Thursday, October 9, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 30)

Paul is placing what he hopes to be effective boundaries around the particular religious exercise of speaking in tongues, as he continues his extensive and specific dealing with the issue.  He underscores the universal recognition that ecstatic speech, through all of the recorded history of the practice that preceded the Christian church, demands interpretation as part of its functionality, and for both components of the act (speaking and interpretation) to be put to good use for the strengthening of the church (its most important role). 

Without interpretation, the act most likely serves to draw attention to oneself, rather than to the god that is attempting to speak through the ecstatic speaker.  Plus, the interpreter allows for joint participation with another person (or perhaps more than one person?), thus achieving the goal of strengthening and encouraging, while not allowing for honor to accrue to just one individual through whom the god is speaking. 

Accordingly, Paul insists that “if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church.  Let him speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:28).  Can one not see that this deals quite effectively with the issue of competition and the honoring of self?  To this, with the strengthening of the church, along with its fellowship, equality of station, and universal participation in mind (with the always ongoing competition for honor also in mind), Paul adds “Two or three prophets should speak (prophecy calling authorities to account or offering commentary about the actions of the covenant people, sometimes speaking apocalyptically) and the others should evaluate what is said” (14:29).   

Prophets, of course, are those that prophesy, which Paul encourages all to do, so this is certainly not to be hailed as a special class of people within the church.  Plus, one must catch the flow of the thought.  “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others,” presumably the rest of the assembly who also function as prophets (as Paul encourages the entire assembly to engage in speaking forth the words that attempt to reveal the Creator God’s character for the purpose of shaping the response of a people, or shaping a people into a responsive people), “should evaluate what is said.” 

Again, the entire church assembly is engaged, with speakers that come from the entire societal range of the body, and the words of those speakers subject to the entire body that also encompasses the entire range of society.  This once again devalues the honor system (though one must confess to the possibility that this analysis represents an over-reaching and over-reading of the impact of the honor and shame system and Paul’s thoughts and concerns related to that system and its unfortunate and undesirable functionality inside the church) and disregards the social standing that one may have outside of the Christian body as irrelevant to one’s standing within the body of Christ. 

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