A Missionary Crisis on Speaking in Tongues

A pioneer missionary of the Azusa Street Revival explains his speaking in tongues dilemma and how he resolved it.

Alfred Garr along with his wife Lillian were among the firstfruits to receive the blessing of tongues at the Azusa Street revival in 1906 and the first wave of missionaries to spread out the christian message with the pentecostal distinctive abroad. While speaking in tongues at Azusa, a foreigner suggested he was speaking in the Bengali language – the language of eastern India that crests the Bangladesh border. This was taken as a sign for missionary service. The Garr family set-off almost immediately to Kolkata (Calcutta) to fulfill this supernatural event. When he arrived in India, he found that this supernatural ability to speak Bengali did not reappear.

A. A. Boddy, a Vicar of the Anglican Church, and a foremost pioneer of pentecostalism in England, was the editor of the influential periodical, Confidence. Confidence had asked Mr. Garr if he had miraculously spoke in Bengali when he arrived. Boddy and the Confidence were fully aware that Garr had been part of the Azusa Street revival and that he theoretically miraculously spoke Bengali. A. G. Garr along with his wife, Lillian, were high-profile persons within the newfound pentecostal movement for a combination of reasons and their success was a litmus test for the Azusa experience. The Confidence wanted a report to see if this miracle of speech held true for him and other pentecostal missionaries he met in the field.

The Azusa Street revival originally held the belief that tongues was a miracle of speaking one or more foreign languages. The concept of a divine language was in development but had no effect on Azusa at this time.

The following is a response that was republished in the Confidence newsletter.

Confidence: A Pentecostal Paper for Great Britain. A. A. Boddy Ed. Sunderland, England. May, 1908. No. 2.

Special Supplement to the “Confidence,” May, 1908; Tongues in the Foreign Field. Interesting Letters.

——

A letter from Bro. Garr.
Hong Kong, China,
15th March, 1908,
c/o Thos. Cook & Son.

Rev. A. A. Boddy,
All Saints’ Vicarage, Sunderland

Dear Brothers in Jesus

Your card and “Counsel to Leaders” received. We are glad to know you are sending them abroad. They are much needed in these days of conflict.

As to whether I know of any who have received a language, I know of no one having received a language so as to be able to converse intelligently, or to preach in the same with the understanding, in the Pentecostal movement.

Regarding the language I have, that was given to me in Los Angelos, Cal., about two years ago. I can speak it at will, and feel the power of God in most every instance when I speak at length, and can truly bear witness to the scripture that “Speaking in tongues edifies the one speaking.” Regarding the question of an Indian language. When I was baptised with the Spirit in Los Angelos, I began speaking in tongues immediately, and a day or two after a young man, about 25 years of age, came to the meeting and hearing me pray in the unknown tongue, said I was speaking things he could understand, and desired that I should pray for him. I did so, he kneeling with me, and as I prayed it seemed he was moved to desperation, and began to cry to the Lord for himself, and presently began to shout and proclaim that the Lord had saved him. During the course of these meetings he informed me that I had been speaking in several LANGUAGES OF INDIA. One of them his mother tongue. I know for some time I was saying the word, ‘Bengalee,’ (Pg. 2) and when I reached India, I found myself in the Bengal Province. Their language is called Bengalee, but I never knew there was such a language before until starting for India. However, before leaving for America I noticed that the languages changed and I was talking quite a different tongue, and after reaching Calcutta I noticed another change but could not understand the words.

It would be very impossible for me to believe that these were not real languages, as they are spoken with such accuracy and entirely free from guidance by my own mind. Whether or not I was speaking an Indian language in Los Angelos does not shake my faith or even cause me anxiety. I know that God was talking through me, and what it was He knew all about it, and that was quite enough for me.

If some one was to come to me to-day and tell me that I was speaking Greek, and afterwards I should find that I was not, it would not cause me to doubt that I was speaking some language, neither would I doubt God. I would more likely doubt the one who informed me of having known anything concerning what he was telling me. I surely in no case would doubt the Lord Jesus Christ and the work He has done in me. I do praise Him with my whole heart that he poured out His Spirit upon me and spoke through me—and is yet speaking!

I shall forever praise Him whether I ever learn one word or syllable of any utterance He has given or not.

I KNOW THAT GOD GAVE IT.

I know it is scriptural. I know that some of the best men that ever lived talked in tongues, and if the devil can make a fellow talk in tongues, then God can, and if the magicians of Egypt can turn a stick to a snake, then our God has one swallow all of them, so I am not uneasy. I am delighted with all God has done for me on this line. I supposed He would let us talk to the natives of India in their own tongue, but He did not, and as far as I can see, will not use that means by which to convert the heathen, but will employ the gifts—such as wonderful signs of healing and other powers, that the heathen can see for themselves and know that there is no cheat to the performance.

For instance there are people here in China, from England and America, who can speak the Chinese language as well as the Chinese themselves, yet their work for the Master is, in some cases, as dead as one could possibly imagine. Well then, the problem is not solved by knowing the language of a nation perfectly. If I could speak Chinese perfectly and explain to the Chinese that God had given it to me without studying it, they would not believe, but would think I was deceiving them, and at least there would be great room for doubt in their minds. But if we can come to them in the faith “once delivered to the saints,” and in the name of Jesus heal their sick, lame, and blind, they cannot doubt that the blind were blind, nor the lame lame, but will have to know that this work is supernatural.

Then to be able to give them such deliverance, and then to tell them that the Jesus we preach is the one doing these things; they will then believe, as the Samaritans believed Philip, because of the signs he did, and the people at the Temple believed when they saw the lame man to walk, etc.

While I do not understand all there is connected with this movement; yet I see enough to know that God is pleased to work miracles among the people to-day in the same manner as the early saints. I know He performed a miracle on me, and have seen him do the same on many, and because the devil counterfeits, backbites, scandalizes and misrepresents God’s work, does not shake my faith, but rather confirms it in the present movement as being of God. (Of course there will be devil performances wherever he can slip them in, but we may know the devices of the devil, as Paul, if we but ask to).

So far I have not seen any one who is able to preach to the natives in their own tongues with the languages given with the Holy Ghost. Here in Hong Kong, we preached the word to the Chinese through an interpreter, and God has saved some, and there are about twenty-five or thirty that were baptised with the Spirit of God and spoke in other tongues, seen visions, and received interpretations, etc.

God has kindly granted enough signs and miracles to His Church in this movement already to cause us to rejoice with all our hearts, and to expect the fulness of the power as was given to the disciples in the first century.

We are waiting on the Lord here in China to give the power and bring the church to her former strength. We do not (Pg. 3) feel it is presumption to ask it. As the disciples prayed that God would grant signs and wonders to be done as they preached, which He did!

China is the ripest field I have seen yet. Would you kindly remember us in prayer, as the opposition from some, especially the native pastors and missionaries, is very severe. The personal onslaughts of the devil are very trying at times.

Please excuse this lengthy letter, but felt I should write thus to fully explain myself in answer to your questions.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

All glory and honour to Him forever,

Respectfully,

H. G. Garr(1)The initials should read A. G. Garr. There was a typo here by the Confidence.

For more information on pentecostal tongues:

Early Pentecostal Books on Speaking in Tongues

A brief survey of books on speaking in tongues from the early 1900s on speaking in tongues from a holiness/pentecostal perspective

Early Pentecostal Books

These books were selected because the authors were either contributors or eyewitnesses to the Pentecostalism of the early 1900s. This fits in with the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project which aims to make important works about speaking in tongues digitally available.

W. B. Godbey

“William B. Godbey was one of the most influential evangelists of the Wesleyan-holiness movement in its formative period (1880-1920).Thousands of people experienced conversion or entire sanctification under his ministry, and Godbey gained a reputation for having revivals everywhere he went.”(1)https://www.wesleyan.org/3836/william-baxter-godbey Mr. Godbey preceded the pentecostal movement by a few years but his thoughts of revival and tongues are important to note in the birthing of Pentecostalism. Godbey believed the supernatural gift of tongues was already in operation before Azusa. This is found in his book, Spiritual Gifts and Graces.

Spiritual Gifts and Graces. Cincinnati: M.W. Knapp. 1895

Pg. 42 “. . . Bishop Taylor is perhaps the brightest and most spiritual Christian in the world. He says this power to speak (Pg. 43) unknown languages is enjoyed at the present day by some of his missionaries in Africa. He speaks of a young lady whom he appointed to preach to a nation of whose language she was utterly ignorant. She began preaching through an interpreter, but when the bishop came round in two or three months, to his surprise he found her preaching fluently and powerfully in the native language without an interpreter. None of these gifts supersede our own efforts; but what little we do in the way of study bears an insignificant proportion to the magnitude of the Gift bestowed by the Holy Ghost. The Gift is destinied to play a conspicuous part in the evangelization of the heathen world, amid the glorious prophetical fulfillment of the latter days. All missionaries in heathen lands should seek and expect this Gift to enable them to preach fluently in the vernacular tongue, at the same time not depreciating their own efforts. Preaching through an interpreter conduces to the development of a humdrum style, unfavorable to spirituality. Hence the distressing inefficiency of many missionaries.”

T. B. Barratt

T. B. Barratt was a powerful Norwegian/British orator and writer. He was the intellectual and promotional person behind the Pentecostal expansion into Europe.

The following oration turned into a small book that “was specifically delivered to answer the criticism’s that had been made by the famed American Bible teacher, Dr. A. C. Dixon who had preached against ‘Pentecost’ the day before at The Tent of Meeting, Kristiania, on Friday 19th June, 1914.”(2)http://revival-library.org/shop/index.php/e-books/pentecostal-revival/other-pentecostals/product/329-t-b-barratt-the-gift-of-tongues

A lecture by Barratt put into print: The Gift of Tongues. What is it?

Address delivered in Möllergaten 38, Kristania, Saturday evening, June 20th, 1914

Pg. 20 “Then Dr. D. went on to say “When such ecstasy occurs, it must be interpreted or expounded. If we have a reason for getting up to such heights, when we are cooled down we can give the interpretation. This will keep you from fanaticism, and from going off at a tangent; and if you cannot explain it, keep quite; otherwise you may injure both yourself and others.” ”

“Dr. D. constantly imagines tongues to be only a high pitched speaking in ecstasy, and that we must be normal in order to acquaint our friends with what we have experienced and expressed with numerous wonderful exclamations.”

