1 Corinthians 14:20-25: Prophecy And Tongues As Signs Of God’s Attitude -- By: Wayne Grudem
WTJ 41:2 (Spring 1979) p. 381
1 Corinthians 14:20-25:
Prophecy And Tongues As Signs Of God’s Attitude
Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 14:20–25 have often seemed perplexing, primarily because he calls tongues a sign for unbelievers (vs. 22), but then seems to discourage the use of tongues when unbelievers are present (vs. 23). Similarly, he says that prophecy is for believers (vs. 22), but then encourages the use of prophecy when unbelievers are present (vss. 24–25). The entire section is further complicated by the fact that in vs. 21 Paul quotes Is. 28:11, which is itself part of a very difficult passage in the Old Testament.
The commentaries on 1 Corinthians provide a wide variety of suggested resolutions to the problem, but there is certainly no common consensus. Some commentators suggest that Paul is talking about two kinds of unbelievers, those who have heard the word of God and rejected it (vs. 22), and those who are first-time hearers or who are about to become believers (vss. 23–25).1 F. F. Bruce says that prophecy is for believers “in the sense that it produces believers,” thus making the entire passage in effect speak about unbelievers.2 H. Conzelmann adds to Paul’s explicit statement about tongues as a sign to unbelievers his own conviction that tongues are a sign also for believers.3 C. K. Barrett, on the other hand, sees both tongues and (the Corinthian misuse of) prophecy as signs of judgment,4 while R. Lenski says,
WTJ 41:2 (Spring 1979) p. 382
“So we see God using two signs; one of judgment for unbelievers and one of grace for believers.”5
Perhaps some help in understanding the passage can be given if we attempt to answer these three questions: (1) What was the meaning of the “other tongues” in Is. 28:11 ? (2) How does Paul’s use of this OT passage relate to that original meaning? (3) In what sense are prophecies and tongues “signs”?
1. “Other tongues” in Is. 28:11
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