Tag Archives: languages

Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost: Notes

A brief analysis of the fifth-century tongues of Pentecost text by Basil of Seleucia.

As found in Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 64. Col. 420 to 421. Supplementum Ad S.J. Chrysostom Opera. Homilia in S. Pentecosten.

It is a difficult but important text.

The complexity resides in the fact the writer assumes a basic knowledge and background to the first Pentecost that is not shared by the modern reader.

Basil of Seleucia was the bishop of a region titled, Seleucia in Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. His writing style has thought to be greatly influenced by John Chrysostom,(1)The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. As found at CCEL but a connection cannot be made when it comes to the doctrine of tongues. Chrysostom’s view was very limited, while Basil’s was extensive.

There is no doubt that Basil believed the tongues of Pentecost to revolve around the miracle of language and sound. He believed the purpose of this outward grace was for the proclamation of the Gospel throughout all the nations. The question of how Basil thought this miracle occurred is puzzling. He stitched three different opinions on the mechanics behind the miracle into one narrative without completely resolving the tensions between them.

  • It follows in a similar thought pattern found in Gregory Nazianzus’ work on the subject. Whereas Nazianzus posited two interpretations, one being a miracle of speech, and the other of hearing(2)See Nazianzus’ Tongues of Pentecost Paradox — though Basil’s second has little to do with a miracle of hearing, but on the producing of a divine sound.

  • The reader could understand it as the restoration of the primordial language that first was spoken before the fall of Babel, which the human mind has never lost the capacity to understand the sound heard. And when this first language was revived, those of every linguistic background understood it.

  • However, towards the end of the text, the emphasis shifts to the instantaneous ability to speak in a foreign language, but it is not entirely clear.

He nowhere intimates this was a non-human, divine, or prayer language. He was not aware of such theories during his time.

The grammar is impeccable in the Greek language. He consistently utilized synonyms throughout. It also has numerous words that can be traced to Ionic Greek — this is something I have never come across before within Greek Patristic writers.

His use of the noun tongue/language is intriguing. He used the multi-Greek noun (Doric, Aeolic, Ionic, Epic), γλῶσσα, on most occasions, but in others he switched to the Attic noun, γλῶττα. Why?

An analysis of the noun γλῶττα in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) shows that it commonly interchanged with γλῶσσα. Particular attention was paid to Chrysostom whose texts have this same characterization. Attic Greek was the common language throughout Byzantium and γλῶττα would have been the preferred pronunciation. However, the Biblical text and christian doctrines are built around γλῶσσα. It is part of the christian religious vocabulary which the Attic speaking and writing Greeks had to honor. In the cases where the noun was not being used in the strictest religious sense, the authors would switch to γλῶττα.

Over time, my thoughts may change on this piece as more information from other authors come to light. There is a tension here that is not completely explained. ■

For more information see:

References   [ + ]

Tertullian on the Doctrine of Tongues

Tertullian woodcut

When it comes to glossolalia and Tertullian, it is the making of a mountain out of a molehill.

It is unfortunate that the second century church leader, Tertullian, has been given a prominent seat on the subject, while authors such as, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, The Ambrosiaster text, Epiphanius, Michael Psellos, and many more ecclesiastical writers who wrote specifically on the christian doctrine of tongues, have been largely ignored.

A critical analysis of Tertullian’s supposed reference to the christian doctrine of tongues supports such a claim.

There is one facet of this study that is indisputable — Tertullian believed the gift of tongues and interpretation, along with many other gifts, such as healing, were still operative during his time. However, he failed to specify if this was simply speaking a foreign language by those trained in such languages, a supernaturally inspired speaking in another language, or something else. He simply stated that it existed and added nothing more.

The oft-cited Tertullian text on the doctrine of tongues is found in Against Marcion Book V. 8:7-12, and it is not a strong connection. But for the sake of readers wanting to find out for themselves, a translation, and explanation have been provided. The actual translation and Latin text can be found by reading Tertullian on Tongues: A New English Translation. All the comments below are based on this text and translation.