Pg. 21 “But this presentment of the ordinary speaking in tongues is mistaken. By the “ordinary speaking in tongues” I mean that which takes place when the “gift” is employed. By “the gift” I mean the tongues that continue after one has received the Baptism. Many speak in tongues only on the one occasion when the Spirit falls on them. Others retain the tongues, and from that hour forward speak in tongues whensoever the Spirit inspires them.

It is possible, as I have said, that occasionally there may be a “language of the Spirit” which only the Spirit can interpret, or a language which the angels speak (I Cor. xiii. I), or a human language also. “Divers kinds of tongues” are amongst the gifts. But Dr. D. is trying to exclude entirely all thought of human languages at Corinth. This he has not right to do.

Great theologians who have had nothing to with the “Pentecostal Movement,” think that the expression “tongues” means languages.

Dr. Fausset, one of the great commentators of the Church of England, says, touching I Cor. xiv., that “tongues means languages.”

“It cannot, as the theologian Neander imagined, mean ecstatic unintelligible rhapsodies,” he says.

But if it is languages, there must also be interpretation (translation*) if it is to be understood, and not only exposition. There may be exposition also if God wills it.

Bishop Rördam is convinced that languages are here intended, and adduces verse 21 as a proof thereof. He says that this speaking in tongues was “a sign that the same Spirit who on the Day of Pentecost came upon the first Church was still present and working.”

Pg. 22 “People have obtained the idea that languages are not intended, he says, because of a mistaken application of the Greek word “glôssa.” If we had only “speak in tongues” (glôssais), there might have been some ground for thinking of a speech full of words and expression without any definite connection.

“But the Apostle generally uses the singular : speak in (a) tongue (γλωσση), which would have been meaningless,” he thinks if languages were not meant –“not to speak of the impossibility of conceiving that such speech could be a ‘grace-gift’ of the Spirit of God” (i.e., a speech which was not language) “and that anyone could expound it.”

So far Rördam.

We must in any case come to the conclusion that when Dr. D. tried to get rid of the expression “other tongues” at the expense of the expressions “tongues,” etc., or in other words tries to prove that “other tongues” means real languages whilst “tongues,” “divers kinds of tongues,” “unknown tongues,” etc., cannot be anything other than ecstatic disconnected exclamations, the view point in the matter is not perfectly correct.

The Bible represents the same kind of tongues in both Jerusalem and Corinth. If they spoke in ecstatic exclamations in Corinth, then they did so in Jerusalem also. Possibly they spoke both in language and in ecstasy in both places.

I do not think that all who spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem themselves knew what they said. Dr. Brown, in “The Portable Commentary,” maintains the same idea:

“It is next to certain that the speakers themselves understood nothing of what they uttered.”

Frank Bartleman

The popularity of the Azusa Street Revival would have never occurred without the prolific coverage by Frank Bartleman. William Seymour may be symbol for the restoration of the supernatural gifts, but Bartleman ensured the restoration message was frequently and consistently communicated in the major religious newspapers and periodicals. Bartleman was a Baptist turned Wesleyen and then finally an independent Pentecostal. His work How Pentecost came to Los Angeles has historical significance and is one of the main sources for understanding the Azusa Street Revival.

How Pentecost came to Los Angeles. Self-Published. 1925.

“Pg. 14 “G. Campbell Morgan’s little tract on the “Revival in Wales” spread the fire in the churches wonderfully. I did a great deal of visiting among the saints also, and began to sell S.B. Shaw’s little book, “The Great Revival in Wales,” among churches. God wonderfully used it to promote faith for a revival spirit. My tract work was continued among the saloons and business houses.”

Pg. 18 “I had written a letter to Evan Roberts in Wales, asking them to pray for us in California. I now received a reply that they were doing so, which linked us up with revival there.”

Pg. 22 “The revival spirit at Brother Smale’s rapidly spread its interest over the whole city, among the spiritual people. Workers were coming in from all parts, from various affiliations, uniting their prayers with us for a general outpouring. The circle of interest widened rapidly. We were now praying for California, for the Nation, and also for world-wide revival. The spirit of prophecy began to work among us for the mighty things, on a large scale. Some one sent me 5000 pamphlets on “The Revival in Wales.” These I distributed among the churches. They had a wonderful quickening influence.”

Pg. 49 “God was working at “Azusa.” All classes began to flock to the meetings. Many were curious and unbelieving, but others were hungry for God. The newspapers began to ridicule and abuse the meetings, thus giving us much free advertising. This brought the crowds.”

Pg. 56 “Friday, June 15, at “Azusa,” the Spirit dropped the heavenly chorus” into my soul. I found myself suddenly joining the rest who had received this supernatural “gift.” It was a spontaneous manifestation and rapture no earthly tongue can describe. In the beginning this manifestation was wonderfully pure and powerful. We feared to try reproduce it, as with “tongues” also. Now many seemingly have no hesitation in imitating all the “gifts”. They have largely lost their power and influence because of this. No one could understand this “gift of song” but those who had it. It was indeed a “new song,” in the Spirit. When I first heard it in the meetings a great hunger entered my soul to receive it. I felt it would exactly express my pent up feelings. I had not yet spoken in “tongues.” But the “new song” captured me. It was a gift from God of high order, and appeared among us soon after the “Azusa” work began.”

Pg. 59 “We were delivered right there from ecclesiastical heirarchism and abuse. We wanted God.”

Pg. 65 “A. B. Simpson said: “We are to witness before the Lord’s return real missionary “tongues” like those of Pentecost, through which the heathen world shall hear in their own language ‘the wonderful works of God,’ and this perhaps on a scale of whose vastness we have scarcely dreamed, thousands of missionaries going forth in one last mightly crusade from a united body of believers at home to bear swift witness of the crucified and coming Lord to all nations.”

Pg. 71 “On the afternoon of August 16, at Eighth and Maple, the Spirit manifested Himself through me in “tongues.” There were seven of us present at the time. It was a week day. After a time of testimony and praise, with everything quiet, I was softly walking the floor, praising God with my spirit. All at once I seemed to hear in my soul (not with my natural ears), a rich voice speaking in a language I did not know. I have later heard something similar to it in India. In a few moments I found myself, seemingly without volition on my part, enunciating the same sounds with my own vocal organs. It was an exact continuation of the same expression that I had heard in my soul a few moments before. It seemed a perfect language.”

Pg. 72 “In the experience of “speaking in tongues” I have reached the climax in abandonment. This opened the channel for a new ministry of the Spirit in service. From that time the Spirit began to flow through me in a new way. Messages would come, with anointings, in a way I had never known before, with a spontaneous inspiration and illumination that was truly wonderful.”

Pg. 74 “I felt after the experience of speaking in “tongues” that languages would could come easy to me. And so it has proven. And also I (Pg. 75) have learned to sing, in the Spirit. I never was a singer, and do not know music.”

Pg. 76 “We will quote from well known authors some interesting extracts on the subject of “speaking in tongues.” Dr. Philip Schaff, in his “History of the Christian Church,” Vol. I, page 116, says: “The speaking with tongues is an involuntary psalm – like prayer or song, uttered from a spiritual trance, and in a peculiar language inspired by the Holy Ghost. The soul is almost entirely passive, an instrument on which the Holy Ghost plays His heavenly melodies.”

Pg. 77 “Conybeare and Howson, commentators, write: “This gift (speaking in tongues) was the result of a sudden influx of the supernatural to the believer. Under its influence the exercise of the understanding was suspended, while the spirit was wrapped in a state of ecstasy by the immediate communication of the Spirit of God. In this ecstatic trance the believer was constrained by irresistible power to pour forth his feelings of thanksgiving and rapture in words not his own. He was usually even ignorant of their meaning.” Space forbids our quoting from other standard commentators on this subject. Many have written very illuminatingly on the same subject, and to the same general end as those we have quoted. We will quote from just one more writer.

Stalker, in his “Life of Paul,” page 102, has the following to say: “It (the speaking in tongues) seems to have been a kind of tranced utterance, in which the speaker poured out an impassioned rhapsody, by which his religious faith received both expression and exaltation. Some were not able to tell others the meaning of what they were saying, while others had this additional power; and there were those who, though not speaking in tongues themselves, were able to interpret what the inspired speakers were saying. In all cases there seems to have been a kind of immediate inspiration, so that what they did was not the effect of calculation or preparation, but of a strong present impulse. These phenomena are so remarkable that, if narrated in a history, they would put a severe strain on Christian faith. They show with what mighty force at its first entrance into the world, Christianity took possession of the spirits it touched. The very gifts of the Spirit were perverted into instruments of sin; for those possessed of the more showy gifts, such as miracles and tongues, were too fond of displaying them and them into grounds of boasting.”

Pg. 90 “ “We are coming back from the ‘dark ages’ of the church’s backsliding and downfall. We are living in the most momentous moments of the history of time. The Spirit is brushing aside all our plans, our schemes, our strivings, and our theories, and is Himself acting again…” ”

Stanley Howard Frodsham

With Signs Following: The Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century

Mr. Frodsham stands at the forefront of the pentecostal movement from the very inception. His religious life as a Pentecostal began under the hands of A. A Body, who, along with T. B. Barratt brought the pentecostal message to Europe. Frodsham started a publishing ministry in Britain which led to his moving to the United States and taking the helm of the Assemblies of God magazine, Pentecostal Evangel. He soon became the General Secretary and directly involved with the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths. This makes his work and history critically important.

“With Signs Following: the Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century,” is unknown to many, but was once the definitive book on anything Pentecostal by a Pentecostal. First published in 1926, and revised many times, even after 1946, is a very good, well documented book for the first three quarters of its composition. Likely the best of any early Pentecostal histories. However, the last quarter had me confused. The first 17 chapters of the book documents people miraculously speaking in foreign languages, and then an unexplained shift occurs in his writing. He concludes at the end of the book that christian tongues is a secret speech, something between man and God.(3)Stanley Howard Frodsham. With Signs Following: the Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century. Missouri: Gospel Publishing House. 1946. Pg. 269 The abrupt change in thought is more a mystery to me than the historical analysis that he documented. It is a question that the Gift of Tongues Project has invested a high level of resources to solve.

