Notes about the Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Translation notes regarding the Epiphanius text on the problem tongues of Corinth.

Unlike many of his counterparts, the Epiphanius’ Corinthian account is a historical retelling and not allegorical. The position is unique among the majority of the Church fathers, so a significant amount of time was spent translating, and analyzing the text.

The actual translation can be found at The Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth in English.

However, the complete work itself from a literary perspective is not considered a masterpiece. The style of writing is often vitriolic and paternalistic. It lacks focus and quickly jumps from one thought to another, assuming much on the readers ability to follow.

The text includes a homophobic attack against Marcion’s character. This was completely unnecessary. Unfortunately history cannot be rewritten and this portion be excised from the text. The purpose of this translation was entirely focused on unlocking the secrets to the Corinthian tongues controversy, and it is hoped that readers will ignore this spiteful nature.

There are also manuscript and authorship questions. The transmission of Patristic manuscripts down through the centuries is hardly ever a straight path. The Epiphanius text, popularly known today as Against Heresies but historically titled, The Panarion, is no exception. The original was done by Epiphanius but the Greek texts available today contain emendations, language modernizations, and editorial insertions. Karl Holl did extensive research on this subject in the early 1900s. He found that the base manuscript can be traced back to the ninth century work known as Vaticanus gr. 503. Roger Pearse outlined Holl’s thoughts on the history of this manuscript: “Holl believes that the text of its ancestor first became corrupt, then suffered atticizing corrections, and then was corrected using two other old, atticizing, manuscripts.”(1)Pearse footnotes this from: Karl Holl, Die handschriftliche Überlieferung des Epiphanius (Ancoratus und Panarion). Texte und Untersuchungen 36.2. Leipzig : J. C. Hinrichs, 1910 Pg. 26

This does not come as a surprise. Transmission corruption in the Epiphanius text was an issue in a different article posted on this blog: The Geneology of Christ and Other Problems which concluded that the Epiphanius Panarion text in Migne Patrologia Graeca was not very old, may have had portions translated from a Latin text, and had some additions not found in the original.

The Epiphanius text almost appears to be catenae stitched together into a composite form. Reading it is choppy, as if some parts are missing text.

If one looks carefully at all the Greek, Latin, and English texts on the subject, it will be apparent that there are a variety of differences. This is due to the fact that the original was lost and all that exists now are disparate manuscripts. Each person attempting to read the text is forced to piece together clues from all the sources.

The Panarion is a large work and only Schol. 13 and 21 to Refut. 14 and 22 have been translated for this blog. The Greek of this section has been critically analyzed but the rest of the book has not been examined in the same detail. Schol. 13 and 21ff was selected because of his coverage on I Corinthians 14.

There are some clues to this text being part of the original Epiphanius manuscript.

  • The first clue is the writing style. The text conveys a historical rather than an allegorical truth — Church writers, and especially later ones, shied away from historical narratives.

  • The second relates to a linguistic one. The problem tongues of Corinth was a problem of languages. The idea of Hebrew being a sacerdotal language, and the reference to Attic, Aeolic, and Doric are very old themes. Attic was already the dominant language during and after Epiphanius time; literary conflicts between its Doric and Aeolic counterparts had long been settled. Hebrew had no place in any Christian liturgy at the time of Epiphanius or later. These would not be issues that later copyists or editors would see important to insert as an emendation. It had no theological significance.

The text attributed by Epiphanius on Corinth could be a later emendation. However, authorship is not so important in the Gift of Tongues Project, but the transmission of the doctrine is. This concept of Hebrew as a sacerdotal tongue in the earliest Church along with a conflict between Greek rhetorics on the proper content and delivery of a speech, could be traced to the fourth century and geniunely Epiphanius, or it could have been edited somewhere between the original or anytime until the 9th century. Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century lightly alludes to the fact that the Corinth conflict was between Jewish believers and Greek converts. The Ambrosiaster text also follows a similar trajectory to that of Epiphanius, claiming that it was a problem of Syriac speech in the congregation. However, the Ambrosiater manuscript is hard to date, as it was emendated and changed throughout the medieval ages. So it cannot be used as reference for when any thought was first introduced into the Christian discussion. The evidence so far suggests that the transmission was early, but could have been edited in later, 9th century at the latest.

Whether Epiphanius or not, 4th century or later, this concept was transmitted and understood by some Church communities or individuals. It was not common or popular, but was a held belief by some.

A few notes on the actual translation work is in order. The English translation provided on this blog was completed by me, Charles Sullivan. The following structure was in place to complete this translation.

The locating or building of the best Greek source text possible was of utmost importance. Dr. Karl Holl already completed this task. His work was compared against the versions found in Migne Patrologia Graeca and the one published by Franciscus Oehler. The results are a digitized Greek text found at The Greek Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Another important but not so critical as the Greek was to look at a later Latin translation. Comparisons were made from the Latin parallel text found in both Migne Patrologia Graeca and Franciscus Oehler’s Haereseologici. It was carefully observed for three reasons: assistance in understanding a Greek word or phrase not readily found in Greek dictionaries or grammars, accuracy of my English translation, and if the Latin translator had a different interpretation himself than what the Greek actually meant. Holl’s version only has a Greek edition. The Latin translation available in both Migne Patrologia Graeca and Franciscus Oehler’s editions were done by the same person, Janus Cornarius — a person who was extremely gifted in this field whom I trust very well for a consistent and accurate translation. The Latin translation can be found at The Latin Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

However, Cornarius stitched together his own idea of a source text and amplified in parts. I liked his narrative, but it doesn’t always follow the literal Greek, it was lightly regarded.

After this translation was completed, it was compared against Frank Williams’ translation as found in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1.(2)The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1. (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35) New York: E.J. Brill. 1987. Pg. 324ff My translation is not always consistent with his because Williams tended to throw all the manuscripts in, including the Latin, to produce his English translation, which appears choppy and confusing.



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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