Tertullian was a poster boy for the nineteenth century and later higher criticists who made the case that tongues was nothing more than religious frenzy, a glossolalic outburst that had antecedents in pagan Greek religions. The development of this modern doctrine is treated in greater detail in Introduction to the History of Glossolia. These are a series of articles which traces the inception of the doctrine of glossolalia in the 1800s, its overtaking the traditional Christian position, and its evolution. If one is to use a more comprehensive methodology and trace the christian doctrine of tongues using historical Christian literature from inception to the twelfth century, Tertullian’s contribution appears minimal.

The initial approach to including Tertullian in the Gift of Tongues Project was to post both the Latin text alongside an already published English translation by Peter Holmes. His translation was published in 1885 as part of the well-known series, Ante-Nicene Fathers, which today is easily available on the internet.(1)http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-35.htm#P7138_2070665 However, it was found wanting from technical and readability perspectives. Ernest Evans updated the translation in 1972, and great improvements were made, but the portion relating to the supposed tongues speech still remained obscure.(2) Tertullilan. Adversus Marcionem. Edited and Translated by Ernest Evans. Glasgow: The Oxford University Press, 1972. Pg. 561 The goal of my translation was to make this portion of Tertullian clearer for the modern reader.

Tertullian on Tongues: A New English Translation is partially based on Holmes text, along with some help from Ernest Evan’s translation.

There are a number of differences.

First of all, Tertullian comes across in the Latin text as more combative against Marcion, even mocking. An attempt was made to make that more apparent.

Secondly, the translation of the Latin keyword lingua was changed from tongue to language. This makes it closer to the intent of Tertullian. This is an editorial decision made early on in the Gift of Tongues Project and is consistent with almost all of the translations found on this site. For more information please read, The Difference Between Language and Tongues.

Thirdly, the feature of Tertullian’s work is not about tongues but the role of women in the church and and how Tertullian felt that there was too much female authority in the Marcionite sect. He stated that women have the right to prophesy, but not to instruct; a practice which was happening in the Marcionite movement, and thus considered heretical. The address to languages in the church is happenstance.

Tertullian was positing that women could not be moral, political, or theological leaders in the church at large. He had a compromise and that was the office of prophecy. This was considered a high status in the Church and women could have a significant impact through this agency. Tertullian appears to be a misogynist in modern terms, but his concept of women being able to prophesy may have been revolutionary for his day. More research on this aspect needs to be done.

There are two key phrases that set-up the scenario and are difficult to translate:

Aeque prescribens silentium mulieribus in ecclesia, ne quid discendi, duntaxat gratia loquantur

and

ut semel dixerim nosse non debuit nisi in destructionem

Holmes has the first translated as: “when enjoining on women silence in the church, that they speak not for the mere sake of learning.”

His English translation really makes no sense. Why would women not be allowed to speak because they may learn something? This seems contradictory. Ernest Evans comes closer with his translation “when he enjoins upon women silence in the church, that they are not to speak, at all events with the idea of learning.”

It still lacks clarity, so my translation went to a more literal state, “this apostle recommends silence of the women in the Church, nor that women should speak anything specifically for the reason that a male is going to learn.” In other words women are not to instruct in the church. Perhaps this means women are allowed to instruct other women, but never to preach, educate, or lead a male or mixed gender audience.

The second phrase, “ut semel dixerim nosse non debuit nisi in destructionem,” is not as hard once the first difficulty above is understood. Holmes has, “let me say once for all, he ought to have made no other acquaintance with, than to destroy it.” This is a nebulous translation. Who or what is the person having an acquaintance with and what is to be destroyed? It is not clear. Evans somewhat clarifies it, “he had no right to take note of except for its destruction.” It is closer, but the antecedent is still wanting. My translation contains the following that hopefully clarifies Tertullian’s intent, “let me say once for all, that he ought not to know [what the woman is teaching] except for its repudiation.” The words in the square brackets do not exist in the Latin but put here so that the English reader understands Tertullian’s argument.