Charles Parham

Charles Fox Parham was a self-appointed itinerant/evangelist in the early 1900s who had an enormous early contribution to the modern tongues movement. It was his teaching and missional emphasis that encouraged a number of his followers, especially Lucy Farrow, and later William Seymour to go to California and become major patrons in the Azusa Street Revival. He is also the person who codified the Baptism of the Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues as a cornerstone identity in the pentecostal movement.

One of the major books that details Parham’s life and doctrine is his biography written by his wife. The Life of Charles F. Parham: the Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement

This book affirms Parham believed that speaking in tongues was the miraculous endowment of a foreign language. He solely believed this to be the definition and all others were false.

Pg. 116 — 117 “During the wonderful altar service, the audience, having been previously dismissed, moved quietly and informally about, hearing and witnessing the marvelous demonstrations of the power promised to believers. Sometimes as many as twenty various languages were spoken in one evening, not an unintelligent utterance of mere vocal sounds, but a clear language spoken with the intonations and accents only given by natives, who repeatedly gave testimony to that effect.

It was my privilege to be frequently in concourse with some professors from the city schools and colleges, all of whom spoke some foreign language and one of them spoke five languages. He said to him the most marvelous thing about the use of these languages was the original accent they (the workers) gave. They demonstrated that under instruction, it was impossible for an American to learn. They gave the REAL FOREIGN ACCENT SO PERFECTLY, that when he closed his eyes, it seemed to him as though he were listening to utterances from his native masters in the Old World.

To me this was very convincing, coming from those unbiased and competent judges. They oftimes interpreted for me when languages they knew were spoken. Many foreigners came to the meetings and were frequently spoken to in their native tongue, with the original accent that could not be perfectly acquired. This, more than anything else, convinced them that it was wrought by some power above the human. Their hearts were always touched and they frequently went to the altar for prayer, convinced that it was the real power of God.”

A persistent theme in this book was that speaking-in-tongues was not gibberish — a tome directly aimed at what Parham accused the Azusa Street Revival of doing:

Pg. 163 “I hurried to Los Angeles, and to my utter surprise and astonishment I found conditions even worse than I had anticipated. Brother Seymour had come to me helpless, he said he could not stem the tide that had arisen. I sat on the platform in Azusa Street Mission, and saw the manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, saw people practicing hypnotism at the altar over candidates seeking baptism; though many were receiving the real baptism of the Holy Ghost.

After preaching two or three times, I was informed by two of the elders, one who was a hypnotist (I had seen him lay his hands on many who came through chattering, jabbering and sputtering, speaking in no language at all) that I was not wanted in that place.

For more information:

Early Pentecostal Tongues: Notes and Quotes

A digest of early Pentecostal based newsletters.

As per the Gift of Tongues Project one out of the four aims is being fulfilled here: to provide the source texts in a digital format.

In the case of Pentecostal literature, there is an abundance of information that could take months or years to digitize. However, many of those works only have a small footprint on speaking in tongues that fits the criteria for further research. For the purpose of brevity and avoiding digitization of complete newsletters, important quotes from the early Pentecostal based newsletters have been identified and provided below.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly
  • Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Los Angeles)
  • Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Portland)
  • Confidence
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • The Bridegroom’s Messenger
  • The Assemblies of God Publication
  • The Weekly Evangel
  • The Christian Evangel
  • The Pentecostal Evangel
  • The Latter Rain Evangel
  • The Church of God Evangel
  • White Wing Messenger
  • The Bridal Call
  • The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate
  • Notes
  • For more information on pentecostal tongues
  • Continue reading Early Pentecostal Tongues: Notes and Quotes

    Delphi Prophetesses and Christian Tongues

    Did the ancient Greek prophetesses, especially the Pythian priestesses in Delphi, speak in tongues and the Christians later adapted it?

    The alleged connection between the two is an important one in the speaking in tongues debate. A dispute which this article seeks to look deeper into.

    The approach used to find an answer is to locate the primary Hellenistic texts that make this connection and evaluate them. English translations will be listed along with the majority having Greek or Latin sources paralleled with them. A short analysis will be provided. The reader is not required to know either one of these languages in order to examine the works and can easily skip over these foreign texts.

    For those readers who want a quick answer and do not want to look into the details, the conclusion is no, the ancient Greek prophetesses did not speak in glossolalia. Many readers that habitually come to this website won’t take such a conclusion literally until substantiation is shown that the following will provide.

    Here is an introductory video on the Delphi temple and how the Greek priestesses operated. It is an investigation into whether gases from the cracks in the temple caused the prophetesses to go mad and prophesy. It does not address glossolalia but covers almost every other aspect of the Delphic priestess role and provides a good background to the subject matter.

    Table of Contents

    • The connection between ancient Greek prophetesses and glossolalia
    • The classical sources on alleged glossolalia
      • Herodotus The Histories
      • Plato
      • Virgil in The Aeneid
      • Lukan’s The Civil War
      • Plutarch’s Moralia
      • Strabo
      • Michael Psellos
      • Rohde’s Psyche: Cult of Souls
    • Conclusion

    The connection between ancient Greek prophetesses and glossolalia

    The christian doctrine of speaking in tongues has had three major movements over the 2000 years. The first one was the traditional one that lasted for 1800 years that it was either a miracle of speaking, hearing or both. The second one was far smaller in influence and began shortly after the Reformation called cessationism. This is a conservative Protestant faction that believes all miracles had ceased in the earlier church and thus any practice of speaking in tongues is false. This doctrine continues today. A third movement sprung up in the 1800s through the agency of German protestant scholars who used a groundbreaking methodology called higher criticism to interpret speaking in tongues. This resulted in a new doctrine called glossolalia. Instead of tracing the christian history of speaking in tongues through church literature and ultimately ending up at Pentecost, higher criticists took an entirely different path. They felt that most ancient christian literature was based on myth and could not be used as objective data. The better alternative was to trace speaking in tongues through classical sources such as Plutarch, Strabo, and others. Therefore, their history goes to ancient Greece before the advent of Christianity and focuses on the caves of Delphi and Dadona where the ancient Greek prophetesses would utter their prophecies.

    Glossolalia is the dominant interpretational schema today. As outlined in the series, A History of Glossolalia, it has dominated the modern discussion so greatly that it has all but erased the memory of the traditional definition that existed for 1800 years. Glossolalia is found ubiquitously throughout the primary, secondary and tertiary literature. However, the Hellenistic sources used by higher criticists that trace back to the beginnings of Christianity or earlier have hardly been critically evaluated. The following is a collation and analysis of the major sources in Hellenistic writings on the Greek prophetesses allegedly speaking in tongues.

    The connection between ancient Greek prophetesses and glossolalia

    Herodotus The Histories

    “The Histories. . . of Herodotus is now considered the founding work of history in Western literature. Written in 440 BC in the Ionic dialect ofclassical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Greece at that time.[citation needed]Although not a fully impartial record, it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs.”(1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histories_(Herodotus).

    Herodotus refers to the ancient Delphian prophetess speaking in hexameter verse(2) Hdt. 1.47 http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0016.tlg001.perseus-eng1:1.47 see also Hdt. 1.65, 1.66, 1.67, 5:60, 5:61, 7:220 that was clearly spoken. The actual citations can be found in the footnote and there is nothing in any one of them that relates to tongues-speech. Therefore, the Greek will not be provided.

    Plato

    Plato is one of the most revered Greek writers and philosophers of all time. If one wants to substantiate any Greek theme and it is supported in Plato’s work, then the argument has a winning probability. In the case of an ancient Greek priestess speaking ecstatically in his work, there are only two references that are close. These are not substantial. He lived in the fourth-century BC.

    The Phaedron

    “Plato’s Phaedrus is a rich and enigmatic text that treats a range of important philosophical issues, including metaphysics, the philosophy of love, and the relation of language to reality, especially in regard to the practices of rhetoric and writing.”(3)http://www.english.hawaii.edu/criticalink/plato/ It is hard to see what the connection with glossolalia is here.

    [244b] and the priestesses at Dodona when they have been mad have conferred many splendid benefits upon Greece both in private and in public affairs, but few or none when they have been in their right minds; and if we should speak of the Sibyl and all the others who by prophetic inspiration have foretold many things to many persons and thereby made them fortunate afterwards, anyone can see that we should speak a long time. And it is worth while to adduce also the fact that those men of old who invented names thought that madness was neither shameful nor disgraceful.(4)Plato in Twelve Volumes. Translated by Harold Fowler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1925

    [244β] Δωδώνῃ ἱέρειαι μανεῖσαι μὲν πολλὰ δὴ καὶ καλὰ ἰδίᾳ τε καὶ δημοσίᾳ τὴνἙλλάδα ἠργάσαντο, σωφρονοῦσαι δὲ βραχέα ἢ οὐδέν: καὶ ἐὰν δὴ λέγωμεν Σίβυλλάν τεκαὶ ἄλλους, ὅσοι μαντικῇ χρώμενοι ἐνθέῳ πολλὰ δὴ πολλοῖς προλέγοντες εἰς τὸμέλλον ὤρθωσαν, μηκύνοιμεν ἂν δῆλα παντὶ λέγοντες. τόδε μὴν ἄξιονἐπιμαρτύρασθαι, ὅτι καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ τὰ ὀνόματα τιθέμενοι οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἡγοῦντοοὐδὲ ὄνειδος μανίαν:(5)Plato. Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet. Oxford University Press. 1903

    Timaeus

    “Timaeus . . . is one of Plato’s dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title character Timaeus of Locri, written c. 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings. . .”(6)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timaeus_(dialogue) Plato is describing how the human mind can touch the divine. He believed a normal rational mind cannot connect and must be in an altered state to do such. Whatever vision, apparition or speech that occurs in an altered state must be interpreted by a person of a stable or rational mind. The speech itself that Plato refers to is not glossolalia or ecstatic speech, rather he relates the process required finding out the meaning behind the difficult imagery or words.

    [71e] as good as they possibly could, rectified the vile part of us by thus establishing therein the organ of divination, that it might in some degree lay hold on truth. And that God gave unto man’s foolishness the gift of divination a sufficient token is this: no man achieves true and inspired divination when in his rational mind, but only when the power of his intelligence is fettered in sleep or when it is distraught by disease or by reason of some divine inspiration. But it belongs to a man when in his right mind to recollect and ponder both the things spoken in dream or waking vision by the divining and inspired nature, and all the visionary forms that were seen, and by means of reasoning to discern about them all

    [72a] wherein they are significant and for whom they portend evil or good in the future, the past, or the present. But it is not the task of him who has been in a state of frenzy, and still continues therein, to judge the apparitions and voices seen or uttered by himself; for it was well said of old that to do and to know one’s own and oneself belongs only to him who is sound of mind. Wherefore also it is customary to set the tribe of prophets to pass judgement

    [72b] upon these inspired divinations; and they, indeed, themselves are named “diviners” by certain who are wholly ignorant of the truth that they are not diviners but interpreters of the mysterious voice and apparition, for whom the most fitting name would be “prophets of things divined.”

