I pray in the spirit!” with the reply: “OK, but with understanding as well.” It is not an either / or. Paul is calling the Corinthians not to switch off and tune out in the ecstasy of incoherent worship, but to bring their full, earthly selves into worship – brains and all, praying and speaking in the spirit and at the same time with understanding.

This passage has – unfortunately, in my view – served as the main basis of a modern Pentecostal / understanding of “speaking in tongues” as a phenomenon of speaking ecstatically in a language one does not understand as a means of self-edification. It is largely a modern phenomenon and certainly a modern interpretation of the passage. In his commentary on this chapter, Calvin was able to say, as though it was not controversial at all in his time:
“the term [“tongue”] denotes a foreign language”
“What is meant by praying in a tongue, appears from what goes before – to frame a prayer in a foreign language.”
“It is lawful, indeed, to pray with the spirit, provided the mind be at the same time employed, that is, the understanding.”
And:

But here a new question arises; for it is not credible (at least we nowhere read of it) that any spoke under the influence of the Spirit in a language that was to themselves unknown. For the gift of tongues was conferred — not for the mere purpose of uttering a sound, but, on the contrary, with the view of making a communication. For how ridiculous a thing it would be, that the tongue of a Roman should be framed by the Spirit of God to pronounce Greek words, which were altogether unknown to the speaker, as parrots, magpies, and crows, are taught to mimic human voices! If, on the other hand, the man who was endowed with the gift of tongues, did not speak without sense and understanding, Paul would have had no occasion to say, that the spirit prays, but the understanding is unfruitful, for the understanding must have been conjoined with the spirit.

See Calvin’s commentary on this chapter here.

Although what I am saying here may be jarring to those with a Pentecostal / Charismatic background, it is actually fairly mundane and natural if you read this passage without that background. Throughout church history, few people would even raise an eyebrow at my explanation of this passage. It is only a fairly recent and idiosyncratic reading of this passage in light of the Pentecostal experience of the twentieth century that has disposed so many of us to find the charismatic phenomenon of speaking in tongues in this text. If St Paul is left to his own devices, it doesn’t appear at all.

Next time I’ll look at the next part of this chapter, where Paul makes an Old Testament connection to the phenomenon of speaking in other languages.

Glenn Peoples

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  1. I am departing from the way most translations punctuate the above passage. Many translations recognise Paul’s practice of quoting and responding to the Corinthians and have punctuated accordingly. I am doing the same thing here, although modern translations do not. []
{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Peter Grice January 7, 2016, 2:33 pm

    Yes. Look forward to your next post. Paul’s grounding of tongues in the OT was the clincher for me on this issue.

  • Brown January 7, 2016, 4:30 pm

    Thanks for this well reasoned comment on tongues – it is a great relief to see sound theology expressed. In reading the bible, especially the new testament, I’ve formed a view that God wastes nothing – everything is for building the body in some way and the tongues at pentecost is clear evidence of that. Reading “Jesus through middle eastern eyes” opened up the gospels and revealed how wonderfully deep and complex they are. It follows that babbling on without translation is possibly dangerous and self indulgent. A friend confessed to babbling on about nothing deliberately at a service some years ago and was amused to have it translated.

    A good friend and retired minister is of a view that the charismatic movement was a ploy of Satan to de-rail a promising Gospel based revival developing within university circles in the 60’s (or thereabouts). My own church has undergone some recent changes with words of wisdom and prophecy etc… and much of the changes arising from those revelations have already fallen flat and already been undone. Looking around its hard to see churches where the Gospel is preached – so much teaching is just fluff that misses the point.

    I’ll pass this on to my friend and look forward to more on this.

