1 Cor 13:1:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (ESV)

Ἐὰν ταῖς γλώσσαις τῶν ἀνθρώπων λαλῶ καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, γέγονα χαλκὸς ἠχῶν ἢ κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον.(NA28)

Seen in numerous places on the interweb: "Scholars tell us that there was a big gong or cymbal hanging at the entrance of most pagan temples used to wake the pagan gods so they would listen to prayers" or something very similar. I've never seen a source cited and suspect perhaps ANE urban legend. Looked up χαλκὸς and κύμβαλον in TDNT and BAG and could not find any corroboration. I know they were used in Jewish and pagan worship, but curious if anyone has a source indicating it was for the purpose of waking the pagan gods when worship/prayer time rolled around? Thanks.

  • For what it's worth, if you go to this site, you'll read an anecdote provided by missionaries(?) Harriet Elizabeth and Francis Edward Clark in their book Our Journey Around the World. books.google.com/… Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 19:43
  • An additional thought. See 1 Kings 18:20-46, but especially v.27, which reads: "It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked [the prophets of Baal] and said, 'Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside [i.e., he's relieving himself!] or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.'" A humorous passage, to be sure. Of interest to you (and apropos your question) is Elijah's comment about Baal being asleep and in need being woken up! No gong is mentioned, but the idea of a god being asleep is laughable. Cf. Psalm 121:4. Don Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 16:48
  • I searched for such a ritual in ANE culture, and the closest thing I could find was the dīk bīti, a daily ritual from Babylon and Uruk for 'awakening the temple'. However, I found nothing referring to the use of crashing gongs or cymbals in this ritual. (Linssen, The Cults of Uruk and Babylon.) Both χαλκὸς and κύμβαλον are words used in several books in the Septuagint (one time together for a single object), so Paul may not be borrowing his wording from a specific pagan ritual.
    – user2910
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 0:22
  • @philip (A.) Injecting this cultural, or religious concept, into this passage is improper, and does not aid in the interpretation of this passage. (B.) Even if the Presupposition is true, that this word implies some religious liturgy, this would not mean--at all--that Paul was making an indirect reference to other liturgies, as any indication of this is completely absent from the text; (C.) Only by injecting this presupposition does the question even arise--which establishes that it is a "Fallacy", Begging the Question. Perhaps "Rhetorician" could clarify? Commented May 28, 2015 at 0:24
  • Yes, the plain sense of the meaning when read by the someone with a buddhist or taoist background would be the connection with a gong used to scare off ghosts/dragons/demons/etc... So ancient references that provide some context would be useful to the reader.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 11:33

2 Answers 2


Clarke in his commentary on 1 Cor 13:1 does not mention the idea of waking the gods, but he does show an Aeneid quote which Clarke claims is an instance of a trumpet is being used to scare off demonic creatures (harpies). My own reading of the quote is that it is being used as a call to war against them:

Ergo, ubi delapsae sonitum per curva dedere Littora, dat signum specula Misenus ab alta AEre cavo: invadunt socii, et nova praelia tentant, Obscoenas pelagi ferro faedare volucres. AEneid, lib. iii. ver. 238.

Then as the harpies from the hills once more Poured shrieking down, and crowded round the shore, On his high stand Misenus sounds from far The brazen trump, the signal of the war. With unaccustomed fight, we flew to slay The forms obscene, dread monsters of the sea.-Pitt.

Contrary to the ESV, Clarke translates χαλκὸς ἠχῶν (literally brass instrument) as a trumpet, not a gong. He then goes on to quote ancient poetry of martial theme that refers to trumpets by their metal. Brass instruments then, for the ancients, had a martial connotation (a call to war).

Among the Hebrews, of course, the intention of using musical instruments (including trumpets) in temple worship, according to the psalms, was to give glory to God. A secondary purpose was to use them as calls to prayer or signals that a liturgically important moment had arrived. It may be important that temple trumpets were supposed to be of silver.