    For these reasons, then, the nature of the liver is such as we have stated and situated in the region we have described, for the sake of divination. Moreover, when the individual creature is alive this organ affords signs that are fairly manifest, but when deprived of life it becomes blind and the divinations it presents are too much obscured to have any(7)Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925.

    The Greek:

    [71ε] ἡμῶν, ἵνα ἀληθείας πῃ προσάπτοιτο, κατέστησαν ἐν τούτῳ τὸ μαντεῖον. ἱκανὸν δὲσημεῖον ὡς μαντικὴν ἀφροσύνῃ θεὸς ἀνθρωπίνῃ δέδωκεν: οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔννουςἐφάπτεται μαντικῆς ἐνθέου καὶ ἀληθοῦς, ἀλλ᾽ ἢ καθ᾽ ὕπνον τὴν τῆς φρονήσεωςπεδηθεὶς δύναμιν ἢ διὰ νόσον, ἢ διά τινα ἐνθουσιασμὸν παραλλάξας. ἀλλὰ συννοῆσαιμὲν ἔμφρονος τά τε ῥηθέντα ἀναμνησθέντα ὄναρ ἢ ὕπαρ ὑπὸ τῆς μαντικῆς τε καὶἐνθουσιαστικῆς φύσεως, καὶ ὅσα ἂν φαντάσματα

    [72α] ὀφθῇ, πάντα λογισμῷ διελέσθαι ὅπῃ τι σημαίνει καὶ ὅτῳ μέλλοντος ἢπαρελθόντος ἢ παρόντος κακοῦ ἢ ἀγαθοῦ: τοῦ δὲ μανέντος ἔτι τε ἐν τούτῳ μένοντοςοὐκ ἔργον τὰ φανέντα καὶ φωνηθέντα ὑφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ κρίνειν, ἀλλ᾽ εὖ καὶ πάλαι λέγεται τὸπράττειν καὶ γνῶναι τά τε αὑτοῦ καὶ ἑαυτὸν σώφρονι μόνῳ προσήκειν. ὅθεν δὴ καὶ τὸτῶν προφητῶν γένος ἐπὶ

    [72β] ταῖς ἐνθέοις μαντείαις κριτὰς ἐπικαθιστάναι νόμος: οὓς μάντεις αὐτοὺςὀνομάζουσίν τινες, τὸ πᾶν ἠγνοηκότες ὅτι τῆς δι᾽ αἰνιγμῶν οὗτοι φήμης καὶ φαντάσεωςὑποκριταί, καὶ οὔτι μάντεις, προφῆται δὲ μαντευομένων δικαιότατα ὀνομάζοιντ᾽ ἄν.

    ἡ μὲν οὖν φύσις ἥπατος διὰ ταῦτα τοιαύτη τε καὶ ἐν τόπῳ ᾧ λέγομεν πέφυκε, χάρινμαντικῆς: καὶ ἔτι μὲν δὴ ζῶντος ἑκάστου τὸ τοιοῦτον σημεῖα ἐναργέστερα ἔχει,στερηθὲν δὲ τοῦ ζῆν γέγονε τυφλὸν καὶ τὰ μαντεῖα ἀμυδρότερα(8)Plato. Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet. Oxford University Press. 1903.

    Virgil in The Aeneid

    Virgil or more accurately, Publius Vergilius Maro, is a first-century BC ancient Roman poet. His alleged contribution to the tongues connection is small.

    Then to Phoebus and Trivia will I set up a temple of solid marble, and festal days in Phoebus’ name. You also a stately shrine awaits in our realm; for here I will place your oracles and mystic utterances, told to my people, and ordain chosen men, O gracious one. Only trust not your verses to leaves, lest they fly in disorder, the sport of rushing winds; chant them yourself, I pray.” His lips ceased speaking.(9)Virgil. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid. Translated by Fairclough, H R. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 63 & 64. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. 1916

    And the Latin

    Tum Phoebo et Triviae solido de marmore templum instituam, festosque dies de nomine Phoebi. Te quoque magna manent regnis penetralia nostris: hic ego namque tuas sortes arcanaque fata, dicta meae genti, ponam, lectosque sacrabo, alma, viros. Foliis tantum ne carmina manda, ne turbata volent rapidis ludibria ventis; ipsa canas oro.” Finem dedit ore loquendi.(10)Vergil. Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics Of Vergil. J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.

    The question that surrounds Virgil is his reference to mystic utterances. What does he mean by that? The Latin translation is incorrect and should read, Here therefore I will place your lots and secret fates(11)https://2010bhslatinap.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/book-6-lines-64-82/ Regardless of the translation, it is a stretch to make this sequence out to be glossolalia.

    Lukan’s The Civil War

    Lukan was a well known poet who was a friend of the unstable and often cruel Emporer Nero. This relationship that brought him to fame also led him to the grave. He was ordered to death by Nero for treason. His work, De Bello Civili (On the Civil War), covered the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. The important part of his work relating to speaking in tongues relates to his narrative on a Delphian priestess. He reported a story of Appius Claudius Pulcher coming to a Delphic priestess to find out the future, possibly if he should go to war. The priestess, named Phemenoe, fakes such a prophecy which Appius rightly identified. Appius seriously threatened her and forced Phemenoe to flee to the ancient prophetic cave. The inspiration the cave once offered had ceased for some time already but in this instance, Apollo returned and filled Phemenoe. She went into madness, raving, and uttered a prophecy. She foretold Appius was to die.

    There is no reference to her being in a trance and uttering strange or foreign words at all. For the sake of substantiation, here is the English and Latin with what is the closest parallel.

    At last Apollo mastered the breast of the Delphian priestess ; as fully as ever in the past, he forced his way into her body, driving out her former thoughts, and bidding her human nature to come forth and leave her heart at his disposal. Frantic she careers about the cave, with her neck under possession ; the fillets and garlands of Apollo, dislodged by her bristling hair, she whirls with tossing head through the void spaces of the temple ; she scatters the tripods that impede her random course ; she boils over with fierce fire, while enduring the wrath of Phoebus. . . first the wild frenzy overflowed through her foaming lips ; she groaned and uttered loud inarticulate cries with panting breath ; next, a dismal wailing filled the vast cave ; and at last, when she was mastered, came the sound of articulate speech : ” Roman, thou shalt have no part in the mighty ordeal and shalt escape the awful threats of war ; and thou alone shalt stay at peace in a broad hollow of the Euboean coast.” Then Apollo closed up her throat and cut short her tale.”(12)Lukan: with an English Translation by J. D. Duff. The Civil War. Books I—X (Pharsalia) (Book V) London: William Heineman Ltd. 1962. Pg. 249Ff

    Latin Translation

    165 Pectore Cirrhaeo, non umquam plenior artus
    Phoebados irrupit Paean: mentemque priorem
    Expulit, atque hominem toto sibi cedere iussit
    Pectore. Bacchatur demens aliena per antrum
    170 Colla ferens, vittasque dei Phoebeaque serta
    Erectis discussa comis, per inania templi
    Ancipiti cervice rotat, spargitque vaganti
    Obstantes tripodas, magnoque exaestuat igne,
    Iratum te, Phoebe, ferens. . .
    190 Spumea tunc primum rabies vesana per ora
    Effluit, et gemitus, et anhelo clara meatu
    Murmura: tunc moestus vastis ululatus in antris,
    Extremaeque sonant, domita iam virgine, voces:
    Effugis ingentes, tanti discriminis expers,
    195 Bellorum, o Romane, minas: solusque quietem
    Euboici vasta lateris convalle tenebis.
    Caetera suppressit, faucesque obstruxit Apollo.(13)Pharsaliae Libri X. M. Annaeus Lucanus. Carolus Hermannus Weise. Leipzig. G. Bassus. 1835

    Plutarch’s Moralia

    Out of all the literature referring to the rites of the Delphic priestesses, Plutarch contains the most information. Plutarch was a biographer and writer who lived in the middle to late first century (46 – 120 AD). His work, Moralia explored the customs and lores of his time. His thirty-odd years as a priest at Delphi may be the reason why he covers the topic of Delphic priestesses so often.

    A drawback to Plutarch’s Moralia is that it is a large composition that would be time consuming to do a comparative analysis. Fortunately, an old series of publications entitled, Moralia, in fifteen volumes, with an English translation are digitally searchable at archive.org. This has immensely helped. A search in Volume 4 demonstrates that the office of the Delphic priestess was an important one in Greek society that required the prophetess to speak in direct terms. All the prophecies given were coherent and readily understood. There is no shadow of strange or incoherent language being spoken.

    The Oracles at Delphi

    Volume 5 continues with the same tone but gets far deeper. In Plutarch’s letter titled, The Oracles at Delphi, he writes that the prophecies given by the priestesses were done in prose and metre. He also believed it was done in a formal, eloquent style. Here are some quotes that demonstrate this.

    “It is very pleasant to listen to such conversation as this, but I am constrained to claim the fulfilment of your first promise regarding the cause which has made the prophetic priestess cease to give her oracles in epic verse or in other metres.”(14) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 301

    “those who do not believe that in his time the prophetic priestess used verse in her oracular responses. Afterwards, wishing to prove this, he has found to support his contention an altogether meagre number of such oracles, indication that the others were given out in prose, even as early as that time. Some of the oracles even to-day come out in metre…”(15) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 311

    “Now we cherish the belief that the god, in giving indications to us, makes use of the calls of herons, wrens, and ravens ; but we do not insist that these, inasmuch as they are messengers and heralds of the gods, shall express everything rationally and clearly, and yet we insist that the voice and language of the prophetic priestess, like a choral song in the theatre, shall be presented, not without sweetness and embellishment, but also in verse of a grandiloquent and formal style with verbal metaphors and with a flute to accompany its delivery! What a statement, then, shall we make about the priestesses of former days?”(16) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 321

    “And as for the language of the prophetic priestess, just as the mathematicians call the shortest of lines between two points a straight line, so her language makes no bend nor curve nor doubling nor equivocation, but is straight in relation to the truth…”(17) Vol. 5. The Oracles at Delphi Pg. 341

    I don’t think it is even necessary to produce the Greek original text because Plutarch is very clear on how the prophecy was spoken. There is no ambiguity that it was clear, refined, and direct speech. But if some really want to read the Greek, a good start would be with a book called: Pythici dialogi tres.

