His beloved church had managed to blend
almost fully once again with those Corinthian citizens who had made the
city famous for its debauchery: To "Corinthianize" had become a
byword in the ancient world. And now, instead of being a bright beacon in
this idolatrous outpost of the Roman Empire, the Corinthian Christian
church had practically rejoined them, mocking the power of Christianity.
While all of these violations are duly
noted and rebuked in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul devotes
what seems an almost excessive amount of attention to the improper
handling of the gift of speaking in tongues. It must be stated, however,
that nowhere in Corinthians does Paul speak out against the tongues or
suggest that they (the Corinthians) were engaged in practicing a
counterfeit manifestation. In fact, Paul wants all the believers in
Corinth to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14: 5), saying expressly that he does
not forbid speaking in tongues. Verse 39. He also thanked God, stating:
"I speak with tongues more than ye all." Verse 18.
This combination of statements by Paul
shows that he held the Corinthian tongues to be valid manifestations of
godly glossolalia, not a counterfeit. Otherwise, would he, a man of God,
have uttered the wish that all speak in tongues? Would he have counseled
them not to forbid speaking in tongues or admit that he speaks "with
tongues more than ye all"?
It would have been most incongruous
Parts of chapters 12 and 13, and all of
chapter 14 of his first letter to the Corinthians deal with tongues and
the orderly use of this gift of the Spirit. Paul does not condemn the
But a study of this New Testament
phenomenon does not furnish us with indications that the gift of tongues
had undergone a modification and had been changed with Godís sanction
from a manifestation of speaking real languages (as in Acts 2:1-4) to an
unintelligible tongue by the time the Corinthians were using it. To the
contrary, it is reasonable to assume that inasmuch as Corinth was a city
with a cosmopolitan population, as it was the political and commercial hub
of the province of Achaia, its citizenry was undoubtedly comprised of a
great variety of nationalities, with a constant influx of commercial
travelers. When Paul established the church at Corinth, it is quite
possible that its members received the gift of tongues so that they would
be able to reach out to these resident aliens and foreigners in their own
Paul admits as much.
"That in every thing ye are enriched
by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge," he points out in his
letter; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: "so
that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ. " 1 Cor. 1:5-7.
After listing in the first eleven
chapters of his letter the problems that infiltrated the Corinthian
church, Paul finally arrives at the problem area.
"Now concerning spiritual gifts,
brethren, I would not have you ignorant." 1 Cor. 12:1.
"Now there are diversities of gifts,
but the same Spirit." Verse 4.
"For to one is given by the Spirit
the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by
the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy;
to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of
another the interpretation of tongues." Verses 8-10. (Italics
It is apparent from the outset that Paul
recognized that the Corinthians possessed unwholesome views concerning the
gifts of the Spirit. He compares it to ignorance. The entire list of
complaints he had received indicated that the church had reverted into
heathenism, and the fact that Paul devotes three dlapters to tongues
proves that the use of this godly gift had especially fallen into
disrepute. It would have been remarkable indeed if the church, having
already reverted in part to paganism, and having ignored Godís guidance
in almost everything else, had in some way managed to preserve the gift of
tongues unblemished. Most of these Christians had a heathen background,
where speaking in tongues was held in high esteem and regarded as a token
of favor from the gods.
Commenting on this, Edward Schweizer
"In Corinth a conception of the
Spirit of God was predominant which mixed up Holy Spirit and enthusiasm.
To the Corinthians, an utterance seemed to be more godly the more
miraculous it appeared. Thus glossolalia was the highest degree of
spiritual maturity, just because it showed itself depending on a
mysterious power which would not be identified with any natural faculty of
man."ó"The Service of Worship," Interpretation,
October, 1959, p. 403.
The ability to speak other