Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 22)

This benefit of the body is a component of Paul’s continued focus on the issue of speaking in tongues.  He continues: “There are probably many kinds of languages in the world, and none is without meaning.  If I then I do not know the meaning of a language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.  It is the same for you” (1 Corinthians 14:10-12a).  There might be a tendency to get hung up on these words, with an attempt to discern if Paul is indicating that the ecstatic speech is more than just a string of incomprehensible syllables. 

This mention of “languages” may prod some to compare the ecstatic speech being practiced in the Corinthian church with the events of the second chapter of Acts, in which the disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).  This is often seen as a proof text for justification of the practice.  It is not likely that Paul had justification of the practice of speaking in tongues in mind.  After all, it was a historically accepted and understood religious practice, and it did no harm unless it caused divisions in the church.  So the nature of the speech was not Paul’s abiding concern. 

With the words quoted, it is Paul’s use of “foreigner” that should grab attention.  Because he is dealing with activities that take place within the assembly, someone being made to feel like a “foreigner” would be problematic.  An attendee may feel cut off from the proceedings, feeling as if there are components of what is there taking place of which they may be unworthy in some way.  Any feelings of isolation or distance from the fellowship of the assembled church would militate against unity.  Of course, this commentary by Paul runs back to the question asked in the sixth verse, which was “Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or prophecy or teaching?” 

Once again, the issue is being helpful to the body.  This question is nicely bookended by the remainder of verse twelve, which read “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, seek to abound in order to strengthen the church” (14:12b).  Indeed, if there is a desire to abound in manifestations of the Spirit, those manifestations should abound in such a manner that the church is strengthened.  It is this that is Paul’s abiding concern. 

Paul is not surprised by the ecstatic utterances, nor is he about to limit the manifestation of the Spirit to the same.  For Paul, the evidence of the presence of the Creator God’s Spirit, regardless of the activity in which one is engaged, is the strengthening of the church.  This can be accomplished in an unimaginable number of ways, which is what makes it absolutely impossible to create lists of the gifts of God’s Spirit.  To the end of strengthening the church in connection with speaking in tongues, Paul goes on to write “So then, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret” (14:13).  To that he adds: “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unproductive” (14:14). 

This is not new ground.  Speaking in tongues, as an accepted and widespread religious practice that was understood to be the result of a god taking over the mind of a worshiper, was looked at in this way.  So Paul asks: “What should I do?” (14:15a)  He answers his own question with “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.  I will sing praises with my spirit, but I will also sing praises with my mind” (14:15b).  Paul is not devaluing speaking in tongues by contrasting mind and spirit, nor is he elevating activity that is mind oriented.  He is simply discussing speaking in tongues as it was then widely understood. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 21)

The community of the Creator God and His Christ was not going to be divided or structured based on the abilities of teachers, ethnicity, wealth, or any other societal value, so it should certainly not allow for divisions based upon those things that are perceived to be randomly distributed gifts from that God and therefore even less appropriate as a basis for divisions than other societal constructs. 

Consequently, the use of these gifts is to be modeled upon the example of their Lord, enacted on the basis of love and self-sacrifice, as demonstrated at Jesus’ meal tables, His socially flattening activities (reaching out to lepers, tax collectors, children, women, Gentiles, etc…), and His cross.  Paul is adamant that these gifts are nothing without love and that they are of no real benefit unless they are being used to build up the entire community of believers, rather than just one or two people. 

With his words that have opened the fourteenth chapter, as they build on all that has come before, Paul relativizes that which is the most prized of their spiritual expressions, emphasizing prophecy in its stead.  Again, the contrast is stark.  Not only does prophecy have an entirely different motivation and outcome, but it seeks to communicate in comprehensible language.  This prompts a reconsidering of Paul’s insistence to “Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”

Moving along to the sixth verse of this chapter, Paul writes “Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” (1 Corinthians 14:6)  Now, it is worthwhile to take this opportunity to point out that “prophecy” is not simply the offering up of words concerning future events.  Prophecy is simply speaking the word of the Creator God or words about that God---that which reveals His character and teaches about His nature.  In the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, prophecy is often linked to calling powers to account and sharing what are presumed to be the thoughts of the covenant God concerning the activities of those that are in positions of power and responsibility.  

Likewise, one must not confine thinking about “revelation” to mysterious language, but must understand that the word that Paul uses is “apokalupsei,” or “apocalypse,” which basically means to “go behind the veil.”  Apocalyptic language is not restricted to the book of Revelation (officially known as “The Apocalypse”), but can be seen throughout Scripture, as it is employed to provide gravity to a subject, as the one that employs apocalyptic language attempts to communicate what he believes to be the Creator God’s perspective on events. 

Continuing with this thought, Paul writes “It is similar for lifeless things that make a sound, like a flute or harp.  Unless they make a distinction in the notes, how can what is played on the flute or harp be understood?  If, for example,” as Paul employs what would be a familiar example in his world (this is not necessarily a component of his eschatology), “the trumpet makes an unclear sound, who will get ready for battle?  It is the same for you.  If you do not speak clearly with your tongue, how will anyone know what is being said?  For you will be speaking into the air” (14:7-9).  As part of his battle against divisions in the body and the improper honorific elevation of those that speak in tongues, Paul asks how, if distinct language is not used, if instructions are unclear, knowledge is not being passed along, and the ecstatic speaker is simply speaking into the air (catch the shaming that is occurring), then how is the body benefited?     

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 20)

Why?  The reason is at least two-fold.  Paul wants all to prophesy because it leads to the strengthening, encouragement, and consolation of the entire body of believers, whereas ecstatic speech, historically among other religions and within this early church, generally leads to the elevation of one person above the rest.  With this sensibility created, it feels as if Paul engages in a bit of shaming of those that are vaunted or vaunting themselves owing to their glossolalia, writing “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened” (1 Corinthians 14:5c).  With this, it becomes apparent that interpretation was not a regular component of the glossolalia in Corinth.  Without interpretation, there could be no strengthening of the church, only of the individual, for it is interpretation that turns the ecstatic speech into prophecy.  Commensurately, the necessity of interpretation reduces the honor of the ecstatic speaker, as the interpreter is elevated in honor as well. 

Paul’s concern is with that which is good for the body, and ultimately, with that which brings honor to Jesus as Lord of all.  A strengthened body, rooted in equality and preference of others and completely unconcerned with honor and shame competitions, would accomplish this quite well.  With what can be heard from Paul, it becomes clear that some of the members of this church had highly elevated that which they referred to and classified as the “spiritual gifts,” which is reflected in what was probably their own list recited by Paul in chapter twelve.  Owing to the extensive treatment that it is going to receive, it appears that the ability to speak in tongues was the most prominent of those abilities---affording the highest degree of honor to those engaging in the activity. 

As has been made clear throughout this study, this particular spiritual activity was in no way confined to Christian gatherings, as it was an accepted religious practice of the day and for quite some time before Pentecost or the phenomenon of the church, so this does appear to be an instance of the believers of Corinth importing the values of their society into the gathering that was supposed to reflect their life in pursuit of the Creator God’s kingdom. 

It was not the practice that was problematic, or even the issue, or even Paul’s concern.  Rather, what was of concern to the Apostle were the values (pursuit of individual honor and status) that stood behind and motivated the practice that were the cause for concern.  As was said earlier, a common feature of religious assembly was the belief that a god could possess a believer or worshiper with their spirit, leading that person to communicate directly with the god in what sounded to onlookers and gathered hearers like unintelligible speech.  Paul echoes this common understanding with “the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to God.” 