    On the Fame of the Athenians

    Plutarch lifts a line from Aristophane’s comedy called, Frogs where he writes:

    the ones who’ve never seen or danced
    the noble Muses’ ritual songs,
    or played their part in Bacchic rites
    of bull-devouring Cratinus(18)https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/aristophanes/frogs.htm

    and the Greek

    ἢ γενναίων ὂργια Μουςῶν μήτ’ εἶδεν μήτ’ ἐχόρευσεν,
    μήτε Κρατίνου τοῦ ταυροφάγυ γλώττης βακχει ἐτελέσθη

    These lines appear to be an esoteric piece, except Johannes Behm cites them in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. He partially uses this to connect speaking in tongues with Hellenism.(19)Johannes Behm γλῶσσα, ἑτερόγλοσσος as found in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich eds. Trans. By Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 1964 Behm cites the original Aristophanes text with only γλώττης βακχει and the actual footnote is very brief. It was hard to locate the actual source, so this required some guesswork. The above was the closest representation found. The Plutarch version had the best English translation, so it was utilized. These lines are a weak correlation. I don’t even know why this reference was included.

    Strabo

    Strabo “(64 or 63 BC – c. 24 AD) was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.”(20)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strabo Strabo seems to retell the same story by that of Plutarch. The Delphic prophetesses would go into a trance and prophesy in verse. These words then would be recorded by the priests.

    9.3.5 They say that the seat of the oracle is a cave that is hollowed out deep down in the earth, with a rather narrow mouth, from which arises breath that inspires a divine frenzy; and that over the mouth is placed a high tripod, mounting which the Pythian priestess receives the breath and then utters oracles in both verse and prose, though the latter too are put into verse by poets who are in the service of the temple. They say that the first to become Pythian priestess was Phemonoe; and that both the prophetess and the city were so called from the word pythésthai,” though the first syllable was lengthened, as in athanatos, akamatos, and diakonos.

    Here is the Greek.

    φασὶ δ᾽ εἶναι τὸ μαντεῖον ἄντρον κοῖλον κατὰ βάθους οὐ μάλα εὐρύστομον, ἀναφέρεσθαιδ᾽ ἐξ αὐτοῦ πνεῦμα ἐνθουσιαστικόν, ὑπερκεῖσθαι δὲ τοῦ στομίου τρίποδα ὑψηλόν, ἐφ᾽ ὃντὴν Πυθίαν ἀναβαίνουσαν δεχομένην τὸ πνεῦμα ἀποθεσπίζειν ἔμμετρά τε καὶ ἄμετρα:ἐντείνειν δὲ καὶ ταῦτα εἰς μέτρον ποιητάς τινας ὑπουργοῦντας τῷ ἱερῷ. πρώτην δὲΦημονόην γενέσθαι φασὶ Πυθίαν, κεκλῆσθαι δὲ καὶ τὴν προφῆτιν οὕτω καὶ τὴν πόλινἀπὸ τοῦ πυθέσθαι, ἐκτετάσθαι δὲ τὴν πρώτην συλλαβήν, ὡς ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀθανάτου καὶἀκαμάτου καὶ διακόνου.(21)Strabo. ed. A. Meineke, Geographica. Leipzig: Teubner. 1877.

    Michael Psellos

    An eleventh-century AD Christian by the name of Michael Psellos, a statesman and lover of literature who lived in Constantinople, unearths a different interpretation.

    And seeing that from the work of Apollo: the prophetess, by the mouth, the word follows, she became overcome around the tripod, she was pronouncing on the one hand to the Persians, and on the other to the Assyrians, and the Phoenicians — all according to metre and also rhythm which she had not known with beautiful language which she not had learned.

    Psellos wrote that the Pythian prophetess was miraculously speaking in foreign languages. This is not consistent with any other interpretation. Psellos loved to play with ancient classical literature to parade his literary genius, but this doesn’t explain why he would do this. However, he felt that this was not the same phenomena as the christian rite of tongues. He believed the Apostles controlled what they spoke and were personally engaged. The Pythian priestess was out of her senses when she spoke.

    This is an odd addition that needs more scrutiny, but it does not lead into the direction of glossolalia.

    The Greek, English translation, and analysis can be found at Psellos on the Christian Doctrine of Tongues.

    Rohde’s Psyche: The Cult of Souls

    Erwin Rhode’s work, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks, stands above any other work in its genre. He covers the ancient Greek religion in such vivid detail and clarity.

    Although his work is a little over one hundred years old, it has withstood the test of time. It is not a widely known work outside of scholastic circles, but it deserves public praise.

    A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature: Fourth Revised cites Rohde to assert: “There is no doubt about the thing referred to, namely the broken speech of persons in religious ecstasy. The phenomenon, as found in Hellenistic religion, is described esp. by ERohde.”(22)Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian lterature: Fourth Revised. Translated by F.W. Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1979. Pg. 162 However, a closer analysis of the page numbers (289-293) cited in Rohde’s work does not validate such. There is no such connection or any concrete evidence for glossolalia. The closest reference found was this; “ In hoarse tones and wild words, the Sibyl gave utterance to what the divine impelling power within her and not her own arbitrary fancy suggested ; possessed by the god, she spoke in a divine distraction.”(23)Erwin Rohde Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks, Books for Libraries Press 1972 edition, reprinted from the English translation of 1920. W.B. Hillis translator. Pg. 293 One has to be cautious with Rohde because he is writing with a narrative style and may have been too descriptive. He nowhere substantiates such a claim from authorities such as Herodotus, Plutarch or anyone else that the Sibyl did such types of discourse.

    Conclusion

    The works examined so far demonstrate there is no vital connection between the ancient Greek prophetesses and speaking in tongues. These stories definitely lack any features of glossolalia. The actual accounts from Lukan, Plutarch, Virgil, Plato, Strabo, Herodotus and Michael Psellos show no correlation at all. It would take a large leap to connect these two disparate genres together.

    Perhaps I have missed something in this argument because of my lack of proficiency in the German language which most of the original discussions are found. Even so, this conclusion lines up with Christopher Forbes who is a “is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, and Deputy Chairman of the Society for the Study of Early Christianity,”(24)https://www.mq.edu.au/about_us/faculties_and_departments/faculty_of_arts/department_of_ancient_history/staff/dr_chris_forbes/ at Maquarie University in Australia. He wrote a dissertation on this subject and converted it into a book called, Prophecy and Inspired Speech: In Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. In it he stated:

    The obscurity of Delphic utterances is not a matter of linguistic unintelligibility at all. It is simply that some such oracles were formulated, at the level of literary allusion and metaphor, in obscure, cryptic and enigmatic terms. They were, in a word, oracular.(25)Christopher Forbes. Prophecy and Inspired Speech: In Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1997. Pg. 109

    There is a potential parallel between the ancient Greek prophetesses and the Old Testament seers in their role and function in society. The prophetic dimension is an interesting set of readings. A comparative work between ancient Israel’s and Greece’s prophetic office is a worthy topic on its own but it does not fit into the tongues paradigm.

    For more information:

    References   [ + ]

    A Summary of the Gift of Tongues Project: 30 to 1600 AD

    How the tongues of Pentecost has passed down through seventeen-centuries of christian living.

    Pentecost Graphic

    People will always be inspired by the pentecostal narrative described in the Book of Acts and the mysterious tongues found later on in the New Testament epistle called I Corinthians. Those accounts have propelled many ardent students of the Bible and the christian faith to reproduce this phenomenon in their lives. The passion for a new Pentecost has cycled for twenty-one-centuries. How communities and persons perceived, practised and passed-on the right throughout these centuries is the goal of this study.

    The christian rite of speaking in tongues has been controversial, especially over the last one-hundred years. Speaking in tongues is a practice expressed by Renewalists. Renewalism is the fastest growing christian faith in the world. Many have tried to explain this rite through experiential and psychological terms, but few have attempted an extensive study through historical literature.

    This summary fills in the blanks of the historical record that have, up until now, been neglected.

    This work is broken up into a three part series. Part I, which you are now reading, traces the evolution of Pentecost from the first to seventeenth-centuries which is inclusive of catholic perceptions. Part II covers the diverging definitions from the Reformation until modern times. Part II especially focuses on the protestant perceptions culminating in the early 1900s with the pentecostal movement. Part III is an in-depth look into the Corinthian tongues saga.

    Table of Contents

    • Introduction
      • What is speaking in tongues today?
      • The absence of historical literature in the modern tongues debate
      • The start and later acceleration of the Gift of Tongues Project
      • Glôssa better translated as language rather than tongue
    • Pentecostal Tongues
      • First to third-centuries
      • The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
        • The connection between Babel and Pentecost
        • Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
        • Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
        • Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
        • Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
        • Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
      • The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
        • Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
        • The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

      Introduction

      This summary is the result of the Gift of Tongues Project which is designed for the advanced researcher. The Gift of Tongues Project has attempted to identify, collate and digitize the source texts in the original Greek, Latin, with some Syriac, French and a sprinkling of a few other languages. English translations have been provided with almost every text, along with my own analysis. The Gift of Tongues Project differentiates itself from others because the source texts available on the website allow for you to research and draw your own conclusions. All the legwork is already done. All one has to do now is read instead of the time consuming and never ending task of finding the source files. Better yet, the majority is digitally searchable.

      Speaking in tongues owes its heritage to a book of the Bible called the Book of Acts. This book was written by a first-century christian follower and a physician named Luke. He only wrote 206 words(1)According to the NIV English Bible to describe the formative event called Pentecost. Pentecost established the foundations for Messianic Judaism and its universal message. This event was described as the Holy Spirit arriving and causing the apostles and 120 others to instantly preach in diverse foreign languages that they did not previously study or know. This explanation is the standard one to help the reader to get started on the subject. The summary will proceed to demonstrate there are many alternative viewpoints.

