1 Corinthians 14:11
Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaks a barbarian, and he that speaks shall be a barbarian to me.
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(11) Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice.—Language is useless unless we know what meaning is attached to each word uttered. The hearer is a foreigner (or barbarian), then, in the estimation of the speaker, and the speaker a foreigner in the estimation of the hearer. Thus the truth that sounds of tongues are useless unless they convey definite ideas to the hearers, is illustrated (1) by different instruments of music, (2) by different sounds of an instrument, (3) by different words and languages of living men—in all of which cases the conveyance of distinct ideas is the sign and test of their utility.

14:6-14 Even an apostle could not edify, unless he spoke so as to be understood by his hearers. To speak words that have no meaning to those who hear them, is but speaking into the air. That cannot answer the end of speaking, which has no meaning; in this case, speaker and hearers are barbarians to each other. All religious services should be so performed in Christian assemblies, that all may join in, and profit by them. Language plain and easy to be understood, is the most proper for public worship, and other religious exercises. Every true follower of Christ will rather desire to do good to others, than to get a name for learning or fine speaking.The meaning of the voice - Of the language that is uttered, or the sounds that are made.

I shall be unto him ... - What I say will be unintelligible to him, and what he says will be unintelligible to me. We cannot understand one another any more than people can who speak different languages.

A barbarian - See the note at Romans 1:14. The word means one who speaks a different, or a foreign language.

11. Therefore—seeing that none is without meaning.

a barbarian—a foreigner (Ac 28:2). Not in the depreciatory sense as the term is now used, but one speaking a foreign language.

But if a man doth not understand the language, the words are not significant unto him, I shall neither understand him, nor will he understand me; for a barbarian cannot understand one of another nation, till he hath learned the language of that nation; nor can a man of another nation understand a barbarian till he hath learned his language. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice,.... The force and power of a language, the signification of it, the ideas its words convey, but only hear the sound of it:

I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me: like one of those rude and uncultivated people that inhabit deserts and wild places, who can neither understand the language of others, nor be understood by others; and indeed may be meant of any sort of people, that do not understand one another's language: the word "bar", and "bara", in the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic languages, not only signifies a field, a wood, or desert place, but also without, or any thing extraneous; and being doubled, signifies one that lives without, in another land; a stranger, and that speaks a strange language; so all other nations of the world were barbarians to the Hebrews, and particularly the Egyptians; see the Targum on Psalm 114:1 and so were all other nations to the Greeks, see Romans 1:14 and also to the Romans: and the sense is, that where the signification of a language and the sense of words are not known, the speaker is like a man that lives in a strange country to him that hears him; and the hearer is like to one that lives in a strange country to him that speaks, since they cannot understand one another. The word sometimes is used for men, , (z), "that can neither speak nor hear", men dumb and deaf; and when words cannot be understood, the case is all one as with such persons.

(z) Scholia in Aristoph. in Avibus, p. 550.

Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that {g} speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.

(g) As the papists in all their sermons, and they that ambitiously pour out some Hebrew or Greek words in the pulpit before the unlearned people, by this to get themselves a name of vain learning.

1 Corinthians 14:11. “If then I know not the meaning of the voice” (τὴν δύναμιν τῆς φωνῆς, vim or virtutem vocis)—for every voice has a meaning (1 Corinthians 14:10 b); on this very possible hypothesis, “I shall be a barbarian to the speaker, and the speaker a barbarian in relation to me” (ἐν ἐμοί, cf. Matthew 21:42, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 2:6 above), or “in my ear”. By this illustration of the futility of the uninterpreted Tongues, Paul implicitly distinguishes them from natural foreign languages; there is a μετάβασις εἰς ἄλλο γένος in the comparison, just as in the previous comparison with harp and trumpet; one does not compare things identical. The second figure goes beyond the first; since the foreign speech, like the mysterious γλῶσσαι (1 Corinthians 14:2), may hide a precious meaning, and is the more provoking on that account, as the repeated βάρβαρος intimates.11. the meaning of the voice] Literally, its force.

a barbarian] This word is here used in its original signification of one whose speech is unintelligible,

unto me] Literally, in me, i.e. in my estimation.1 Corinthians 14:11. Βάρβαρος, a barbarian) See Acts 28:2, Note.Verse 11. - A barbarian; in other words, unintelligible, according to the definition of the word by Ovid —

"Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli." Unto me; rather, in my eyes. Meaning (δύναμιν)

Lit., force.


Supposed to be originally a descriptive word of those who uttered harsh, rude accents - bar bar. Homer calls the Carians, βαρβαρόφωνοι barbar-voiced, harsh-speaking ("Illiad," 2, 867). Later, applied to all who did not speak Greek. Socrates, speaking of the way in which the Greeks divide up mankind, says: "Here they cut off the Hellenes as one species, and all the other species of mankind, which are innumerable and have no connection or common language, they include under the single name of barbarians" (Plato, "Statesman," 262). So Clytaemnestra of the captive Cassandra: "Like a swallow, endowed with an unintelligible barbaric voice" (Aeschylus, "Agamemnon," 1051). Prodicus in Plato's "Protagoras" says: "Simonides is twitting Pittacus with ignorance of the use of terms, which, in a Lesbian, who has been accustomed to speak in a barbarous language, is natural" (341). Aristophanes calls the birds barbarians because they sing inarticulately ("Birds," 199); and Sophocles calls a foreign land ἄγλωσσος without a tongue. "Neither Hellas nor a tongueless land" ("Trachiniae," 1060). Later, the word took the sense of outlandish or rude.

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