Unfortunately, what appears to be happening in this church is that the believers were allowing for the establishment of a new social hierarchy not unlike that with which they were familiar, and allowing for this on the basis of spiritual abilities---with those capable of speaking in tongues receiving the greatest honor.  Paul, as has been observed, takes great pains to repudiate this practice of creating social divisions on the basis of spiritual ability, while strongly emphasizing that these spiritual activities (even the limited list to which the Corinthian church seems to have confined and contented itself) are gifts from the Creator God and evidences of the presence of His individual-honor-eschewing kingdom.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 19)

With no break in continuity, Paul continues his line of thinking from chapter thirteen (which was continued from chapter twelve) into chapter fourteen and writes “Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).  Why does Paul here highlight the activity of prophecy?  It is because “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation” (14:3).  The contrast to the one who prophesies, for this church, are those that are engaging in glossolalia.  Drawing out that contrast, Paul writes “the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to God, for no one understands; he is speaking mysteries by the Spirit” (14:2). 

Because Paul is engaging in a rhetorical action here, it is not appropriate to isolate the statement here in verse two or in other verses.  It demands to be heard in context and in contrast.  So when one hears that “the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to God,” and that “he is speaking mysteries by the Spirit,” the proper response is not to throw up ones hands in a glorious salute to the person so speaking, but rather, to hear it in juxtaposition to what Paul says about the one who prophesies, who “speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.” 

This sufficiently directs attention away from a judgment call about the propriety of speaking in tongues, directing an observer instead to a consideration of the motivations for speaking in tongues.  With the honor accorded to public speech acts, and the honor that would be accorded to the person that is said to be possessed by the spirit of a god when engaging in the ecstatic and incomprehensible speech, the motivation of those doing so in Corinth is called into question. 

It follows then that when Paul writes “The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up” (14:4a), he is not making this assertion as if it is a good thing.  Once again, it stands in contrast to what follows, which is “but the one who prophesies builds up the church” (14:4b).  In this case, and in consideration of the honor and shame culture, and especially what has already been seen when it comes to the meal gatherings and the divisions in the church, a person building himself up needs to be viewed as a negative (this is not a positive thing).  He builds himself up because he is more concerned about his honor and demonstrating in historically acceptable ways his special relationship with his god, whereas the person that prophesies, by engaging in strengthening, encouragement, and consolation, is concerned about the church---concerned about the body. 

Paul does not rule out speaking in tongues, but he also does not make it a litmus test for the identification of one that is filled with the Spirit of the God that raised up Jesus from the dead.  He apparently sees it as a legitimate expression, but is concerned with why it is being employed and what results from its employment within the gathered church.  To that point, he writes “I wish you all spoke in tongues” (14:5a). 

Indeed, if all spoke in tongues, then there would be no opportunity for one person to gain undue honor from the practice, thus eliminating the problem as he sees it.  Here, one must be careful not to assert that Paul desires for this to be the norm among Christians.  It must be heard from within the context, which is that of the pursuit of honor in connection with speaking in tongues.  If all speak in tongues, then there will be no special awarding or assignment of honor to the speaker.  Paul understands that it is not the case, nor is it going to be the case that all speak in tongues, and concludes his statement with “but even more that you would prophesy” (14:5b). 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 18)

In verse three of the chapter Paul writes “If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit” (1 Corinthians 13:3).  The use of “boast” should be a reminder of the constant jockeying for status and honor that was the dominant component of the culture.  Again, this seems as though it could be directed towards a single individual within the Corinthian congregation. 

If that is so, then while he is most certainly ascribing honor to love (and probably the one that is thought to embody love), Paul can also be heard taking aim at various members of the community, pricking the conscience of a number of those that are assembled and listening to the reading of his letter, as they hear “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious.  Love does not brag, it is not puffed up.  It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful.  It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:4-7).  Clearly, some of these things have no place in the church of Christ, nor should they be on display between and among the members of that body.  Envy, bragging, puffery, rudeness to those lower in the social order outside the church, and self-serving behavior would stem from the pursuit of honor.

With all that has been said to this point, one should be sufficiently capable of catching the ethos of the remainder of chapter thirteen---listening to Paul in concert with his original audience and hearing: “Love never ends.  But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside.  For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways” (13:8-11). 

The bottom line here is that all of these things that are being employed so as to gain individual honor will come to an end.  What’s more, Paul equates the pursuit of honor as it was then in effect as little more than childish ways.  An adult---a mature member of the body of Christ---does not engage in such ultimately meaningless pursuits, especially if those pursuits stand in opposition to that which the covenant God expects from those that constitute His kingdom come to earth (when those that believe in Jesus act as if Jesus is King of all). 

“Paul continues on to write “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love” (13:12-13).  Paul would seem to be here insisting that true honor will come from demonstrations of love that are not concerned with individual honor but with the honor of the one that is ostensibly being served. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 17)

Paul continues on to write “Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).  It must be asked: could there be any greater honor or source of honor?  To that Paul adds “And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues” (12:28).  Again, one must be careful not to hear Paul creating spiritual hierarchies, as that would seem to run counter to the movement of the entire letter in which Paul seeks to devalue and destroy the accepted honor constructs that have no place in the church.  One must keep in mind Paul’s insistence on the equal importance of all members when reading “Not all are apostles, are they?  Not all are prophets, are they?  Not all are teachers, are they?  Not all perform miracles, do they?  Not all have gifts of healing, do they?  Not all speak in tongues, do they?  Not all interpret, do they?” (12:29-30) 

Though it will be the case that not every member exhibits these types of spiritual gifts, that does not mean that they are not equally valuable or that their spiritual gifts are not equally honorable, so these categories should not be employed to create authoritarian hierarchies in the church.  In fact, Paul, after what seems like an elevation of these particular “offices,” appears to engage his hearers in a transition away from a mode of thinking that elevates these offices and their associated gifts, and goes on express that there are greater gifts that are perhaps deserving of even more honor when he writes “But you should be eager for the greater gifts.  And now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison” (12:31).  

Wading then into chapter thirteen, the reader must be aware that Paul is beginning to deploy his full rhetorical arsenal with great skill.  While he is most certainly elevating love as that which is to be the controlling ethic for the body of the Christ, he is also stripping other activities of the honor that has been over-ascribed to them. 

When he writes “If I speak in the tongues of mean and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (13:1), he is not passing judgment on the activity of glossolalia.  For Paul, this particular action, acknowledged by him as some type of evidence of the work of the Spirit of the Creator God, is a common and accepted religious practice dating back hundreds of years.  However, it does seem to be problematic for this church in some way, and owing to that, he is engaging in rhetorical speech directed to those in the church that are vaunting themselves as being superior to others, or who are allowing themselves to be viewed as being superior to others, simply because they engage in the common practice of ecstatic speech and also accept the honor that would naturally come their way as a result.  Paul acknowledges their activity but he also indicates that it is not being performed in the right spirit, which is that of love---the greater gift and way that is beyond comparison. 

Paul does not pick on speaking in tongues, but goes on to treat other perceived spiritual gifts in the same way, writing “And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains,” which appears to be a nod towards the Jesus tradition and His statements about faith, “but do not have love, I am nothing” (13:2).  This “nothing” makes for quite the contrasting statement, as if somebody prophesied, excelled in the revelation of mysteries, demonstrated knowledge, and had a commendable faith, they would enjoy the adulation of others, with a commensurate increase in their honor status. 

However, if a self-sacrificial, other-preferring, serving, equalizing love was not the basis for all of these things---if these things were motivated by love of glory and pursuit of honor, then it was all meaningless.  In fact, if such was the case, then all of these things, when practiced within the Jesus community, actually stood apart from honor and was instead a source of shame.  With the sheer number of attributions, it is reasonable to presume that Paul may have had one particular individual in mind with the statement of verse two.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 16)

Building on his thinking concerning the equality of Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, and ostensibly male and female, and seeking to create a unity and outwardly focused spirit of service amongst the members of the church body, Paul continues, writing “So now there are many members, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need  you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:20-21)  Why would a body desire to cripple itself by demeaning some functions while elevating others?  There is a trace of a sense that what may have been going on here is that the body of Corinthian believers were actually attempting to coerce those who did not exercise the type of spiritual gifts that were deemed to be more honorable (both inside and outside of the church) to leave the association. 