      Perhaps one could argue 800 words when you throw in the defense of the experience by Peter in Acts chapter 2 and the three other instances throughout the Book of Acts. Perhaps Paul could be credited with writing about Pentecost if his coverage in his first letter to the Corinthians contains a parallel, though Part III will show these are not connected. Why all the fuss over 206 words? If it was so important, why didn’t Luke go into much greater detail? This would have spared the modern day reader such a confusion. The clarification is going to take over 10,000 words and the parsing through a magnitude of documents found throughout the centuries to explain those few written words two thousand years ago.

      Luke is vague on the actual mechanics and certainly short on details. This leaves his Pentecost and subsequent tongues narratives with many unanswered questions; did every inspired person speak in a single different language and together they were speaking the languages of all the nations? Was it one sound emanating and changed during transmission so that the hearers heard their own language? If it was a miracle of hearing, what was that sound? Were the people conscious of what they were saying or were they completely overtaken by a divine power and had no comprehension about what they were speaking? Was it a heavenly, non-human or prayer language? Did this miracle continue after the first-century? How did this tongues-event get passed down to the next generation? Did it become part of the church liturgy?

      The various source manuscripts on the Book of Acts available today do not have any variance that brings about new clues. This necessitates digging deeper into other records.

      The Gift of Tongues Project and this summary believe that Pentecostals and Charismatics have brought positive contributions to the greater society, and have made the world a better place. The purpose of this examination is not to attack or denigrate their character. The goal is simply to find the truth of the matter. Nothing more.

      As a person who attends a charismatic church and involved in these type of communities for decades, I wanted the results to parallel their experiences. Unfortunately, the findings did not allow for this. Everyone who approaches the 2000 year narrative on speaking in tongues has to allow history to speak for itself – not to rewrite history to justify contemporary experience.

      In comparison to the detailed articles posted within the Gift of Tongues Project, few footnotes will be given here, and some ancient authors and minor movements will be ignored. One can find substantiation at the Gift of Tongues Project webpage. Links to the Gift of Tongues Project pages will be highlighted throughout. The results are subject to change as new information comes forward.

      This work traces the perception of tongues speaking through the centuries. Perception is not necessarily reality. On many occasions, the work will reference the perception with no remarks about the integrity of the event or person. This is up to the reader to decide.

      What is speaking in tongues today?

      Speaking in tongues is an inherent part of the present pentecostal and charismatic identities. This practice is one of the key features that distinguish them apart from other christian movements.

      How popular is speaking in tongues? A Pew Forum study has concluded one-quarter of all Christians are Renewalist Christians – a term given for those who emphasize miracles, supernatural occurrences, and oftentimes speaking in tongues within the Christian’s everyday life. Really, it is an umbrella term for Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third-Wavers and those who remain in mainstream denominations influenced by Pentecostals and Charismatics. There are an estimated 584 million Renewalists in the world. Perhaps even more. (2)http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-movements-and-denominations/ This does not mean all those defined as Renewalists emphasize this doctrine and practice it. The same Pew study further demonstrates that no more than 53% of Renewalists speak in tongues in any country they examined. In most instances, it is less.(3)Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. October 2006. Pg. 16 My conservative estimate tallies about 150 million people consistently practising the christian rite of speaking in tongues throughout the world.

      The Renewalist faith, with its emphasis on holiness, mysticism, independence, and easy adaptability to different cultures, is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world. Their christian mystic framework along with its distinctive theology of speaking in tongues makes a historical study imperative.

      What do Renewalists presently believe speaking in tongues to be? There is a general agreement that speaking in tongues is a supernatural phenomenon — one that cannot be measured or defined by science. Some Renewalists call it a heavenly language that only the individual, God, and a special interpreter understands. Others say it is a private prayer language or a form of exalted worship. There a those who just shrug their shoulders and say it is simply a God thing that defies explanation. A handful may say speaking in tongues is the spontaneous ability to speak a foreign language. Most Renewalists believe that speaking in tongues is a deliberate outcome of a controlled mind – in other words, they are not crazies or kooks whose erratic behavior is in an uncontrolled hallucinatory state. They are regular people like the helpful neighbor across the street, the taxi driver, teacher, dentist, nurse, plumber, politician, lawyer or construction worker. Renewalists are found in all walks of life.

      A good example of a Renewalist speaking in tongues is found in this video clip of the late Kenneth Hagin. He was a highly respected and influential pentecostal preacher in the mid-1900s.

      Hagin appears as an elder statesman. He has a father like persona that the people in the audience are attracted to and appreciate. The young lady who is a distance behind Hagin in the video approves his message with an accepting smile. About four minutes into the video, he utters, “Memen hatsu toro menge kanga deging bango ondu konste fre peffe hemo outse,” and then begins to laugh. The laughter implies an overabundance of a spiritual force that overwhelms the senses, forcing the speaker into an uncontrolled fit. The audience cheered Hagin for more.

      This is a typical example, though speaking in tongues is not always done in a Sunday service. It is practised more frequently in weekday services, prayer sessions, pastoral settings, and special events.

      A more contemporary example is Reinhard Bonnke. Bonnke is a German-born evangelist whose work in Africa, especially Nigeria has earned him the rank of one the top preachers of all time in respect to audience reach. The example here is his public speaking in tongues at a large indoor gathering somewhere in Asia. His Christ for the Nations website claims over 55 million documented decisions for Christ under his ministry.

      Bonnke’s demonstration is not as obvious as Hagin’s. He mixes regular language and charismatic, excitable speech between short outbursts of tongues-speech. The audience is energized but not surprised by this presentation. This is quite common in renewalist circles.

      The absence of historical literature in the modern tongues debate.

      After an exhaustive approach of locating, digitizing, translating and analyzing two-thousand years worth of texts, the results of the Gift of Tongues Project has found one of the main challenges to solving this debate is overcoming the embedded ignorance of history.

      This finding was not anticipated at the start. The Project assumed at the beginning there was little christian literature throughout the centuries to build a case. Rather, there is a substantial corpus of ancient christian literature on the subject. The discovery about the abundance on the subject has created two rival stories. The first allows the building of a compelling narrative on the doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries. The second is the narrative about the ignorance of christian literature over the last two centuries and how it has contributed to the modern definition. Both play an important story in the modern definition and I am not sure which one is more important. They share a complex interplay that is difficult to untangle.

      The start and later acceleration of the Gift of Tongues Project.

      The Project was started in the 1980s, but little was done until the early 2000s. The initial goal was to parse through the collection of church writings found in the massive Migne Patrologia Graeca series and its Latin counterpart, Migne Patrologia Latina. There is no digital version of MPG available, so a page-by-page visual scan was required. This was a very time-consuming process – especially with over 135 volumes averaging 1200 pages each. This was a long process.

      Thankfully the internet age came along. Museums and other institutions have posted many manuscripts online. Better manuscripts are now available than the ones found in MPG. The ability to do digital searches with Google’s search engine reveals even more texts. The Gift of Tongues Project is one of the direct benefactors of the digitization of libraries, museums, and institutions.

      Glôssa better translated as language rather than tongue

      Glôssa (γλῶσσα) is the pivotal key word for the doctrine of tongues in the original Greek text. This word is the central theme found in Paul’s address to the Corinthians and Luke’s description of the first Pentecost. This noun is further used by later Greek ecclesiasts and authors on the subject.

      The challenge is how a contemporary researcher is to translate this word without a modern bias.

      When the Greek keyword appears, or if it is found in a Latin text, which is lingua, my mind always wants to automatically translate it as tongue.

      The word tongues, which is seldom used in our modern language to specifically mean a modern, regular or contemporary language, is usually understood to be something out-of-this-world, unusual or even weird. Sometimes it is used a synonym to language, but rarely in contemporary literature is it a predominant descriptor.

      As I have worked over both Greek and Latin Patristic texts, from the likes of Greek writers such as Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John of Damascus etc., to the Latin writers of Augustine, the Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, the Ambrosiaster authors, and many more, they do not contain references to the gift being a strange, mystical or heavenly language that needs a new definition. It simply means a human language to them. To advance such a thought that it was different from a human language, they would have had to take extra steps to make it distinct. They never did.

      Secondly, one must keep in mind that the noun language was the dominant English word used to translate glôssa/γλῶσσα before the introduction of the Geneva Bible in 1534.

      See The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible for more information.

      It would not be fair to translate the church fathers on the subject using tongues instead of languages. It significantly changes the nuance of the text when it is done.

      One could argue that I am forcing my own interpretation on the text. However, it is believed that language is more accurate to what the writers meant.

      This changes things considerably, instead of Acts 2:4 reading as other tongues the proper reading is other languages. The other tongues creates ambiguities that never existed in the Greek. Other languages immediately starts to clarify a difficult subject.

      Pentecostal Tongues

      The large corpus of material studied and compared demonstrate that the christian doctrine of tongues was related to human languages for almost 1800 years. The mechanics of how this happened differed, but was the common theme. There were no references to angelic speech, prayer language, glossolalia, or ecstasy until the nineteenth-century.

      How it shifted from a concept of foreign languages to that of glossolalia is a major part of the story.

      The Pentecost event as described by the writer Luke in the first part of the Book of Acts has far more coverage than Paul’s address to speaking in tongues throughout ecclesiastical literature. The ancient christian authors were split on the symbolism of Pentecost. Pentecost was either understood as a symbol of the Gospel becoming a universal message beyond the bounds of the Jewish community or a theological symbol for the Jewish nation to repent.

      First to third-centuries

      The earlier church writers who lived between the first and third centuries, did mention the christian doctrine of tongues such as Irenaeous, who stated it was speaking in a foreign language. There was also Tertullian who recognized the continued rite in his church but fails to explain anything more than this. Neither of these writers contain sufficient coverage in their text to make a strong case for anything other than its existence.

      Origen
      Origen, 184 — 254 AD

      The debate inevitably leads to Origen – one of the most controversial figures on speaking in tongues. Modern theologians, commentators, and writers all over the broad spectrum of christian studies believe Origen supports their perspective. This has created an Origen full of contradictions. Origen was a third-century theologian that can be viewed as either one of the greatest early christian writers ever because of combining an active and humble faith with a deep intellectual inquiry into matters of faith. On the other hand, he was mistakenly labeled a heretic after his death for his limited view of the Trinity. He lived at a time the Trinity doctrine was in its infancy and wasn’t fully developed. His views didn’t correlate with the later formulation and he was posthumously condemned for this. After careful investigation about his coverage on speaking in tongues, Origen hardly commented on it. If one is to draw a conclusion with the limited coverage by him is this: he didn’t think there was anyone pious enough during his time for this task, and if they were, it would be for cross-cultural preaching.