  • James January 8, 2016, 7:09 am

    My bishop was visiting a parish who’s members were down in their spirits. When he asked what was wrong, they said someone in their parish was expected to die soon from a terminal disease. He said, “Well, what are you doing here crying about it? Let’s do a healing service.” So they went into the chapel for an anointing service and the bishops started speaking in an ethereal language. Everyone looked at each other in surprise but he continued. The parish priest, being from the Middle East, was familiar with several languages, but did not recognize this. After the service, he asked, “Your Grace, what language were you praying in?”
    “Well, I’m in America, I was speaking English of course.”
    “That was not English, your grace.”
    “I was speaking in English, I don’t want you to bring it up to me again.”
    The woman was healed and is a living testament of the parish today.

    Also, St. Paisios only knew Greek, but he occationally spoke with foreigners in their own language, sometimes making them think he was fluent in their language.

    So there you have it- speaking in the tongues of men and angels. It’s funny, I read an Orthodox monk reffering to pentecostals as “so-called charismatics.”

  • Ben Stasiewicz January 8, 2016, 9:17 am

    “So how then could Paul possibly have imagined that a person who is praying privately in a language that they do not understand could be edified by what they say? Throughout the chapter, Paul presupposes that a person understands what they are saying when they speak in a language that the others do not understand – or at very least, he never introduces the (quite unexpected) assumption that they speak but do not know what they are saying.”

    How then do you interpret the following verse?

    [1Co 14:13 NET] So then, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret

    Surely this implies that the one who speaks in a tongue does not understand what they are saying either (without special revelation).

  • Glenn January 8, 2016, 9:24 am

    “Surely this implies that the one who speaks in a tongue does not understand what they are saying either (without special revelation).”

    Ben, could you spell out that implication? I don’t see it. It’s not hard to imagine a person speaking fluently in another language from those around him but not being very good at interpreting it for them in a common tongue. This is all the more so in a multilingual setting like first century Corinth.

  • Glenn January 8, 2016, 9:27 am

    James, there are many haphazard ways to analyse anecdotes, so this series doesn’t even attempt to do that. This post, like part one, is strictly about the meaning of passages in the Bible.

  • Ben Stasiewicz January 8, 2016, 9:54 am

    That makes sense thanks Glenn! I’m coming around to the idea that tongues aren’t mysterious heavenly languages. I do wonder why Paul talks about tongues and the interpretation of tongues as spiritual gifts [1 Cor 12 and 14] though, if tongues are simply people speaking in their native language. How is this a special manifestation of the holy spirit?

  • Glenn January 8, 2016, 10:00 am

    “if tongues are simply people speaking in their native language”

    Well so far in the series I don’t think there has been decisive evidence about whether or not these were native languages. Although in 1 Corinthians 14, bringing a message in another language, when interpreted, is equivalent to prophecy. And prophecy – whether given in a native language or not – is listed as a spiritual gift. So there should be no problem thinking of tongues as a gift.

  • Ben Stasiewicz January 13, 2016, 7:16 am

    Hey Glenn,

    How do you understand the following passage?

    [1Co 14:18-19 NIV] 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

    Where is Paul speaking in tongues “more than all of you”? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Paul is referring to his private devotion here.

  • Glenn January 13, 2016, 12:27 pm

    Ben, what indicators are there that Paul is talking about his private devotions? (Not that I deny it, I’m just curious about why you’d say that.)

    Paul would certainly have been multilingual, given his background, so this remark just means that he speaks in other languages (in whatever context, including private devotions, he has that ability), but in the church he won’t do it because it’s of no use (unless it’s interpreted).

  • Ben Stasiewicz January 14, 2016, 8:51 am

    Glenn, I took another look and didn’t see anything to indicate that Paul is talking about his private devotions. As you say, there are other contexts he could be referring to. I look forward to part 3!