If this is the case, Paul certainly could not abide this.  He continues: “On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our un-presentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this” (12:22-24a).  Though one may have read these words many times before, once the honor and shame culture is squarely in view, and once one sees how that culture has been carried into the church in a way that is clearly not appropriate, it is no longer possible to read these words about “weaker,” “honor,” and “dignity” in the same way.  At the same time, Paul qualifies his usage by using phrases such as “seem to be” when referencing those that are thought of as being weaker, along with “we consider” when speaking of those thought of as “less honorable.”  Surely this is meant to be provocative.

With what comes next Paul picks up on a prominent feature of the Jesus tradition, together with its teaching about the kingdom of the Creator God and the enactment of that teaching through its meal practice, which is that of the first becoming last and the last becoming first.  Unity and equality with no divisions leaps directly to the fore when he writes “Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members have mutual concern for one another” (12:24b-25).  There is an example-of-Jesus-based last as first and first as last construct there, and mutual concern is a key. 

With an active ethic of the preferring of the other regardless of status, Jews and Greek are to have mutual concern for each other.  For Jews, this is revolutionary.  Slaves and free are to have mutual concern for each other---also revolutionary.  Men and women, by extension, are to have mutual concern for each other---part and parcel of turning the world upside down.  This mutual concern must move beyond sentiment, resulting in actions that demonstrate that mutual concern, with mutual concern over-riding societal constructs that would normally function to limit and govern such actions.  It is in that same frame of thought that one is then able to go on to read “If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it.  If a member is honored,” with this honor assigned through the court of public opinion, “all rejoice with it” (12:26).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 15)

In this type of association (a body of those that believe that Jesus is Lord), there is simply no place for elevating one member at the expense of another.  The practices that would have gained one honor in another association, such as speeches of wisdom and knowledge, healings, the performance of miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, are not to function that way within the church. 

The fact that there is to be no stratification (especially around the table---the way that the church gathered) based on spiritual gifting, and that not all were expected to exercise the same gifting, is reinforced when one reads “If the foot says, ‘Since I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.  And if the ear says, ‘Since I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that” (1 Corinthians 12:15-16). 

Indeed, the body (whether the human body or the body of Christ that is the church), demands a multiplicity of what are, in the end, equally valid functions for proper engagement with its environment.  Though some functions, such as seeing or being able to use one’s hands, seem far more important than others, those functions are radically dependent on other functions.  Beyond that, “If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing?  If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?  But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as He decided.  If they were all the same member, where would the body be?” (12:17-19).  So not only is each and every member of the body a valuable component that aids in proper functioning, but each member must do what it has been ordained to do, lest the whole of the body be limited in its functionality. 

So it seems that Paul is insisting that not only is there to be no assignment of special honor to any particular gifts, but there should also be no striving for emulation of another’s gift.  How can this be said?  Well, if there is no particular honor associated with a dramatic gift such as ecstatic speech, then there will not be attempts at mimicry that may ultimately stem not from a desire to serve and expand the kingdom of the covenant God, but from jealousy or covetousness with an eye towards accruing honor and enhancing one’s position in the association and within society.  Rather, with no honor accrual or loss at stake, each member will seek to exercise the indwelling of the Spirit of the Creator God, which Paul insists is evidenced by the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord, in ways that will benefit the body as a whole and enhance its health and functionality.  This will manifest itself in an unlimited number of ways. 

With this understood, and understood alongside knowledge of the fact that Paul is dealing with issues specific to Corinth (with the outcome of his dealing with the issues---that towards which he is driving---universally applicable for Christians for all time), one can toss out any thinking that has Paul constructing systemic lists of spiritual gifts, along with any thinking that one must evidence one of the spiritual gifts listed in chapter twelve of First Corinthians (or taking tests to determine spiritual gifting in accordance with this list) in order to determine if one has truly been gifted with the Spirit of God. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 14)

Also, it must also be noted (and noted well), that Paul is not attempting to offer up an exhaustive list of the giftings of the Spirit (or the evidences of the mysterious working of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead).  It is inconceivable that Paul was constructing a hard and fast list of “spiritual gifts” that would be forever operable in the church at large.  Rather, just as is the case with the whole of the letter, he is dealing with issues related to this church, with what he knows about this church, and the actions in the church that are resulting in a setting that runs counter to that which is expected from those that represent and model out the kingdom of the Creator God and His Christ before the world. 

Surely one would not be willing to place limitations on the Creator God’s working through His people, through that same Spirit that raised up Jesus from the dead, by indicating that this list of actions found in the first half of chapter twelve of the first letter to Corinth is an actual and limited list of the ways in which the Spirit of the covenant God manifests itself in and through the lives of believers.  Given all of the potential ways to live in such a way that declared the cosmic King-ship of Jesus, and given all of the potential ways for those that call Him Lord (which is the fundamental gift of the Spirit in Paul’s estimation) to be the place of the overlap of heaven and earth and to set forth the renewed creation through simple actions of self-sacrifice, compassion, and love, any notion that there is a defined or limited list of gifts would have to be thought ludicrous.  

Clearly then, this list is not meant to be systematic.  It is most likely that Paul could have gone on to make reference to other activities within the church as evidences of the gifting of the Spirit, but it might be the case that this was a list of activities that were most related to the problems at hand within this church.  It is also quite interesting to point out that, though the performance of all of these things could lead to the accrual of honor and status, more than half of Paul’s list have to do with public speech acts.     

Paul goes on to stress the need for unity within the church body, regardless of the spiritual gifts that are being expressed.  One must continue to hear an effort to level out the believers, undoubtedly lifting up some while lowering others as needed, and decimating hierarchies that are or have been improperly constructed in the church upon the standards of the surrounding world.  Honor and shame approbations, as popularly enacted and recognized, are and were not going to have any place within the church of the Christ.  Consequently, believers that exercise what are considered to be the more prominent spiritual gifts are not going to be allowed to have a place or position above those whose spiritual giftings are not so obvious or familiar (ecstatic speech being a rather familiar and highly honored practice). 

Paul writes “For just as the body is one and yet has many members, all the members of the body---though many---are one body, so too is Christ” (12:12).  This use of “one and yet… many,”  followed by “many… are one,” most assuredly picks up on the “different, same, each, and all” pattern that has already been on offer from Paul.  Continuing in this mold, Paul goes on: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not a single member but many” (12:13-14).  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 13)

With these things said, Paul can be heard to say: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are different ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (12:4-6).  Given the cultural context in which differences are celebrated and quite determinative of one’s standing, Paul’s repetitive employment of “different… but… same” is key.  It is a significant component of the theme of corporate unity that underlies the whole of the letter and most certainly chapters twelve through fourteen.  In that mode of corporate unity, he continues, writing “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all” (12:7). 

Here, in much the same mode as his use of “different” and “same,” Paul deploys “each” and “all.”  Expounding upon the “different,” “same,” “each,” and “all” statements, Paul writes “For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (12:8).  It must be pointed out that, if one takes seriously the use of different, same, each, and all, it is impossible to see a hierarchical function in the list of spiritual gifts to which Paul makes reference.  Paul is not stressing that one gift is more important that another, or that one gift somehow stands further down the list of importance, for that would actually militate against the point that he is making in regards to the body.