      The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century

      Due to the devastating effects of the persecutions by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third-century, there is hardly any christian literature to choose from the first to third-centuries. This dramatically changes in the fourth-century when Christianity becomes a recognized religion, and later the foremost one within the Roman Empire. This is where things get really interesting.

      The fourth-century began to unfold greater details on speaking in tongues. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that Peter and Andrew spoke miraculously in Persian or Median at Pentecost and the other Apostles were imbued with the knowledge of all languages. The founder of the Egyptian Cenobite movement, Pachomius, a native Coptic speaker, was miraculously granted the ability to speak in Latin.

      The doctrine of tongues divided into five streams in the fourth-century. The first interpretation was the speaking in Hebrew and the audience heard in their own language. The second was Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon. The third was the one voice many sounds theory formulated by Gregory of Nyssa. Fourth, the transition of a personal to a corporate practice represented by Augustine, and last of all the tongues paradox proposed by Gregory Nazianzus. Some may reckon that two more belong here – the cessation of miracles and the Montanists. Both Cessationism and Montanism are perceptions developed during the eighteenth-century. These theories will unfold further down in the summary chronology.

      Before winding down the path of these five options, it is necessary to take a quick look at the confusion of tongues found in the Book of Genesis. This story has an important relationship with the discussions to follow.

      The connection between Babel and Pentecost

      One would assume that the reversal of Babel would be one of the early streams of thinking about Pentecost. This proposition is surprisingly not the case. The idea that the ancient christian writers would connect the confusion of languages symbolized by the city Babel in the book of Genesis with Pentecost because both are narratives revolving around languages seems logical. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, has a brief narrative that described how mankind originally had one language. This oneness changed with their determination to build a tower to reach into the heavens which was stopped by the introduction of a plurality of languages. Although the text is minimal and lacking details, the text suggests some form of arrogance and self-determination apart from God. The tower also represented mankind’s ability to collectively do great evil. In response, God chose to divide the one language into many languages and scatter mankind throughout the earth in order to curb this amassing of power. The overall traditional record does not associate Pentecost as a reversal of Babel.

      The connection between God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai would appear to be the better correlation. The old covenant, that is the law of the ancient Israelites, was spoken by God and heard by Moses, then later given in a written form. The Talmud states that God spoke this to Moses in 72 languages – a number understood to symbolically mean in all the languages of the world. The new covenant, the law of grace, was given by the apostles in fiery tongues on the Mount of Olives at Pentecost – these apostles and 120 more miraculously spoke in a whole host of languages. The Jewish community today annually celebrates the giving of the law of Moses and call this day Shevuot which calculates the same days after Passover as Pentecost does. However, this holiday is not an ancient one and does not trace back to the first-century when the first Pentecost occurred. Luke does not mention a direct connection to Shevuot and neither do any of the ancient christian writers.

      The Babel allusion prevailed discreetly in later dialogues, especially two concepts. The first one related to which language was the first language of mankind, and how that fit into the Pentecost narrative. The second relating to the one voice spoken many languages heard theory.

      Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost

      There is a substantial corpus about Hebrew being the first language of mankind within ancient christian literature and a tiny allusion to Pentecost being the speaking of Hebrew sounds while the audience heard in their own language. This position about Pentecost does not clearly flow throughout the seas of christian thought, only in the shadows.

      The idea of Hebrew as the first language of mankind starts with the early Christians such as first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome, fourth-century Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, for at least part of his life (He changed his position later). The concept of Hebrew being the original language of mankind was repudiated by fourth-century Gregory of Nyssa and then endorsed again by the eighth-century historian and theologian, the Venerable Bede. In the tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka believed that Hebrew was a divine language, because when the Lord spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Hebrew.

      The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He alluded that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. This was a reflection of a possibility in his mind, not a position he endorsed. Thomas Aquinas too mentioned this explanation, but quickly moved onto better, more rational theories.

      The speaking of Hebrew sounds and the audience hearing in their own language was a small theory that never gained widespread attention. It was played about, but never became a standard doctrine with a vibrant local or international appeal.

      See Hebrew and the First Language of Mankind for more information.

      Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon

      A writing loosely attributed to the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, described Pentecost as the “changing of tongues.” Pentecost was the use of foreign languages at Pentecost as a sign for the Jews. This event was a miraculous endowment and those that received this blessing in @31 AD continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.

      Cyril represented the city of Alexandria at the height of its influence and power throughout Christendom. His biography concludes that he was deposed because of quarrelsomeness and violence. There are unsubstantiated claims that he was responsible for the death of the revered mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and scholar Hypatia. Although his history comes to a sad demise, his earlier stature and his near-universal influence requires careful attention on the subject of Pentecost. His ideas of Pentecost may have been an older tradition passed down and reinforced by him. The theory of a temporary miracle restricted to the first generation of christian leadership is hard to tell because there is little information about this theory before or after his time.

      However, the theory arose again in the thirteenth-century with no references inbetween. The celebrated scholastic writer and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on the temporary question. Whenever a theological subject has been addressed by Aquinas, it is worth the time to stop and consider. There is no person in christian history that had assembled such a broad array of the various christian traditions, writers, texts, and Scripture into a systematic form of thought. Not only was Aquinas systematic, but also a mystic. The combination of these qualities gives him a high score in covering the doctrine of tongues.

      He held a similar position on Pentecost to that of Cyril of Alexandria, though he does not mention him by name. He believed the apostles were equipped with the gift of tongues to bring all people back into unity. It was only a temporary activity that later generations would not need. Later leaders would have access to interpreters which the first generation did not.

      Aquinas’ argument is a good and logical one, but the christian history of tongues does not align with this conclusion. After Aquinas’ time, there are numerous perceived cases of the miraculous endowments that contradict such a sentiment. Neither can Cyril’s thought be traced down through the centuries to numerous writers and be claimed as a universal or near-universal teaching.

      The temporary idea of Pentecost was restricted to this miracle alone. There is no implied idea that this temporality extended to miracles of healing, exorcisms, or other divine interventions.

      Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity

      Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
      Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354 — 430 AD

      The christian rite of speaking in tongues transferring from a personal to a corporate expression was espoused by Augustine Bishop of Hippo. This was created over his lengthy and difficult battle with the dominant tongues-speaking Donatist movement.

      The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons relating to the persecutions against Christians by edict of emperor Diocletian in the third-century. After the persecutions abated, a controversy erupted in the region over how to handle church leaders who assisted with the secular authorities in the persecutions. This became a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of church leadership, faith, piety, discipline, and politics. One of the outcomes was a separate church movement called the Donatists. At the height of their popularity, the Donatists statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the North Africa region. At the height, it had over 400 bishops.

      The Catholic Church was in a contest against the Donatist claims of being the true church. One of the assertions the Donatist’s provided for their superior claim was their ability to speak in tongues. This forced Augustine to take the Donatists and their tongues doctrine seriously and build a vigorous offense against them.

      Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists has generated more data on the christian doctrine of tongues than any other ancient writer and gives a good lock into perceptions of this rite in the fourth-century.

      Augustine attacked the Donatist claim of being the true church in a number of ways.

      • One was through mocking, asking when they laid hands on infants whether they spoke in languages or not.

      • Or he simply stated that the gift had passed. The cessation statement was one of many volleys that he made.

        This cessation needs further clarification. Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. Augustine was exclusively referring to the individual speaking in tongues. Nothing more.

      • In other words, the individual expression of speaking in tongues changed into a corporate one – the church took over the function of speaking in every language to all the nations.

      He described Pentecost as each man speaking in every language.

      This transformation from individual to corporate identity was referenced by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century in his work, Summa Theologica, but built little strength around this theme. He left it as is in one sentence.

      There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.

      The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied” — the individual expression has been satisfied. He then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “Why then does the holy Spirit not appear now in all languages? On the contrary, He does appear in all the languages. For at that time the Church was not yet spread out through the circle of lands, that the organs of Christ were speaking in all the nations. Then it was filled-up into one, with respect to which it was being proclaimed in every one of them. Now the entire body of Christ is speaking in all the languages.”(4)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

      One has to be very cautious with Augustine on this topic. He was pitting the Catholic Church as the true one because of its universality and inferring that the Donatists were not so ordained because of their regionalism. His answers were polemic than theological in nature.

      Augustine’s polemical diatribes against the tongues-speaking Donatists never became a universal doctrine. The individual to the corporate idea has indirect allusions in John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria’s works, but nothing concrete. The concept faded out within a generation and references to him on the subject by later writers is not very frequent.

      See Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro for more information.

      Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory

      Gregory of Nyssa
      Gregory of Nyssa, 335 — 394 AD

      Gregory of Nyssa represents the beginning of the evolution of the christian doctrine of tongues that has echoes even today.

      Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.

      This church father, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.

      Gregory sees parallels between Babel and Pentecost on the nature of language but produces different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.

      Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy one which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound multiplying into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a Christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.” Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in the writings examined so far, so it is hard to make a direct connection. There is an influence here.

      What was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed mankind would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he understand it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.

      This theory did not solely rest with Gregory of Nyssa. He may be the first to clearly document this position, but the idea was older. There are remnants of this thought in Origen’s writing (Against Celsus 8:37) – though it is only one unclear but sort of relevant sentence and hard to build a case over

      Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, pokes at this too, but is unclear. He mentions on many occasions “one man was speaking in every language” or similar.(5)Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3) What does this mean? How can one man speak simultaneously in all the languages at the same time? Even if a person sequentially went through 72 languages speaking one short sentence, it would take over ten minutes and wouldn’t be considered a miracle – only a simple mnemonic recitation. Augustine didn’t make any attempt to clarify this statement. He was playing with the one voice many sounds theory in a polemical sense and altered the nuance. The idea shifted to the connection between oneness and unity, which in Latin, are similar in spelling. He wanted to emphasize that those who spoke in tongues do it for the sake of unity. He was arguing anyone who promoted speaking in tongues as a device to divide the church is a fleshly and evil endeavor.

      The concept takes us to the fifth-century where Basil of Seleucia, a bishop of Seleucia in a region historically named Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. Basil of Seleucia followed the literary trail of John Chrysostom and copied many of his traits, but in the case of Pentecost, he adds the one voice many sounds description.

