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This study examines the phenomenon of speaking in tongue(s) in the Corinthian church from the point of view of the politics of language. Instead of seeing tongue(s) as a problem of unintelligible-ecstatic speech, it reconsiders this phenomenon as a linguistic struggle. Tongue(s), in this sense, is a multilingual social dynamic that Paul perceives as chaotic. Special attention is given to the role of language as one of the crucial markers of the ancient Greeks’ collective identity. The barbarians are their imaginative and discursive ‘others’ who do not share their language. It is within this sociopolitical context that the employment of the term βάρβαρος in 1 Cor. 14:11 can be understood as a performative act of constituting racialized subjects. Such discourse is Paul’s political strategy of bringing a monolingual order into the Corinthian church.


Originally published in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 41:2 (December 2018): 223–245.

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