The History of Tongues as an Ecstatic Utterance: Objections

Objections to the miracle of tongues being simply an ecstatic utterance in the 19th century.

This new definition of tongues as an ecstatic utterance was not universally accepted and initially ran with opposition, recognizing it a departure from the traditional interpretation. 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 always to understand γλῶσσα 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, even engaging the arguments of a minister of the Irvingite Church, John Davenport, whom one letter to the editor regarded as a weak position.(6) The Churchman. Vol. 38. Pg. 14

These objections were relatively minor compared to the bigger picture and the momentum was decidedly shifting to the new definition.

This will be outlined further in the next segment, The History of Tongues as an Ecstatic Utterance: Examining the Source-Books.



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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