      See An analysis of Gregory of Nyssa on Speaking in Tongues for more information.

      Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing

      Gregory Nazianzus
      Gregory Nazianzus, 329 — 390 AD

      Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.(6)Frienship in Late Antiquity: The Case of Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great This has little bearing with the topic at hand, but builds a small portrait surrounding the key figures of the fourth-century who discuss the doctrine of tongues.

      Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and compared against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.

      Who is Gregory Nazianzus? Most people have not heard of him before but his contributions to the christian faith are many. This fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople’s mastery of the Greek language and culture is exquisite and hard to translate into English. Much of the wonder and power of his writing is so deeply connected with these two elements it feels like an injustice to translate. His works come across as dry and esoteric in an English translation whereas in the Greek he is a well-spring of deep thought. Many church leaders during his period preached and then published the homily. Nazianzus likely wrote first and preached later. His works do not come across as great sermons, but great works of writing. All these factors have contributed to him being relatively obscure in the annals of christian history – even though in the fourth-century he was on the same level of prestige as Augustine or John Chrysostom.

      The description of Pentecost as either a miracle of speaking or hearing became the focal point of Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century when he wrote in one of his Orations that these both were potential possibilities, though he clearly believed Pentecost as a miracle of speech. Unfortunately, a Latin translator, Tyrannius Rufinus, misunderstood some finer points of Greek grammar when translating and removed Gregory’s preference of it being a miracle of speech and left both as equal possibilities. The majority of Western church leaders were unfamiliar with Greek and relied on Tyrannius’ Latin text. Tyrannius’ mistake created a thousand-year debate of the miracle being one of either speaking or hearing.

      See Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues intro for more information

      The speech versus hearing argument was brought up again the seventh-century by the Venerable Bede, who wrote two commentaries on Acts. The Venerable Bede lived in the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northern England. South-East Scotland). He was brilliant in so many areas. Astronomy, mathematics, poetry, music and a literature were some of his many passions. His writing is very engaging and fluid – a good read. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People makes him the earliest authority of English history.

      Venerable Bede
      The Venerable Bede, 673 — 735 AD

      His first commentary delved deeply in the debate, and studying only the Latin texts, concluded it was a miracle of hearing. In his second commentary, he was not so convincing. He changed his mind, alluding Pentecost was a miracle of speech and conjectures it could have been both a miracle of speaking and hearing. The outcome didn’t really matter to him. Perhaps he took this conclusion to avoid saying he was initially wrong.

      Another noteworthy discussion about the Nazianzus paradox was presented by Michael Psellos in the eleventh-century. His own biography is not one of the religious cloth, but civic politics. His highest position was that of Secretary of State in the highly influential Byzantine City of Constantinople. He was a Christian who had a love-hate relationship with the church. One of the lower moments in that relationship was his choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-christian writings of Aristotle, but frowned on Plato. Psellos studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.

      It is surprising that his complex weave of Greek philosophy and christian faith in a very conservative christian environment did not get him into more serious trouble than he encountered. He was way ahead of his time. His approach to faith, Scripture, and intellect took western society five hundred or so more years to catch-up.

      Michael Psellos was caught between two very distinct periods. He lived in the eleventh-century and still was connected to the ancient traditions of the church, but also at the beginning shift of intellectual and scholarly thought that modern readers come to rely on. He bridged both worlds. This is why his work is so important.

      He thought highly of his opinions and liked to show-off his intellectual genius. After reading his text, it is not clear whether he was trying to solve the riddle of Nazianzus’ miracle of hearing or speech, or it was an opportunity to show his intellectual mastery. Regardless of his motives, he leaves us with a rich wealth of historic literature on speaking in tongues.

      What did Psellos write that was so important? Two things. He first clears up the Nazianzus paradox stating that it was a miracle of speaking. Secondly, he particularly clarifies the similarities and differences between the ancient Greek prophetesses going into a frenzy and spontaneously speaking in foreign languages they did not know beforehand, and with the disciples of Christ who also spontaneously spoke in foreign languages.

      Psellos had a detailed knowledge of the pagan Greek prophets and explains that the ancient female prophets of Phoebe would go in a form of frenzy and speak in foreign languages. This is a very early and important contribution to the modern tongues debate because there is a serious scholarly connection given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech with that of Pentecost. The christian miracle is named a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech in order to make the christian faith a universal one.

      Psellos may be the oldest commentator on the subject and must be given significant weight. His knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy and religion is unparalleled even by modern standards. It is also seven hundred years older than most works that address the relationship between the christian event and the pagan Greek rite.

      He described the Pentecostal speakers spoke with total comprehension and detailed how it exactly worked. The thought process remained untouched but when attempting to speak, their lips were divinely inspired. The speaker could change the language at any given moment, depending on what language group the surrounding audience belonged to. He thought this action a miracle of speech, and sided with Nazianzus.

      The total control of one’s mind while under divine influence was what differentiated the christian event from the pagan one. The Greek prophetesses, as he went on to describe, did not have any control over what they were saying. There was a complete cognitive disassociation between their mind and their speech while the Apostles had complete mastery over theirs.

      Last of all Psellos introduces a concept of tongues-speaking practised in the Hellenic world that has to do with the use of plants to arrive in a state of divine ecstasy. He also quickly described pharmacology too in this context, but it seems the text infers it was used in the art of healing. His writing is somewhat unclear at this point, but there was a relationship between the two. Perhaps tongues speaking practised by the ancient Greeks was part of the ancient rite of healing. It is hard to be definitive with this because his writing style here is so obscure. He warns to stay away from the use of exotic things that assist in going into a state of divine ecstasy.

      Thomas Aquinas tried to conclude the tongues as speech or hearing debate. Aquinas proceeded to use his argument and objection method for examining the Nazianzus paradox. In the end, he clearly stated it was a miracle of speech. His coverage was well done. However, this attempt was not successful in quelling the controversy.

      Thomas Aquinas
      Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274 AD

      Another aspect that Aquinas introduced was the relationship between the office of tongues and prophecy. The topic has lurked as early as the fourth-century but never in the forefront. Aquinas put the topic as a priority. Given that he was a mystic and lived in the world that heavily emphasized the supernatural, this comes as no surprise. He believed that the gift of tongues was simply a systematic procedure of speaking and translating one language into another. The process required no critical thinking, spiritual illumination, or comprehension of the overall narrative. He believed the agency of prophecy possessed the means for translating and interpreting but added another important asset – critical thinking. One must be cognisant of the fact that his idea of critical thinking is slightly different from ours. He includes spiritual illumination along with intellectual acuity as a formula for critical thinking. The prophetic person had the ability to understand the meaning behind the speech and how it applied to one’s daily life. Therefore, he felt prophecy was a much better and superior office than simply speaking and translating.

      The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to eighteenth-centuries

      The tenth to sixteenth-centuries could be held as the golden age of tongues speaking in the Catholic Church, and arguably the biggest era for the christian doctrine of tongues. The next two-hundred years that reached into the eighteenth-century was the civil war that raged between protestants and catholics that put miracles, including speaking in tongues, in the epicenter. These eight-centuries were the era of super -supernaturalism in almost every area of human life. Speaking in tongues was common and attached to a variety of celebrity saints – from Andrew the Fool in the tenth to Francis Xavier in the sixteenth. This period had established the doctrine of tongues as either a miracle of hearing, speaking or a combination of both.

      Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues

      For example, the later legend of thirteenth-century had Anthony of Padua, a popular speaker in his time, spoke in the language of the Spirit to a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of catholic authorities who heard him in their own language. What was the language of the Spirit? This was never clarified in the text or by any other author and remains a mystery.

      Vincent Ferrer in the fourteenth-century was a well-known evangelist, perhaps in the top 50 in the history of the church. He visited many ethnic and linguistic communities while only knowing his native Valencian language. His orations were so great and powerful that it was alleged people miraculously heard him speak in their own language.

      There were also revisions by later writers to earlier lives of saints such as Matthew the Apostle, Patiens of Metz in the third, and the sixth-century Welsh saints, David, Padarn and Teilo. They were claimed to have spoken miraculously in foreign languages.

      Speaking in tongues was also wielded as a political tool. The French religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément proposed their order to be the foremost because their lineage traced back to a highly esteemed and ancient founder. L’abbaye Saint-Arnould countered with St. Patiens who had the miraculous ability to speak in tongues.

      The account of Andrew the Fool has an interesting twist in the annals of speaking in tongues. Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a tenth-century christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature who feigned insanity as a form of a prophetic and teaching device. The story of Andrew the Fool’s miraculous endowment of tongues was used to facilitate a private conversation between Andrew and a slave while attending a party. This allowed them to talk freely without the patron of the party becoming privy to the conversation and becoming angry about the matter being discussed.

      The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

      Francis Xavier
      Francis Xavier, 1506 — 1552 AD

      The sainthood of Francis Xavier in the sixteenth-century, and the incredulous notion that he miraculously spoke in foreign languages brought the gift of tongues to the forefront of theological controversy. Protestants used his example of how Catholics had become corrupt, to the point of making fictitious accounts that contradict the evidence. A closer look demonstrated that the sainthood investigation process was flawed on the accounts of him speaking in tongues. On the contrary, a proper examination showed Francis struggled with language acquisition. His sainthood with partial grounds based on speaking in tongues was a later embarrassment to the Society of Jesus to whom Francis belonged to. The Society of Jesus is an educational, missionary and charitable organization within the Catholic church that was ambitiously counter-reformation in its early beginnings. The Society of Jesus still exists today and is the largest single order in the Catholic Church.

      The mistaken tongues miracle in Francis’ life also was a headache for the Catholic Church leadership itself. This led to Pope Benedict XIV to write a treatise on the gift of tongues around 1748 and describe what it is, isn’t and what criteria should be used to investigate such a claim. He concluded that the gift of tongues can be speaking in foreign languages or a miracle of hearing.

      This treatise was a well-written and researched document. No other church leader or religious organization, even the Renewalist movement, have superseded his work in validating a claim for speaking in tongues. After his publication, the investigation of claims for tongues-speaking in the Catholic Church had significantly declined.

      Next article in this three-part series:

    • A Summary of the Gift of Tongues Project: the Protestant Experience is in development.
    • For further reading:

      References   [ + ]