  • Chas January 14, 2016, 10:18 am

    Excellent write up thank you.,,, i totally agree with your Biblical interpretation, have been asking God for years for a confirmation on the jibberish nonsenical words i invent and speak as tongues alone at home. when i was born again and read the Bible first time on my own it was Blantantly clear that the tongues spoken were actual other worldly human languages that a mixed culture different speaking group of people would hear the Word spoken in their own dialec and that is why it is a gift ie. if i spoke Polish or Chinese to another person by the power of Gods Spirit and they understood it… and i had never heard that language or learned it before… then that is the Gift of speaking in tongues. .. how unfortunate i got sucked into modern pentecostal charismatic patheticness… thank you for my answer to prayer.

  • James February 2, 2016, 7:21 am

    I wanted to bring up the stories because Christians are not typically going to interpret Scripture saying something that doesn’t correspond to reality. Many may think they have one of two or three options: to try and interpret it in light of the beliefs and practices of the “Charismatic” churches, or interpret it in light of Christian communities that don’t know what to make of speaking in tongues, or reject it. I wanted to present a different option for people to consider, a possible reality that St. Paul could be talking about, such as when he is talking about himself speaking in tongues.

    There is another story I would very much like to share which relates to the topic of tongues. It is a first hand account recorded by the recent Orthodox St. Porphyrios in his book, “Wounded by Love.” He was living in the Monastic area of Mount Athos when this took place. He was also likely not at all invested in Western discussions and interpretations of speaking in tongues.

    “One morning at about half past three I went to the Katholikon, to the Holy Trinity church, for the service. It was still early. The simantron had not yet been sounded. No one was in the Church. I sat in the narthex beneath a stairway. I was hidden from sight and was praying. All of a sudden the church door opened and in walked a tall elderly monk. It was Old Dimas [a hermit who spent his days praying in secrecy and was rarely seen]. As soon as he entered he looked around and say no one. So then, holding a large prayer rope, he started to make rhythmic prostrations, rapid and numerous, and at the same time he repeated continually, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me… Most Holy Theotokos, save us.’ After a short time he fell into ecstasy. I cannot, I simply cannot find words to describe to you his behaviour before God- motions of love and worship, motions of divine craving, of divine love and devotion. I saw him standing opening out his arms in the form of a cross, like Moses at the Red Sea, and he made a sound: ‘Ououououou!…’ What was that? He was bathed in grace. He shone in the light. That was it! Immediately his prayer was communicated to me. Immediately I entered into the atmosphere surrounding him. He hadn’t seen me. Listen. I was deeply moved and I started to shed tears. The grace of God came upon my pitiful and worthless self. How can I describe it for you? He transmitted the grace of God to me. The Grace that that saint possessed radiated into my soul also. He transmitted to me his spiritual gifts of grace.
    So Old Dimas had fallen into ecstasy. It happened without his willing it. He couldn’t control his experience. That’s not right either, what I’m saying. I can’t express it. It is seizure by God, divine catalepsy. These things cannot be explained. They can’t be explained at all, and if you explain them you call very wide off the mark. No, they cannot be explained nor can they be rendered in books, nor can they be made comprehensible. You must be worthy to understand them.
    Old Dimas transmitted to me the charisma of prayer and of clear sight.” (p. 28)

    So I think St. Paul would have been speaking in tongues in the same sense that my bishop or Old Dimas did. It’s an option to consider.

  • Glenn February 2, 2016, 12:26 pm

    “So I think St. Paul would have been speaking in tongues in the same sense that my bishop or Old Dimas did.”

    James, there is nothing in the text of 1 Corinthians 14 that would support this, and 1 Corinthians 14 and what Paul says there about speaking in other languages is the subject of this blog post. What you have described seems to be unrelated to that.

  • James February 3, 2016, 1:47 am

    It’s described as a spiritual gift, so I don’t buy your explanation that people are just randomly speaking different human languages, or that if any glossolalia is mentioned, Paul is against it.
    “For he who speaks in a tongue [language] does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” -verse 2
    If these were human languages, wouldn’t someone understand? Wouldn’t you be speaking to men who also knew the language? Isn’t some form of glossolalia a better fit for ‘speaking mysteries in the spirit?’ Doesn’t Paul then say in verse 5 that he wishes the Corinthians to do this (although he is critical of the way they are doing it)?
    I think the stories I shared fit this chapter better than your explanation.