Continuing on, Paul indicates that the Creator God gives “to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (12:9-10).  This use of “to another” stands as a reminder that this is not a vertical listing.  It is a linear and horizontal listing.  For Paul, all are equally valid and equally honorable manifestations of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, as Paul rounds out this particular rhetorical flourish with “It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as He decides to each person, who produces all these things” (12:11).  The reference to the Spirit’s activity informs the hearer that any honor to be assigned is not to be assigned to the person through whom the gift is being enacted, but to the Spirit that is producing the action.  If honor is assigned to the individuals because of the exercise of the spiritual gift, then something has gone wrong. 

The body of Christ must resist the tendency to elevate any of these gifts or to devalue any of these gifts, while also resisting the tendency to think of the last items on the list as spiritual leftovers.  However, it may be of interest to note, as it relates to this study, that Paul does mention speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues towards the end of his list.  Again, for those that would allow lists to function in a “first to last” movement, this would not be to demean these practices in any way.  Instead, might it be possible that they are placed where they are strictly for function, so that those gifts will be top of mind as Paul moves forward with his letter?  This may not be far-fetched, as not only is speaking in tongues mentioned again at the close of chapter twelve and at the opening of chapter thirteen, but it is the primary subject matter of chapter fourteen. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 12)

The language of honor and shame should heavily influence any reading of these passages in the Corinthian letter.  Also, one must take note that it is Paul’s treatment of the standard division-inducing practices that were common to their world, and their being unfortunately put on display at the Christian meal gathering that included an honoring of Jesus while also hearkening to His meal practices that were designed to show forth the messianic banquet that denoted the coming of the Creator God’s kingdom and rule, that precedes Paul’s going on to deal with “spiritual gifts” (12:1). 

An observer should most definitely hear Paul, through his treatment of meal practice and his decrial of division and giving weight to those considered more honorable, forming the basis for what comes next in his letter.  One cannot underestimate the importance of that to which Paul has been building in this letter.  To be sure, he has dealt with a number of issues, but there is nothing that takes up more of his attention than the issue of spiritual gifts, and they take up a large measure of his attention within a letter directed to a church that is overly concerned with issues of honor and shame and are allowing that construct to dictate the functioning of the church.  The “spiritual gifts” are the subject of chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen---the largest section of the letter by far.  The practices of the church, and the way that honor was being assigned within the church loom large when delving into chapter twelve. 

This study has prepared for this special attunement by all that has been covered to this point, especially so that Paul can be heard doing more than offering a list of spiritual gifts in the first part of the chapter.  It is now possible to join the Corinthian believers at their meal gathering that has been stratified based on honor concerns, fully realizing the potential honor gathering opportunities linked to public speech acts, and hear Paul say “With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans you were often led astray by speechless idols, however you were led.  So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (12:1-2). 

Paul makes it clear that everyone, without exception, who refers to Jesus as Lord (a public speech act) is somehow motivated to do so by the Spirit of the Creator God (the confession of Jesus as Lord is said to be evidence of the work of this Spirit, however that takes place).  This can then be heard as a leveling out of the church body.  Regardless of the quantity or type of speech acts that Paul will go on to detail, it is clear that the entire body of believers stands on equal footing, both spiritually speaking (in the area of gifts) and when it comes to honor---all have the Spirit of the covenant God operable within them---when they call Jesus “Lord.” 

Now an observer is in a position to be able to hear about the “gifts of the Spirit” in a different and perhaps more enlightened way than has perhaps been previously experienced.  Honor and shame constructs must be held in mind.  There must be an awareness of the role of ecstatic speech (glossolalia), along with a rudimentary historical knowledge of the practice.  There are divisions and factions within the church, with these factions linked to speech acts.  There are concerns regarding the meal practice, and that this meal practice, more than anything else, was a lamentable demonstration of the importation of the societal values of the surrounding culture into the life of the body of the Christ. 

It is incumbent upon the reader to bear these things in mind and to hear the words of the apostle from the position of being seated at a meal table.  Seated at that meal table, it is possible to look around and mentally register the results of the functioning of the honor and shame culture, the value placed on ecstatic speech, the divisions that Paul has referenced, and the fact that this meal practice looks quite a bit different from that of the Jesus tradition (and apparently, from that which Paul first taught them).    

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 11)

Throughout this first letter to Corinth, Paul’s concern is with the body and its unity, and he adamantly opposes anything that might throw that body into disharmony, divisiveness, or stratifications along customary lines in a way that would decrease the witness and the societal and cultural and global effect of the body of Christ.       

While continuing to link the act of eloquent speech with other speech acts performed amongst the gathered church, one must also continue to consider this issue of divisions with the church.  Though the divisions are obvious when Paul is mentioning the factions that are aligned with various teachers or apostles, they don’t quite come to the fore unless one is attuned to the cultural situation.  Divisions or stratifications, as would have been common within the variety of voluntary meal-table-based associations in Corinth, were based largely on wealth and social status, which were linked with one’s honor standing.  This can be seen quite readily with Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper. 

An unfortunate reality of the Corinthians fellowship at the meals that were held in remembrance of Jesus (the Lord’s Supper), was that they were conducted in much the same manner as the meals of other associations that would also include a commemoration or honoring of their object of worship.  The make-up of the church in Corinth would have ranged the entirety of the socioeconomic scale, reflecting the constitution of the city at large.  The meals of the associations, which existed for a variety of reasons, would have been divided and stratified based on social and economic status. 

Those with wealth and honor would eat the best food and wine, being served first, whereas those with lesser means, traveling down the socioeconomic scale and the honor roll, would eat food and wine of much lower quality, or perhaps none at all (think of the socially upending story of Jesus turning the water into wine for an excellent example from the Jesus tradition).  As evidenced by what can be viewed in the eleventh chapter, this situation was very much occurring in the Corinthian church. 

In that chapter Paul writes “Now in giving you the following instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For in the first place, when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.  For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident” (11:17-19).  Based on knowledge of the culture, with a very basic awareness of associations and their meal practices, one notes that the divisions here mentioned go beyond alignment with a particular individual, and that they are reflective of standard practice.  

Additionally, an observer is now clued in to the fact that those who are “approved” are those with honor---those who have status in, and the respect of the community-at-large, though this should have no bearing on their standing in the church.  With this in mind Paul continues: “Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper.  For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper.  One is hungry and another becomes drunk.  Do you have not have houses so that you can eat and drink?  Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing?  What should I say to you?  Should I praise you?  I will not praise you for this” (11:20-22). 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 10)

Before Paul brings up Apollos, who is renowned for his eloquent speech and his ability to employ lofty speech in his presentation and defense of the Gospel (thereby explaining Paul’s making mention of Apollos), Paul defends this recognized deficiency in his own abilities.  Naturally, though he may see his abilities as being deficient, he believes that the message that he preaches, and the effects that it produces in those that hear it and live it, more than make up for his perceived failings. 

With a solid framework in place, it is now possible to better understand what Paul is getting at when he writes “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God.  For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.  My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God” (2:1-5). 

This very thing that he did not want to see, which is faith based on human wisdom (with this being tied to the honor competition rather than this being a knock on the mental pursuit of the appropriate understanding and application of facts, not to mention that the message of the cross as the place of actual honor for Jesus and those that would follow Him, when the world saw it as the place of the greatest shame), is what was happening among those that were inclined to identify themselves with Apollos, in alignment with the prevailing principles of honor and shame.  This also illuminates Paul’s asking them “are you not merely human?”  Again, Paul takes no issue with Apollos.  Indeed, Paul may have desired to possess Apollos’ abilities.  At the same time, what he saw in Corinth, as the people were perhaps reacting to Apollos more based on his abilities rather than on the message that he faithfully delivered to the best of his abilities, served as a tremendous example to Paul. 