Tertullian was mocking Marcion and previous English translations have downplayed this aspect. One of the important keywords that suggest the mocking is a proper understanding of amentia. Holmes has it as rapture, indicating the mind is in some joyful, exuberant state. Evans translated it as, “which means abeyance of mind,” suggesting that the mind in that moment is unoccupied and controlled by other influences. It seems unclear what he exactly means here. However, amentia has negative connotations. The text, id est amentia clearly comes across as condescending. The Lewis and Short Latin dictionary describes amentia as a negative mental state: “the being out of one’s senses, beside one’s self, madness, insanity.”(3) http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Damentia. and William Whitacker has it as, “madness; extreme folly, infatuation, stupidity; frenzy, violent excitement.”(4) From my digital application Latin Words for OS X based on William Whitacker’s Latin Dictionary. When I first read these dictionary entries, my mind immediately jumped to the Greek equivalents; the adjective used by Origen, μανικός, manikos, or the verbal form found in Michael Psellos’ work, μαίνομαι both which refer to people disposed to madness, frenzied, symptoms of madness, enthusiastic, or inspired. Both Origen and Psellos use the word distinct from the Christian experience and reserved it to exclusively describe the historical practices of the ancient Greek prophets and their peculiar acts of prophesying. Tertullian’s work is heavily structured on a Greek philosophical framework, and this was likely his intention too at the use of amentia. The second century writer, by use of this word, is making the case that Marcion’s practice does not have a Christian lineage, but the synthesis of ancient Greek religion, especially that of their prophets. It was folly, and one of the evidences among many that Marcion indeed was a heretic. It has little or no relation to the christian doctrine of tongues.

The most suitable translation for id est amentia is, “that is in madness.”

The understanding of amentia is dependent on the use of the subjunctive in this passage. Holmes has elected to understand it as a jussive, which forces the translator to subsequently understand amentia as an inspired state. Whereas, since Tertullian is mocking Marcion, it should be understood as a potential subjunctive.

Another set of critical words for those looking at the connection between Tertullian and the christian doctrine of tongues is si qua linguae interpretatio accessit. My translation reads, as if an interpretation of languages had occurred. Holmes translated it as, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him. Tertullian was not attacking Marcion directly in this passage, but specific mystical practices performed by the female gender within his movement which was outside church tradition. Holmes ascribes it to Marcion directly, which cannot be established from the Latin text.

Holmes understood si qua to mean whenever which doesn’t fit here for a number of reasons. Si is about a condition that may or may not happen. The use of Whenever leads the reader to believe a durative process that happens throughout time, which doesn’t rightly fit into a conditional paradigm.

The use of qua here reinforces the idea of a conditional concept. Brad Inwood, author of Seneca: Selected Philosophical Letters has offered a clue as to how to understand this word in his analysis of Seneca in the first century. He suggests that Seneca used qua adverbally, referring back to Greek philosophy, and should be understood as tamquam(5) Brad Inwood. Seneca: Selected Philosophical Letters: Translated with Introduction and Commentary Oxford University Press. 2007. 85.33-5 which, according to Whitacker’s Words means, “as, just as, just as if; as it were, so to speak; as much as; so as.” It has already been noted before that Tertullian heavily utilizes a Greek framework to structure his writing, and this would be consistent for his usage.

The use of accessit in the text is another clue to this conditional clause. It is in the perfect indicative, which was a surprise, not in the subjunctive, which was to be expected. It is a simple conditional, which indicates a factual condition. Tertullian was drawing a caricature of the prophet(s) going into a state of madness, akin to those of the Greek prophets, and feigning the ability to understand different languages.

