The History of Glossolalia: Objections

19th century objections to glossolalia as speaking in tongues.

As shown in the previous article, The History of Glossolalia: the Origins, the new definition of tongues as an ecstatic utterance was not universally accepted and initially ran into strong opposition. Glossolalia was recognized as a departure from the traditional interpretation.

Examples of opposition to the new definition.

  • Rev. Edward Hayes Plumptre, Professor of Divinity at the King’s College in London, wrote a compelling overview, comparing the ancient versus the contemporary definition in the 1863 edition of Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible. It may be one of the most comprehensive historical writings on this religious topic up until this point. He concluded that the “theories of Bleek, Herder, and Bunsen,” cannot be reconciled, “without a wilful distortion of the evidence.”(1) “Tongues, Gift of” by E.H. Plumptre. Dictionary of the Bible. William Smith, LL.D. ed. London: John Murray. 1863. Pg. 1556 In his defence he documented many different views over history along with the traditionally accepted one.(2) IBID. Plumptre. Pg. 1557ff

  • In 1871 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary: Critical and Explanatory on the whole Bible, rejected this new thesis, “Tongue must therefore mean languages, not ecstatic, unintelligable rhapsodies…”(3)Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. Commentary: Critical and Explanatory on the wholeBible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. Orig. publishing date 1871. Pg. 289

  • There was resistance in the German community as well. For example a German lexographer simply ignored the movement in his Biblico-Theological Lexicon and continued on with the old definition in 1883 and insisted that γλῶσσα always be understood as language.(4)Hermann Cremer, D.D. Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek. Trans. by William Urwick, M.A. Edinburgh: T&T Clarke. 1883. Pg. 164

  • Christopher Wordsworth challenged such thinking in 1857 and re-affirmed the traditional position:

    “One of the most convincing proofs of the truth of the Ancient Interpretation of this text, as thus declared by the CHURCH OF ENGLAND, is to be found in the almost countless discrepancies of the Expositors who have deserted that Interpretation.

    There is a large and consistent body of Interpreters, dating from the second century, and continued for many hundred years in all parts of Christendom, in favour of the Ancient Exposition; whereas, on the contrary, the Expositions at variance with it, which have been propounded in modern times, have no ancient authority in their favour; and are as inconsistent with one another as they are irreconcilable with the teaching of Christian Antiquity.”(5)Wordsworth, Chr. The Greek New Testament. Vol. 2. London:Rivertons. 1930. Pg. 44: Or go to Google Books. for the original publication.

    Wordsworth’s argument reverberated strongly within a divided Anglican Church on the subject. The 1878 Churchman Magazine reflected such intensity on this matter. A number of letters to the editor argue against a minister of the Irvingite Church, John Davenport, who previously wrote that Pentecost was not foreign languages or for the purpose of universal propagation. A writer replied that this was the weakest and most untenable position to make on this subject.(6) The Churchman. Vol. 38. Pg. 14

Glossolalia overtakes the traditional interpretation.

Although the sampling is small, these writers demonstrate that there was a traditional definition that was in the process of being abandoned and being replaced by a new one. These objections were relatively minor compared to the momentum the doctrine of glossolalia had already accrued. The spirit of the times was decidedly shifting to the new definition.

This will be outlined further in the next segment, Ecstasy, Glossolalia and tongues: Examining the Source Books.

For further reading:



Charles Sullivan is a researcher and writer on topics of textual criticism, linguistics, theology, Christian mysticism and philosophy. He also frequently likes to delve into contemporary social and ethical issues from a faith perspective.
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