In the end, he would rather see that the message of the Gospel (Jesus as Lord of all) and its cross (humiliation, suffering, weakness, cursing, shame) carry the day, for then there would be no doubt as to wherein lied the mysterious efficacy of the message against all reasonable expectations (the whole thing being absurd prima facie).  It was Paul’s underlying hope that if honor was to be accrued and assigned, that it would not be assigned to the one that delivered the message, but to the one of whom the message spoke, and it would hopefully spark imitation of the supreme honoree along cross-shaped lines.

This must be approached carefully, especially if one finds himself in the midst of a Christian culture that decries deep learning as being somehow antithetical to the spirit of the Gospel.  Paul does not take issue with learning and the ability to speak persuasively.  He is taking issue with the response of the people in accordance with social norms that valued power and persuasion and the individual pursuit of honor at all costs as the dominant ethic of society, rather than the embrace of suffering and shame if need be as the dominant ethic of the society of the followers of Jesus as they turned the world on its head. 

Failing in this area would mean that they were continuing to value the standards of the kingdoms of man rather than the standards of the kingdom of the Creator God as demonstrated by Jesus, as those standards were outlined in the what they have would known about Jesus through the traditions that were being orally transmitted about Him (in word and deed), and as displayed through His cross. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 9)

Now it is possible to read through Paul’s Corinthian correspondence against the appropriate backdrop of the prizing of rhetorical skill and the honor competition and assignment associated with public speech acts.  In this, one gets the distinct impression that Paul did not quite measure up in this area.  It appears that some of the Corinthian believers derided Paul, going so far as to question his apostolic credentials, simply because, in his speeches before the assembled church community, he failed to employ the rhetoric and rhetorical skill that was so-highly-valued.  At the same time however, Paul had no difficulty whatsoever in deploying his rhetorical arsenal in his written communications. 

One can see evidence of this attitude towards Paul in the second Corinthian letter, when reading “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speeches of no account.’” (10:10)  It seems that they were uncomfortable with the idea that the person to whom they pointed as the presumptive founder of their community was not able to command respect through his public speaking.  Thus, because Paul was unable to accrue honor for himself through his rhetorical abilities, the community was also going to be unable to accrue honor.   

This goes a long way towards understanding the divisiveness in the Corinthian church that Paul references in the third chapter of the first letter.  Paul writes “For whenever someone says, ‘I am with Paul,’ or ‘I am with Apollos,’ are you not merely human?  What is Apollos really?  Or what is Paul?  Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow” (3:4-6).  Apollos, according to the eighteenth chapter of Acts, “was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.  He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue” (18:24b-26a).  Chapter nineteen commences with mention of Apollos in Corinth, while Paul is in Ephesus. 

Apparently, Apollos put his skills to use in service of the church at Corinth, with his eloquent speech causing some to see him in a more positive light than Paul (read: more honorable).  One should not immediately surmise that Apollos was somehow in competition with Paul, but with some understanding of the honor and shame culture, it is not difficult to figure out that his rhetorical abilities caused him to be assigned honor in a way to which Paul apparently did not have the same access.  Thus, again, because Apollos could accrue honor through the use of his rhetorical skills, so too could a community that he led accrue honor.

Paul, without condemning or criticizing Apollos, his speaking, his eloquence, or his learning, refocuses the Corinthian believers by criticizing them and their continued introduction of societal (old age) values into the church as they elevated and assigned honor to one based on accepted custom.  Paul attempted to make sure that they understood that both he and Apollos were nothing more than servants (diakonoi in Greek, those who were assigned to “wait on tables” in Acts 6), and that honor was to be assigned to the one that they served (both the believers and the Creator God).  Paul stresses the unity and equality between he and Apollos in their role of servants, disavowing the attempts at elevation and emphasizing the need for the same amongst the congregation of believers, writing “The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work.  We are coworkers belonging to God.  You are God’s field, God’s building” (3:8-9). 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 8)

Given the high value placed on public opinion, one can understand the high value placed on the use of rhetoric in the ancient world, as skilled speakers could do much to shape consensus, dragging public opinion concerning that which should be understood to be truly honorable in the direction desired by those that wished to either gain in status or cement their positions.  It is the importance of the orator in this regard, as not only would the orator have his own honor while also being employed in ways that would gain honor for others, that stands in the background and informs Paul’s words about eloquence and wisdom and status and identification with certain individuals in his first letter to Corinth. 

Eloquence, which was associated with wisdom, was also associated with honor.  A highly effective public speaker would be viewed with much honor and could be employed to achieve the same for others by either “singing their praises” or shaping the consciousness of the community in such a way that they found themselves wishing to bestow honor in accordance with the actions of the one being so praised.  One cannot pass this by without acknowledging Paul’s focus on eloquent speech, understanding its function within the culture.  An observer must also acknowledge that glossolalia is a speech act as well.  This particular type of speech act, which was intimately associated with the gods, when performed publicly, was yet another means by which honor would be accrued. 

Paying attention to the value of the orator, it is worth perusing a papyrus fragment dating from 110 A.D., roughly fifty years beyond the time of the writing of Paul’s letter.  That fragment reads “Pay to Licinius the rhetor,” rhetor being a specific type of orator (short for rhetorician---one specifically skilled in the art of rhetoric, which was a foundational component of the education system of the day and a valued tool for the shaping of opinion well employed by Paul), “the amount due him for the speeches in which Aurelius… was honored… in the gymnasium in the Great Serapeion, four hundred drachmas of silver.”  According to the first century Roman historian by the name of Tacitus, the amount of money that was paid to Licinius exceeded the wages paid to a Roman soldier for a year’s worth of service.  This serves to demonstrate the high value that was then placed on this skill.  

Accordingly, as there was much money to be made, especially because the skill was put to use in connection with the pursuit of honor (or the conferring of shame---it served a dual role), training in such speech and writing was central to the education provided in the institutions of the day.  Indeed, the mastery of rhetorical speech was a potentially lucrative enterprise, serving to assist in the accrual of both wealth and public honor. 

Again, the gaining of position in society, and by extension within the institutions and associations of that society whatever those may be, is connected to public speech acts.  Those that were more charismatic, outgoing, engaging, and comfortable with public speech were able to serve themselves quite well.  Because of this, rhetorical speech was prized almost universally in the ancient world.  Romans, Greeks, and Jews, rich and poor alike, slaves and free, men and women, all enjoyed listening to the presentation of an eloquent speech riddled with lofty rhetoric.  In this way, the people in Corinth and in the church in Corinth were no different (and there is nothing wrong with that).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 7)

Now, many (most) that are reading this may not live in societies that are shaped by honor and shame in a manner similar to the ancient world, but all are certainly able to understand the high value that is placed on the “court of public opinion.”  Politicians, first and foremost, live and die through rightly understanding the court of public opinion, attempting to craft their positions to reflect the wider sentiment, or if given the opportunity, reshape that sentiment in a way that is more to their liking.  Even in this construct, which is broad and encompasses a wide swath of the public, some people’s opinions and positions are given more weight than others.

In Paul’s world, which included the influential and wealthy city of Corinth, as it was governed by concerns with honor and shame, the court of public opinion was a formidable entity.  This was the unofficial, shifting, and partially undefined body of people within society which determined a person’s social standing.  Naturally, the determinations were made by those that were already understood to be possessive of honor, thus their opinions were not exactly unbiased or altruistic, as they would not want to jeopardize their own status by approving and assigning honor to that which might run contrary to that which has brought them their own honor. 

So even though public opinion is malleable, it is often monolithic.  Given the absence of mass-media, public opinion could not be shifted on a whim.  Given these things, social standing, whether honorable or dishonorable, is determined in accordance with society’s values.  One’s honor did not come from how one viewed oneself, but from how one was viewed by the public at large and by those already considered honorable more specifically.    