  • Glenn February 3, 2016, 12:55 pm

    James, nobody has suggested that people were speaking “randomly.” That looks like a misrepresentation.
    Nobody has said that Paul was opposed to speaking in other languages (on the contrary). So that’s another misrepresentation.
    Yes, if they were human languages, it would be possible for a human who spoke that language to understand. This is what happened, for example, on the day of Pentecost.

    Your stories haven’t explained anything about 1 Corinthians 14, unless I am missing something.

  • James February 4, 2016, 3:17 am

    “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
    It is assumed that when Paul is speaking “in a tongue,” he does it without his “understanding.” If he were referring to speaking in an ordinary human language, he would of course be speaking with his “understanding.” It really seems like this is some sort of spiritual glossolalia when he is referring to speaking “in a tongue” in this instance.

    The point of the stories is that if this is what Paul is saying, you can find this sort of thing outside of Pentecostal churches. And if the stories are true, it could be an example of the spiritual gift of tongues that Paul is talking about.

    I also sort of assumed that the Corinthians didn’t really have this gift of the Spirit. Would the Holy Spirit manifest a gift for improper use? I don’t think so, so I assume the Corinthians were faking it- to others as well as to themselves. You can’t really go far in faking another human language, but you certainly can with glossolalia.

  • Glenn February 4, 2016, 7:51 pm

    “It is assumed that when Paul is speaking “in a tongue,” he does it without his “understanding.””

    No, we shouldn’t assume this at all, James. I addressed this assumption in this very blog post. I showed that Paul advocated praying with the spirit *and* with understanding. I’d urge you to haver another look through this blog post with your objections in mind, and see how they are addressed.

    “It really seems like this is some sort of spiritual glossolalia when he is referring to speaking “in a tongue” in this instance.”

    Sure, it is glossolalia because that word only means to speak in a glossa (a tongue, i.e. a language). And sure, it’s spiritual. But that has nothing to do with whether or not it is an intelligent verbal act. Prophecy is spiritual, too, remember.

    “You can’t really go far in faking another human language, but you certainly can with glossolalia.”

    Well, glossolalia just means speaking in a language. That word doesn’t appear in the Bible, but if you break it down, that’s all it means. And if you fake the gift, you’ll end up praying with no understanding – which is what the Corinthians were doing. If they were doing it for real (i.e. they really had the gift), it would be a rational, translatable message, so that when a person gives thanks in another language, Paul can say “you give thanks well enough,” as he does here, but if it is not translated, Paul would say “but your brother is not edified,” as he does here.

  • Jim February 15, 2016, 12:33 am

    Glenn, thank you for this post. A side issue, perhaps, but I’m interested in your view: when Paul references ‘his spirit’ in the chapter, do you feel he’s referring to a personal inner spirit, in the common bi/tripartite understanding of a person, or is he stating that the Holy Spirit within him is leading his mind to utter the language?

    I can’t see much evidence for Paul being anything other than holistic, and not partite, so spirit to Paul in these verses would appear to suit the Holy Spirit, I’m thinking.

  • Glenn February 15, 2016, 12:23 pm

    Hi Jim – Even non-dualists like me are more than comfortable talking about people having a “spirit,” namely, a mind. Scripture is replete with references to the human spirit.

    When Paul talks about his spirit praying or singing, he’s talking about his own actions.

  • Jim February 19, 2016, 12:24 am

    ‘Scripture is replete with references to the human spirit.’
    I would say that scripture is replete with references to the Holy Spirit, but I can find only a handful of verses suggesting a human spirit, Glenn.

    I’m just trying to rationalise a monist stance from these verses in 1 Cor 14 where Paul juxtaposes spirit and mind several times, using pneuma and nous. If the human ‘spirit’ is the result or outworking of the mind, (‘people having a “spirit,” namely, a mind’) why the use of different words?

