(1 Cor. 14:21) Why does Paul quote Isaiah 28:11?

CLAIM: Why does Paul quote Isaiah 28:11 in this passage? Did he rip this passage from its original context?

RESPONSE: In order to understand this citation, we need to understand the context of Isaiah 28. In Isaiah 28:10 and 13, the Hebrew doesn’t make sense.[1] This is because the drunkards in Isaiah’s day were simply repeating back drunk babbling to Isaiah (Is. 28:7). They were turning the word of God into nonsensical language. By contrast, Isaiah was telling them that they should understand the clear message of God, but “they would not listen” (Is. 28:12). Therefore, Isaiah told them that God would speak through foreign invaders to preach judgment to them. Since they could not speak this other language, the people wouldn’t understand the message of the invaders. In other words, it would all sound like babbling to them.

This is why Paul quotes from this passage. He is basically saying, “You are just like the rebellious drunkards from Isaiah’s time. You speak to each other in incoherent babbling, and none of you can understand it. Instead, you should listen to the clear message of Scripture.” God can speak through any tongue that he wants—either tongues in Corinth or foreign tongues in Isaiah’s day. But, God desires that we understand his clear message in our own tongue first. Like the Jews of Isaiah’s day, Paul is pointing out that the Corinthians are not listening to the clear teaching of Scripture. Instead, they want to hear an even more difficult message through strange tongues. Paul is rebuking this attitude.

[1] Grogan writes, “Their judgment, meantime, lay in their failure to hear the word that could have led them back to God; but there was another judgment on its way, most appropriate in its form. Their sin had turned the word of God through Isaiah into a meaningless noise that might just as well have been a foreign language.” Grogan, G. W. Isaiah. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 179.