Archaeology has uncovered an abundance of inscriptions in the city of Corinth that attest to the importance of the honor and shame system and the court of public opinion.  These inscriptions are honorific in nature, as would be expected, and serve to demonstrate what seems to be a near obsession with public honor.  Such inscriptions, obviously, would be encouraged by those being honored as it would cause the honorees to be viewed in the most positive light imaginable and by the widest possible cross-section of the populace (with this standing in for mass media/social media). 

These inscriptions would run the gamut, extolling individuals for being loyal and generous, excelling in virtues while shunning vices, gracious in tending to the affairs of others as much as he would his own, and living a life free from strife.  These things served to adequately demonstrate the types of things that could lead, along with actions of public benefaction, to the accrual of honor.  A person feted in such ways would be accorded much honor in accordance with the value system of society, as confirmed by the ever-changing court of public opinion.  Conversely, disloyal behavior, stinginess, an excess of vice-like behavior, a selfish pre-occupation with one’s own affairs, and the production of strife were actions that would lead to the accrual of shame.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 6)

Having set the stage for a basic presentation of the honor and shame culture and how it might relate to the church in general and the Corinthian church in particular in connection to the action of speaking in tongues, it is very much worth taking some space to provide a basic outline of the functionality of honor and shame in the world in which both Jesus and the early church arose.   

An important first century Roman Stoic philosopher by the name of Seneca, in writing about honor from within an active and functioning honor and shame system, had this to say: “All our arguments start from this settled point, that honor is pursued for no other reason except because it is honor.”  This says much about the value system of the Greco-Roman world, though those that live within the confines of western civilization cannot readily relate to such a sentiment, primarily because the pursuit of honor has been primarily replaced by the pursuit of material possessions and wealth. 

Though it can certainly be the case that wealth and material possessions were attendant to honor in Paul’s world, this would not necessarily be the case.  Even if modern perceptions of honor and shame has been skewed, one can still peruse the wider world in order to find the systems of honor and shame still in operation much like it was operating in Corinth.  Christians throughout the world still live within cultures in which one’s true status is largely determined by the values of honor and shame, and are in the enviable position of being able to more easily identify with and understand the situation with which Paul deals in his first letter to Corinth.  In a world so governed, the primary motivation for performing a good deed (public benefaction) or for living a life marked by virtue, was the attainment of honor. 

The opposite end of the spectrum from honor, of course, was shame.  As was alluded to earlier talk about Jesus, a person might seek to increase his honor by publicly shaming a rival through insults, reproach, physical abuse, confiscation of property, and even public execution.  Mention of Jesus in connection with this leads to a helpful aside, in that Jesus’ insistence that His disciples turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless when cursed, and offer the undergarment when sued for the outer garment, gain substantial meaning when understood alongside concerns of honor and shame.  Everything that Jesus suggests be done essentially as part of a mission statement, which He then lives out through His passion, would be immediately viewed as honor-disavowing and shame-accruing. 

So how exactly was it determined who was possessive of honor and who leaned towards the shameful end of the spectrum?  There was no formal system by which honor was assigned.  There were no checklists to follow.  Rather, public consensus, which is always shifting, plays the most important role.  The shifting sands of public consensus meant that one would always have to be on guard, not only performing according to wider public opinion, but also doing one’s level best to shape public opinion and drive the public debate concerning what is honorable and what is dishonorable/shameful.  This can be loosely referred to as a governing construct known as the “court of public opinion.”  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 5)

As a denizen of the first century Greco-Roman world and as a popular teacher that would have been increasingly viewed through messianic lenses, Jesus would have been quite conscientious of the way that He was perceived by the public.  That said, He appears to be almost completely unconcerned with the honor and shame system.  It almost seems as if He viewed it as being quite backwards, with actions seen as most honorable by the wider public, perceived by Jesus as being shameful, and vice versa. 

At times, Jesus accepts the honors being afforded to Him, but generally He only accepts honoring or honorific statements when they come from those that do not possess any public honor (tax collectors, lepers, those that have been possessed by demons, unclean women, etc…).  When the rich or the rulers attempt to honor Him (and thus flatter themselves and attempt to accrue honor by their own association with Him), perhaps by calling Him “good,” He disavows the approbation.  He routinely speaks of the first being last and the last being first.  He interacts with tax collectors, who may have money and a measure of power, but who are not looked upon as being honorable in the least.  He touches lepers.  He allows dishonorable women to touch Him.

He is more than happy to take the lowest place at a meal, eschewing the places of honor and instructing His followers to do the same.  He washes the feet of His disciples, which is the role of a slave and a reminder of the slave’s shameful place.  He allows children who, being children, do not have a place in the honor and shame pursuit (they do not have honor or shame accorded to them), to come to Him.  When they do, He tells those who are listening to Him that they must enter the kingdom of Israel’s God as little children---unconcerned with the pursuit of honor or the avoidance of shame (which has nothing to do with a “childlike faith”).  He ultimately ended up on a cross, which was the lowest and most shameful place of all, and He went there willingly as He embraced the role of Israel for the world. 

These things (the honor and shame culture along with Jesus’ treatment of this broad social construct) would have been well understood by Jesus’ followers and those that made up the believing communities that attempted to live out what it meant to be the renewed Israel that represented the rule of the Creator God through the remembrance of and reflection upon the orally transmitted Jesus tradition.  When Paul wrote his letters, especially what are considered to be the early letters, there were at that point no known and codified written record of the life of Jesus.  There were no Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as they exist in their present form.  Paul doesn’t have his own body of work or the letters from other apostles from which to draw, nor do the early believers.  What they had were the words of the apostles. 

Those apostles shared their stories of Jesus (a relatively unified story to be sure, though with different emphases, as is obvious from the variety of presentations of the life of Jesus that can be seen in the Gospels) so that those who threw in their lot with the crucified and resurrected King (the church) might do their best to model out the example that He provided, as the movement of the kingdom of the Creator God began to spread through the world via the instrument of the church, with this spread understood to have been motivated by the Spirit of God.  They too were to be motivated to eschew honor and embrace shame, especially if such brought glory to their King and to their God and extended the reach and rule of that Kingdom as they conscientiously strived to bring heaven to earth by mimicking the counter-cultural behavior of Jesus. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 4)

Not only did the church not have to explain a new phenomenon, but they were simply able to employ a term already in use to describe a relatively widespread and known practice, with the term adequately conveying, for the Christians, the same information it would have conveyed on behalf of non-Christians---speaking in tongues while possessed by a god.  Glossolalia did not describe something new that originated with or in the church, but was merely adopted and adapted by Christians, as an accepted religious practice for many that was already full of meaning and richly symbolic.    

It is undeniable that what can be seen in the church today bears a heavy resemblance (identical?) to the occurrences of ecstatic tongues that took place in these ancient cults well before the day of Pentecost, to which is generally looked as the time of the outpouring of the Spirit that has, since then, enabled the ecstatic speech of Christians, though there are marked differences between both Christian, non-Christian, and pre-Christian speaking in tongues from what is recorded in the second chapter Acts. 

In all cases of speaking in tongues, based upon the facts of history, the one performing the action is said to be doing so under the influence of their god.  It cannot be said enough that speaking in tongues is not a uniquely Christian practice by any means.  A large number of studies have revealed the fact that speaking in tongues is present in non-Christian religions all around the world.  It is practiced quite distinct from the church in China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Arabia, and Burma, just to name a few locations.  Glossolalia can be heard among Eskimos, in Japanese séances on the island of Hokkaido, from the shamans of the Zar cult in Ethiopia, in Haitian Voodoo, and quite extensively in African tribal religions.  In each case it functions differently for the group, though it will generally sound the same.      

