“Tongues” or “Unknown languages” in 1 Cor 12-14?

I was pleased to read this post at the NLT blog.  I was pleased because of their consideration of how the Greek word glossa may be translated into English.  It appears that the NLT translators spent a great deal of time working on this.  I love reading the CSB translation, but being a Pentecostal I always felt that it was misleading, or trying to force a particular position in it’s translation.  I am not a Greek scholar by any means, but it is clear from the research that I have done that glossa can be translated as “Tongues” or “Unknown languages”.  In the CSB there are no footnotes to indicate this.

NLT has chosen to allow the context to dictate how it was translated.  I really appreciate what Mark Taylor said in regards to this:

So in the end we decided to use both terms. This allows the reader to get the sense that Paul might have been referring to either or both of these meanings. We were apprehensive about using the word “tongues,” because it is a technical term understood only by readers well versed in biblical teaching. On the other hand, it is the term used in Pentecostal churches to refer to the contemporary phenomenon of “speaking in tongues.” So we used both “tongues” and “unknown languages” in order to provide the broadest sense of the meaning of the passage. – Mark Taylor NLT Blog


4 thoughts on ““Tongues” or “Unknown languages” in 1 Cor 12-14?

  1. As a fellow Pentecostal, I’d be happy with “languages” or “unknown languages” throughout. That’s what the word glossa means, unless it’s referring to the physical tongue. “Tongue” is used archaically in English for “language” as well, hence its use in KJV, hence its use by early 20th century Pentecostals, and hence its use by non-Pentecostals for “ecstatic speech.” But the word simply means “language”; for those who believe that modern “speaking in tongues” is simply ecstatic speech that does not constitute any language whatever, that is a matter of interpretation, not translation.

  2. Keith, I don’t think that anything is loss either way, however I think that subtle change makes a small difference. Especially today on how speaking in tongues is taught by Pentecostals & Charismatics.

    Now if we were to remove the word tongues like CSB has, then we would really have to work hard at redefining our own terminology to fit in with this translation(s). Or it can just become another term to describe something that is known to be true much like the Trinity.

    I could just be holding on to 30 years of Pentecostal teaching and that’s my problem – hahaha. So how would you present this subject when discussing it? Would you say now lets talk about the gift of speaking in “other languages”? I guess if I say it enough times I can get use to it.

    Personally I can deal with it (I do love and read the CSB), but I do prefer how NLT has chosen to handle it.

    The thing that I appreciated most is that Charismatics were taken into consideration which to me shows the huge steps we have made in the last 100 years. Mark was right we he said “…the situation is further complicated because scholars and church historians are divided as to whether Paul was referring in this passage to human languages not otherwise known to the speaker or to ecstatic utterances that are unrelated to any human language.”

  3. Robert, that’s a smart approach by the NLT translators. Sometimes we’re really never too sure.

    The HCSB is too theologically driven for me. The more I read it, it’s the more I’m discovering that.

  4. TC,

    Can you give examples of how the HCSB is “theologically driven?” And, could we not make the same statement concerning many of the other translations out there?

    For example, was not the ESV “theologically driven” because of Dobson and other’s rejection of the TNIV because of its (wrongly) perceived “liberal” bias?

    And, yes, was not even the King James Version “theologically driven” because of King James’ rejection of the Geneva Bible?

    The HCSB is the Word of God and it is a beautiful translation and technically sound – just as the NLT, the ESV, et.al. are wonderful translations and technically sound. Just because the nuances of wording in the English may differ among these translations does not justify rejecting (or accepting) a particular translation on the basis of its being “theologically driven.”

    Frankly, I admire the HCSB translators for remaining stedfast in their choosing of the word “language” (the literal meaning of the Greek word “glossa”) and not trying to appease a certain segment of Christiandom just for a few extra bucks. I personally don’t see this as theologically driven, in fact just the opposite. For Mark Taylor to include “tongues” (an archaic English term that simply means “languages”) to me is theologically (and money) driven.


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