Concerning 1 K 18:27 when discussing "Peradventure he sleepeth" Clarke says:

Among Asiatic idolaters their gods have different functions to fulfil, and require sleep and rest. Vishnoo sleeps four months in the year. Budhoo is represented in his temple as sleep, though his eyes are open. Vayoo manages the winds; Varoona, the waters; Indra, the clouds, &c.; and according to many fables in the Pooranas, the gods are often out on journeys, expeditions,

There is no indication that noise will waken a sleeping pagan deity.

Matthew Henry is silent concerning gongs and cymbals in 1 Cor 13. He is equally unhelpful in 1 K 18, contenting himself to adding his own ridicule to that of Elijah.


According to Thiselton's volume on 1 Corinthians in the New International Greek Testament Commentary, the connection between χαλκός and pagan worship is disputed among scholars. Here's the relevant passage at length, including references:

χαλκὸς ἠχῶν is the subject of a research article by W. Harris under the title “ ‘Sounding Brass’ and Hellenistic Technology.”43 Harris discusses the phenomenon of acoustic resonance systems to which Vitruvius alludes in his work On Architecture (c. 30 bc). Material of bronze (χαλκός) was constructed in such a way as to amplify sound by functioning as an acoustic resonator or resonating acoustic jar, rather than as some kind of musical instrument or gong. Hence ἠχῶν means sounding in the sense of sound producing: not of pitching a sound. This matches uses of ἠχέω to mean not to pitch sound, but to transmit and to resonate sound, e.g., the roar of the sea or thunder. Paul uses the continuous present participle (Himerius, Orations 40; Ps 45:4, LXX; cf. the noun ἠχῶ, sound, in Wis 17:18).44 ἠχῶν therefore does not make ἀλαλάζον redundant, but conveys the notion of endlessly continuing resonances which have no musical pitch.

Vitruvius, Harris demonstrates, speaks of resonating jars or bronze vases, which were placed in niches around the periphery of an auditorium. Such a system seems to have operated at Corinth in the second century bc, although the Roman governor Lucius Mummius later had them removed and sold to raise public funds. Harris concludes that whether or not the Corinthians replaced “the acoustic amplifying system,” Paul’s readers would know of resonatingacoustic bronzejars used to project the voices of actors on stage and music.45

William W. Klein supports and develops Harris’s view, against virtually all the standard translations and commentaries.46 Noisy gong occurs in NRSV, NASB, Goodspeed, and Moffatt, while gong is found with a different adjective (resounding gong) in NIV, and (gong booming) in NJB. Neither clanging bronze (Barrett) nor blaring brass (Phillips) conveys the primary notion of resonance, although Knox’s echoing bronze comes near, and AV/KJV’s sounding brass (followed by Collins) is not a bad translation. Klein notes that Lenski and Grosheide view it as an instrument, and Moffatt’s suggestion that it was a gong used in pagan temples, especially in the cults of Dionysius and Cybele, has attracted wide support.47 This last suggestion, however, has been vigorously and strenuously rejected by C. Forbes, partly with reference to Klein’s study.48 Klein infers: (a) that we must relinquish the supposed temple context of pagan religious ecstasy; and (b) that tongues without love are still, however, merely “a reverberation, an empty sound coming out of a hollow, lifeless vessel.”49

43 W. Harris, in BAR 8 (1982): 38–41.
44 Cf. BAGD, 349.
45 In addition to BAR 8; cf. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 70 (October 1981): 1,184–85.
46 Klein, “Noisy Gong or Acoustic Vase? A Note on 1 Cor. 13:1,” 286–89.
47 Moffatt, First Epistle, 192. Followed by J. P. M. Sweet, “A Sign for Unbelievers: Paul’s Attitude to Glossolalia,” NTS 13 (1966–67): 240–57.
48 C. Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech (Tübingen: Mohr, 1995), 38–39, 135–36; cf. also 20.

If you want to research this further, I would suggest starting with the Forbes book.

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