With an understanding that speaking in tongues was present in Paul’s world and elsewhere before Pentecost, attention can now be turned to one of the most important societal constructs in the world of Paul’s day, which is the construct of honor and shame.  It was the system of honor and shame that governed relationships in the ancient world.  One that was desirous of pursuing honor, while also being able to function at an honor-pursuit level within society (not a child, woman, slave, leper, etc…), would take great pains to perform public actions that would not be damaging to one’s accrued honor, while carefully avoiding activities or associations that would tend to bring shame.  Honor equaled prestige in the ancient world.  Honor was also considered to be a limited good, in that if one gained honor for themselves, it came at the expense of another person’s honor.  More honor for one equated to more shame (or simply less honor) for another, and one could certainly gain honor for self by shaming another person.  Speaking in tongues was certainly a component of this system.  

This system of social interaction and order can be seen to have been at work in the records of the life and ministry of Jesus.  When Jesus is challenged, in addition to these challenges being akin to rabbinic debates, they are also contests of honor and shame.  If His challengers can defeat Him through their questions, thereby asserting their superiority or demonstrating potential flaws in His reasoning or grasp of the law, then they will have shamed Him while gaining honor for themselves.  This shaming could very well have served to stem the tide of His kingdom movement.  However, Jesus, who attracted crowds and prestige, did not seek honor for Himself.  He as presented as one that accrued honor but did not seem to care for the workings of the system.  In fact, He is presented as being only concerned with His Father’s honor.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 3)

Corinth was a very wealthy city, as it was a center of commerce.  Naturally, a city that is a center of commerce is also an intersection of culture as well.  Corinth was situated on the isthmus that connected the area of Achaia with that of Macedonia and Thrace, all of which, taken together (along with some islands), form the area generally referred to as Greece.  Situated on the isthmus, Corinth had two harbors, east and west, thus effectively connecting Asia with Italy (Rome most importantly) and by extension the rest of the known western world. 

One can easily imagine Corinth’s being viewed as a quite attractive place to do business.  Owing to that, it would also be an ideal place from which to exert cultural influence, which probably accounts for the fact that Paul spends so much time with this body of Jesus-followers, taking great pains to influence it in its unique role as an embassy for the kingdom of the covenant God, and working diligently to see that it behaves in ways that will appropriately represent the King and the kingdom to which it claims its allegiance. 

At the same time, one can also understand how and why accepted practices of the wider culture could creep into this believing fellowship, as its members were constantly exposed to the ideologies and practices of practically the entire world, and almost always within what would have been a competitive commercial environment (not to mention the ongoing honor competition). 

Not only was Corinth a center of commerce, but it was also a center for sport, as it would play host to the Isthmian games (similar to the Olympics) every two years, while hosting the Imperial and Caesarean games every four years.  This, of course, would attract tourists, thereby increasing the opportunities for commerce as well as its cultural standing within the empire.  Though Corinth would have had its share of wealthy inhabitants, it would also have had its poor, with some in-between, therefore reflecting the variety of social levels which characterized the large cities of the ancient world. 

As one considers Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth, and hears him specifically dealing with the issue of speaking in tongues and what it would represent within the church and to those outside the church--- as the church lived and worshiped and exercised their spiritual gifts within a culture largely dependent on constructs of honor and shame (the pursuit of honor for social advancement in public and in private associations), care must be taken to never forget the underlying and quite visible, accepted, and enforced social stratifications and ordering of the ancient world. 

While taking care to consider the social stratifications and cultural cues of Corinth while observing Paul’s instructions to this congregation, it is also quite interesting to note that the very term “glossolalia,” which is used to denote what is generally believed to be the uniquely Christian practice of speaking in tongues, is a term that is in wide use long before this church in this city (or any church in any city) is on the scene.  This reminds an observer that it is not a term that had to originate with Christians for the purpose of explaining their ecstatic utterances, and that this church that was situated at the crossroads of the world did not have to explain itself or find a way to fit this particular practice into the ongoing honor competition of the day.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 2)

The very first recorded cases of that which can be termed as glossolalia, or ecstatic speech attributed to the activity of the gods upon a believer, goes as far back as 1100 B.C.  On that occasion, it was a worshiper of the Egyptian God Amun that was said to have attracted attention to himself through making sounds in a strange, ecstatic tongue.  He reported himself to have been possessed by the god.  Seven hundred years later, the famous Greek philosopher Plato demonstrated that he was quite well acquainted with the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, as he made reference to several families who habitually practiced ecstatic speech, with prayers and utterings offered as they were supposedly possessed by the spirit of their gods. 

Plato would also go on to point out that these practices had even been said to have brought physical healing to those who engaged in them.  Accordingly, and because they had no reason to presume otherwise, Plato and those contemporary with him casually and confidently asserted that these occurrences were in fact caused by some type of divine inspiration.  It was his suggestion that the god simply took possession of the mind during this state, inspiring the individual so possessed with utterances that he could neither understand nor interpret. 

In the century prior to the coming of the Christ, the poet Virgil, speaking of the Sybilline priestess that lived on the island of Delos, described her activity of speaking in ecstatic tongues.  This was explained by her being in some type of mysterious union with the god Apollo.  This union was reported to have happened while she meditated in a haunted cave, amidst what was described as the eerie sounds of the wind as it played strange music through the narrow crevices of the rocks. 

Several of the mystery religions that inhabited the Greco-Roman world in which the church first developed also recorded the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  These include the Persian cult of Mithra, the Egypt-based cult of Osiris, and the Dionysian, Eulusinian, and Orphic cults of Macedonia, Thrace, and Greece.  Lucian of Samosata, a reliable historian of the ancient world that lived in the second century, to whom the church owes a debt because of his records concerning the meal practices of the Greco-Roman world, described an example of glossolalia in one of his written works.  In it, the ecstatic utterance was performed by somebody described as a roaming believer in the Syrian goddess that went by the name of “June” (the month is named after her). 

Focusing on Corinth, the prevalence of cults that spoke in tongues, especially in what is the wider geographic area by which the city of Corinth was bounded, informs an observer that there would be a high degree of familiarity with the practice within the city.  This becomes especially poignant if one was to consider the geographical and cultural position in which Corinth was situated at the time of Christ, and a short time later, of Paul. 

Speaking In Tongues (part 1)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1  (NET)             

Whenever the topic of “speaking in tongues” is considered, a common misconception, together with a failure in basic knowledge of the subject, is advanced.  That common misconception is that “speaking in tongues” or “glossolalia” somehow began with Christians at Pentecost.  Whether one is “for” or “against” the idea of speaking in tongues, which is generally considered to be an ecstatic form of speech that is unintelligible to both the speaker and any hearers as it does not bear resemblance to any known languages, it is impossible to engage in a discussion without first considering the fact that records of the practice of speaking in tongues predates Christianity by several hundred years.  Yes, records of its historical practice in a way that is akin to the way in which it is practiced by millions of Christians around the world today, can be found centuries prior to the advent of the church and in complete isolation from the influence of the Creator God’s covenant people. 

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the congregation of Corinth, deals extensively with the issue of spiritual gifts, with that of speaking in tongues receiving what appears to be an inordinate amount of focus and attention.  This particular spiritual gifting appears to be of grave concern to the Apostle, and one can only have any hopes for understanding the reasons for Paul’s dealing with the subject in the context of the body of people that stood in representation of the kingdom of God, if one also understand a bit of the history of the action itself, its place in the culture, what it signified to the performer and to an audience, how it was received, how it functioned in a community, and in what the action of speaking in tongues would result. 

So yes, as one gazes through the pages of recorded history, one finds that there have been many occasions where people have spoken in what has been referred to as ecstatic language.  The records indicate that this is no different, in practice and in appearance, than what is to be seen in the contemporary (and historical) Christian practice of speaking in tongues (ecstatic language).  Shortly, this study shall also make clear that the given reasons for the speech have remained unchanged, and that the practice has merely been adapted to the new situation. 