Another clue on his definition, and it is not a complete one, is his mention of Isaiah 28:11, that the Creator would speak in languages foreign to the Jews of Israel, and that the gift of tongues was a prophetic fulfillment of this. This statement restricts Tertullian’s view on the gift of tongues to that of foreign languages. However, he doesn’t elaborate whether it is a natural, supernatural or mystical ability to speak in foreign languages, and so it doesn’t give a complete picture.

Tertullian, wrote elsewhere about mystical events, especially in Treatise of the Soul, Book 9, where he described a woman endowed with mystical powers. He was not negative in any way towards this woman but simply was reporting these talents. He does not include in any description an ability to speak in tongues. Therefore, this passage has been left out of the Gift of Tongues Project.

A challenge in translating this text is the lack of manuscripts. The digital copies found on the internet do not list what manuscripts they are composed of, and some of the Latin words used, such as duntaxat, seem to be later additions. However, the Tertullian manuscripts, as compared to Gregory Nazianzus and other leading church fathers, are hard to find, and those that do exist, are found in expensive books. These books are not readily available in my regional university libraries. There have been moments in critical spots where seeing actual manuscripts would have been helpful, but did not do because of these limitations.

This study clearly demonstrates that the information supplied by Tertullian on the christian doctrine of tongues is not very valuable, nor is it a smoking gun. It is a slight reference, but nothing substantial enough to advance anyone’s cause. ■

References   [ + ]

Tertullian on Tongues: a New English Translation

Tertullian: Against Marcion. Book V. 8:7-12

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Seeing as the Creator especially promised the gift of the Spirit in the latter days; and moreover Christ appeared in these latter days as the dispenser of spiritual gifts to which the apostle says, ”But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent His Son,”(1) Galatians 4:4 and again, ”Because the time is now in short supply”,(2)”Quia tempus iam in collecto est” — perhaps from I Cor. 7:29 “hoc itaque dic fratres tempus breve est” and it is evident that this gift of the Spirit leads with praises towards Christ. Now compare the types between the apostles and Isaiah: “To one is given”, he says, “by the Spirit the word of wisdom;” and Isaiah steadfastly prefers the spirit of wisdom. “To another, the word of knowledge;” this will be the spirit of understanding and counsel. “To another, faith by the same Spirit;” this will be the spirit of holiness(3)religionis and fear of the Lord. “To another, the gifts of healing, and to another the working of miracles;” this will be the power of might. “To another prophecy, to another another discerning of spirits, to another various kinds of languages, to another the interpretation of languages;” this will be the spirit of knowledge.(4)agnitio See how the apostle is bringing together and developing the concept of one spirit and in the prophet’s precise way that applies about interpreting. I can say this very thing that he has harmonized throughout the many and diverse members of our body the unity of the various gifts into a structured form, and on the same theme he shows the Lord in regards to the human body and Holy Spirit, which he did not want the merits of the gifts to be in the context of a spiritual body, nor did he establish such things in the context of a human body in relation to love, which is naturally put ahead too over all the other gifts. This guided the apostle as the lead principle to be established and because Christ esteemed this: “You shall love your neighbour as your own self.”(5)This is an abbreviated version of Luke 10:27 “diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo et ex tota anima tua et ex omnibus viribus tuis et ex omni mente tua et proximum tuum tua et proximum tuum sicut te ipsum.”

