Symposium Introduction


Greg Carey
Jeehei Park
Amos Yong




How did the Apostle Paul navigate the language differences in Corinth? In Contesting Languages: Heteroglossia and the Politics of Language in the Early Church, Ekaputra Tupamahu investigates Corinthian tongue-speech as a site of political struggle. Tupamahu demonstrates that conceptualizing speaking in tongues as ecstatic, unintelligible expressions is an interpretive invention of German romantic-nationalist scholarship. Instead, drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of language, Tupamahu finds two forces of language at work in the New Testament: a centripetalizing force of monolingualism, which attempts to force heterogeneous languages into a singular linguistic form, and a countervailing centrifugal force that diverse languages unleash.

The city of Corinth in the Roman period was a multilingual city-a sociolinguistic context that Tupamahu argues should be taken seriously when reading Paul’s directives concerning Corinthians “speaking in tongues”. Grounding his reading of the texts in the experiences of immigrants who speak minority languages, Tupamahu reads Paul’s prohibition against the use of tongues in public gathering as a form of cultural domination. This book offers a competing social imagination, in which tongues as a heteroglossic phenomenon promises a radically hospitable space and a new socio-linguistic vision marked by unending difference.


Reviews and Endorsements


“Deftly combining contemporary theory with Greco-Roman sources, Tupamahu gives us a compelling reading of 1 Corinthians. For Tupamahu, a language—then and now—can gain legitimacy not only by its power to persuade, but even more so through its position of priority over and above other languages. Demonstrating both the language of power and the power of language, Tupamahu’s book points out the problem of monolingualism for a truly pluralistic practice.” — Tat-siong Benny Liew, Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies, ollege of the Holy Cross

“This historically nuanced, theoretically sophisticated, and philologically rigorous new study breathes new life into the question of speaking in tongues in Paul. An enormously important work, Contesting Language, firmly establishes Tupamahu as one of the most interesting and innovative scholars working on Paul today and is a must read for anyone who cares about ethnicity, race, and language in antiquity.” — Candida R. Moss, Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology, University of Birmingham

“In Contesting Languages, Ekaputra Tupamahu adeptly addresses the social and rhetorical construction of language and its deployment by the dominant to control and/or subordinate minoritized languages under the guise of unification for the good of all. Paul’s efforts in First Corinthians 14 do not get a pass. The book is personal for Tupamahu who is an immigrant and recent US citizen. He writes as part of a global community impacted by linguistic injustice toward immigrants and descendants of enslaved Africans. Tupamahu’s book is a must read for scholars and students interested in the intersection of the politics of language, immigration, linguistic justice, and contextualized Pauline rhetoric in 1 Corinthians.” — Mitzi J. Smith, J. Davison Phillips Professor of NT, Columbia Theological Seminary, and author of Womanist Sass and Talk Back: Social (In)Justice, Intersectionality and Biblical Interpretation

Contesting Languages advances a complicated argument that draws on reception history, sociology, philosophy, historical criticism, and grammar to make its points. Tupamahu’s erudition is impressive, and his Paul emerges as a cautionary tale for modern readers, an example of a man for whom zeal for the message overran all other concerns, resulting in violence and subjugation. On that count, for all its scholarly heft, the text is subtly pastoral, inviting readers to think more carefully about the exclusion of minority language speakers from the public life of faith in the Western world.” — Michael Austin Kamenicky, Reading Religion

“Tupamahu’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of language, religion, and power.” — Paulson Pulikottil, The Academia

“While the book is written in an academic style that might not suit the busy ordinary preacher, its main thesis has major implications for churches today.” — Rohintan K. Mody, The Global Anglican

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