Most of the accounts of ecstatic speech predate Pentecost (though it will be necessary to provide a helpful delineation between what is recounted in the second chapter of Acts and the activity that is being addressed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church) and were of decidedly non-Christian origin.  This fact should give pause to Christians that decry, and perhaps quite rightly, the fusion of pagan holidays into Christianity, rejecting the celebration of Easter and its associated traditions or Christmas and its associated traditions because of their questionable origins, while uncritically embracing pre-Christian (pagan) acts such as speaking in tongues that have also been carried over into the church. 

As the simple facts of the matter will eventually serve to demonstrate, Christians cannot say with any degree of confidence, that every occurrence of glossolalia (again, this is not necessarily what is seen in the second chapter of Acts) must be an expression of the will of the Creator God.  Many, of course, subscribe to this view, though it is historically untenable and does not withstand an even moderate degree of scrutiny. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Galatians & Giving (part 8 of 8)

So how does all of this knowledge about Paul’s purposes in relation to intra-church conflicts, cultural dynamics, and societal norms aid in better understanding “Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it”? (Galatians 6:6).  Well, since it is possible and probable that slaves and masters were sitting side by side at the church’s meal table (and hopefully learning to love their neighbor as themselves by engaging in conversation in a mutually up-building way), and because it is also most likely the case that a slave would, oftentimes, be chosen to preside over the meal and the symposium, it would also make sense to believe that, on frequent occasions, it would be a slave that was offering up a word of prophecy or sharing some form of instruction (be it a tongue, an interpretation, a song, or what have you) for the building up of the church (the purpose of the use of all gifts). 

Yes, a slave or perhaps even a woman might very well be responsible for imparting instruction to the assembled body, as they participate equally in the symposium, teaching and expounding upon the word of Israel’s God for the purpose of advancing the kingdom, or of advancing the understanding of the way in which the church is to function in and for the kingdom of the Creator God.  Likewise, when viewed from the perspective of the Jew, it may be a Gentile from whom instruction is being received. 

Either way, in a world in which it was not uncommon to pay (and honor) a traveling teacher, there was to be no delineation and no discrimination when it came to the remuneration of those that were instructing and serving to build up and strengthen the body.  In every other meal association, not only would it be unheard of to allow those with no honor (honor being assigned and recognized by the community at large) to teach (as if somebody lacking any honor could impart useful information), but it would also be problematic.  For the church this would not be problematic, but it would be an opportunity to display the only proper delineation, which would be the delineation that demonstrates just how incredibly unique was the body that represented the world’s true King and His kingdom. 

Just as it would have been customary for an orator or one skilled in rhetoric, and therefore held in high esteem, to be compensated for the exercise of their particular gifting, with nobody thinking twice about the appropriateness of compensation, so too should there be no hesitation in providing compensation to anyone, be it a slave or woman, who performed such a role for the Jesus community.  This equal sharing owing to teaching, regardless of social status and standing outside the church gathering, along with the necessary disavowal of any pathetic divisions or classifications within the church body, would be evidence of the operation of the covenant God’s Spirit within the community. 

It is in accordance with this way of thinking that Paul can then be heard saying “Do not be deceived.  God will not be made a fool.  For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (6:7-8).  Though it remains a component, clearly, the instruction to “share all good things with the one who teaches it” goes well beyond its customary use to provide justification for giving to one’s church, and thereby showing respect for the teaching and the teacher.          

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Galatians & Giving (part 7)

The bottom line for this and every Jesus community was that “through love,” they were to “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b).  Though this can be heard in the general sense of Christian service, it can also be taken more literally as Paul can be heard insisting that all were and are to take the opportunity to be servants at the meal table.  Just because somebody was responsible for serving at meal tables (women, slaves) outside the church gathering, that did not automatically mean that they were to be the servants at the church gathering.  In fact, the church and the Gospel may very well have insisted upon the opposite.  Regardless of that possibility, Paul insists that the appropriate attitude is “You must love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14b); and just as their service was not some generalized service, so too this “love” was not some general, undefined love. 

To that end, Paul quotes from the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, making allusion to all that surrounds the specific quotation.  Further insight into the social dynamic that is at work can be gained by looking to that passage in Leviticus and finding “You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich.  You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.  You must not go about as a slanderer among your people.  You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake.  I am the Lord.  You must not hate your brother in your heart.  You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him.  You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.  You must keep My statutes” (19:15-19a).  It would seem clear that Paul has this in mind when he appends his thoughts, adding “However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another” (5:15).  Interestingly enough, it would seem that talk of biting, devouring, and consuming can be understood as language that is connected to a meal table. 

Bearing in mind the Levitical allusion, and even though there is some intervening material dealing with the operation of the Spirit and the subsequent contrast between the works of the Spirit and the works of the flesh, does one not hear the Levitical pronouncement heavily informing the introduction to the sixth chapter, when Paul speaks and says “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.  Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.  Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:1-2)? 

Certainly, the words that lead into the opening statement of the sixth chapter could be brought into service here, as Paul writes “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another” (5:26).  When these words are heard at a mixed meal table, where all are cognizant of the wide range of potential sources of divisions and classifications and groupings that would be a natural component of every other meal gathering that would be known and even participated in on a regular basis by those that compose the church of Galatia, they should take on an even more profound meaning.    

Friday, September 5, 2014

Galatians & Giving (part 6)

After making reference to the familiar process of acquiring a slave (“to redeem those who were under the law” 4:5a), Paul continues with the language of slavery as he draws upon the custom of the adoption of slaves as sons, which would serve to demonstrate the great magnanimity of the master that performs such an adoption.  To do this he adds “so that we may be adopted as son sons with full rights… So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God” (Galatians 4:5b,7). 

To this Paul appends “Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all” (4:8).  Now to be sure, there may be some in this congregation that are not going to like what they are hearing, as it is heavily disruptive of the social order and certainly takes no heed to the all-important sense of honor before the community that is diligently pursued and jealously guarded.  Paul would naturally understand this, but like Jesus, it is simply not a cause for concern on his part, as it has no place in the pursuit of the establishment and expansion of the kingdom of the covenant God. 

Paul has discarded all honorific attachments, considering it unimportant in relation to what is necessary to embody the kingdom.  He’s more than content to take the lowest place, as He understands His Lord to have done and also directed His followers to do.  So even though Paul understands what makes for true honor, he’s not deluded about the way that this line of thinking is going to be received.  However, he understands it to be vital and necessary if the followers of Jesus are going to model out the kingdom of their God through their meal table, in the way that it was demonstrated by the one they call Lord.  Reinforcing the possibility that Paul is making waves and quite possibly creating animosity through what he insists that believers do, he writes “So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (4:16) 

Considering the language of slavery, and if one wants to hear Paul correctly from within the world in which he lived and the congregation to which he spoke, it must be understood that when Paul goes into his later analogy, comparing Sinai and the law with Hagar (and Ishmael) and slavery, whereas belief in Christ is set forth as the means for the expression of inclusion under the covenant in comparison to Isaac (and Sarah), one does not have to hear this as condemnation or an assertion of superiority. 

Clearly, Paul does not want those who he insists do not need to adhere to the outward marks of the covenant that are associated with the law to somehow feel superior to those that bear and uphold those covenant markers, while also confessing their belief in Jesus as Lord.  This would be antithetical to his purposes.  Rather, one is probably better served by holding on to the social dynamic that is at work, seeing Paul’s continual leveling out of the community, with all (be they the wealthy master of a slave), whether Jewish by birth and therefore a part of the Creator God’s originally elected people, or a Judaizing Gentile that has come to believe that they must uphold the covenant markers that were then in place, being slaves at one level or another.  For that reason, they should then be quite incapable of vaunting themselves over those that were actually slaves.