    I can make a more logical connection if the mind and Spirit are at work in a person with respect to tongues (and other gifts), but translations present a lower case spirit here, probably indicating a dualist or tripartite viewpoint.

  • Glenn February 19, 2016, 4:26 pm

    “I can find only a handful of verses suggesting a human spirit, Glenn.”

    Sure, if you have a big enough hand. I don’t know how many you think count as a handful, but a word search reveals plenty of references to “spirit” as a feature of human beings. So the presence of that word here should be taken, as it often is, to mean “my spirit,” which is what Paul says, rather than the Holy Spirit.

    “why the use of different words?” Paul was a good writer. I guess I just don’t see an issue in saying “Sure, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” In other words, yes, I am praying (my heart / mind / call it absolutely whatever you like, it doesn’t matter) prays, but *my* mind (namely… well, my mind, but perhaps viewed from a rational perspective) is unfruitful. The key to knowing what this means is the right understanding of what Paul is talking about in referring to “fruit.” It doesn’t, in context, mean my own understanding, it means edification for others. We already know that Paul himself was praying with understanding, because he said so.

  • Jim February 22, 2016, 8:18 pm

    Hi Glenn, I absolutely get your point in the post. No problems there. What I am trying to understand (and I know it’s slightly tangential) is why Paul would use pneuma and nous several times in 1 Cor 14:14-16 if he meant the same thing. You say that it doesn’t really matter, so if we were to read those verses in terms of both words meaning the same, we’d have ‘I pray with my mind, but I will also pray with my mind’. Simply saying Paul was a good writer doesn’t rationalise what would appear to be nonsense.

    The word ‘my’ preceding ‘spirit’ is used only once in chapter 14 – in verse 15. So if all the other references are more accurately translated ‘in the spirit’ rather ‘with my spirit’, they should actually be read as ‘in the Spirit’ ie under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    To round this off, any utterance that comes from the prompting of our minds/nous by the Holy Spirit/Pneuma is useless if it’s not turned into understandable language for the edification of those assembled. A human pneuma is therefore something of a distracting red herring, and surely aids the dualist argument.

    Do you have any blog posts where you make some sort of distinction between uses of the term pneuma (or nous/psuche?) That would be really helpful.

  • Glenn Peoples March 5, 2016, 5:45 pm

    ” What I am trying to understand (and I know it’s slightly tangential) is why Paul would use pneuma and nous several times in 1 Cor 14:14-16 if he meant the same thing.”

    Well as I suggested, nous might have been used to suggest something rational, so that Paul could stress the fact that his own rational faculties were not bearing fruit (and in context, fruit = edification of the church).

    “The word ‘my’ preceding ‘spirit’ is used only once in chapter 14 – in verse 15.” What that means is that if we want to know what it means by doing a survey, we have to look beyond chapter 14.

    Actually this word (ἐγώ / ago) appears hundreds of times in the Greek New Testament, and it always indicates my / me. It occurs in 24 other verses in 1 Corinthians with this meaning, e.g.: 10:29 “my liberty,” 13:3 “my goods,” 11:33 “my brethren” etc, so I would be loathe to make a single exception for 14:14. So this verse really does refer to “my spirit.”

    No, I don’t have any articles teasing out the difference between a person’s pneuma and nous.

    “To round this off, any utterance that comes from the prompting of our minds/nous by the Holy Spirit/Pneuma is useless if it’s not turned into understandable language for the edification of those assembled. ”

    That’s correct. It benefits only the speaker. That’s why Paul said it should be interpreted if you’re going to do it in the presence of the church, otherwise you’re only edifying yourself, which is wrong.

    “A human pneuma is therefore something of a distracting red herring, and surely aids the dualist argument.”

    I guess I don’t see how. It doesn’t distract me, and I don’t think the mere word should be taken to indicate the dualist concept.

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