When he mentions that it is written in the Law, he is recalling the Creator is going to proceed to speak in other languages and lips, he validates this reference with the gift of languages — a different gift here of the Creator cannot be shown with special mention. Equally so, this apostle recommends silence of the women in the Church, nor that women should speak anything specifically for the reason that a male is going to learn, (yet shows the right for the ability to prophesy is currently also given to the female participant, he additionally assigns a veil with with the woman who prophesies), he reinforces from the Law the responsibility of the woman is someone who ought to be subordinate, which, let me say once for all, that he ought not to know [what the woman is teaching] except for its repudiation.(6)nosse non debuit nisi in destructionem Let us now move from the spiritual things, the matters themselves ought to prove which of us blindly claims his god, and whether it is possible to oppose against our side, and even if the Creator promised these things for His Christ who had not yet been revealed, as being only destined to the Jews, getting ready to have His works in His time, in His Christ, and in His people. Marcion is then to exhibit gifts from his god, some prophets, who nevertheless have spoken not from the human sense, but by the spirit of God, which the things to come are going to be proclaimed, and the secrets of the heart are going to be exposed.(7)cordis occulta traduxerint He is probably showing some type of psalm, vision, prayer, merely a spiritual thing, in ecstasy, that is in madness,(8)Tertullian is mocking the form of worship as lacking structure and simply creating stupidity and senselessness like the ancient Greek prophets. It is trying to be spiritual but lacks any definition. as if an interpretation of languages had occurred.(9)accessit Let him show to me also a woman who exaggerates among them that can prophesy according to those most sacred women(10)ex illis suis sanctioribus feminis — I think this is not be taken literally but referring to a religious order of women but lack information to be conclusive about this If all these things are being easily made known by me, and by all means these things work together in one accord as a basic principles, the construct of the arguments, and teachings of the Creator, without doubt Christ, the Spirit, and the apostle will be of my God. It contains my statement that anyone would have been certain to examine.

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Partially translated and revised by Charles A. Sullivan. Some portions are directly taken from the translation by Peter Holmes’ found in the Ante–Nicene Fathers. Vol. 3 (1885).

For the actual Latin text, click on the following link, Tertullian on Tongues: the Latin.

References   [ + ]

John of Damascus on Tongues: an English Translation

A translation of the eighth century John of Damascus’ Commentary on I Corinthians as it relates to the doctrine of tongues.

In Epist. Ad Corinth I. by Joannis Damasceni. Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 95. Col. 676ff as translated from the Greek by Charles A. Sullivan.

I Corinthians 13:1-3


[v1-3] “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and I know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my possessions, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

By saying this, he insinuates the holding of negligent responsibilities results in receiving much less, and those who remain steadfast,(1) κυρίους if they so wish, results in something much greater. So love is much greater than all the gifts. He thus establishes this and lays-out the combination, as all the gifts are nothing with the absence of love. For see how he builds this premise. Namely, he does not say, If I knew languages,(2) Ἐὰν ἴδω γλώσσας but instead, if I should speak in the languages of angels. Nor does he simply say, If I am going to prophesy, but, I know all the mysteries and all knowledge, with careful detail(3) μετὰ ἐπιτάσεως And he does not say, If I could give possessions,(4) Δῶ τὰ ὑπάρχοντα but, if I could distribute,(5) ψωμίσω so that he combines service with the cost. In fact demonstrating all here with careful detail, he shows it is greatly inferior with that of love. On which account if you passionately are desirous of the greater gifts, he says, pursue love.

Love is rightly the greatest of the gifts. For these other things naturally had been the cause of division,(6) διέσχισαν while on the other hand love unites those who disagree.

See from where it begins, by the greatness appearing with them of these languages, and not only of men but also of angels. Furthermore, about the tongue of angels, a body is not assumed for angels. The matter being referred to is like this: although I should utter a sound in this way as the means that the angels dialogue between each other, for instance when he says, every knee should bow to him: of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth,(7) Philippians 2;10. Damascus has slightly modified his Greek text replacing “to Jesus” with “to him”. he is not saying these things as one who assumes knees and bones with angels, but wishes to allude to the fervent-pitched act of worship by means of this imagery to us. That is why he cited language here, wishing to show to the rest of the audience a sermon(8) ὁμιλίαν in a familiar way with us.■


I Corinthians 14:1-33


[V.1]“Follow after charity.”

And consequently to us, the work of the race is supremely for this.

“And desire the spiritual things, rather that you may prophesy.”

In order that someone may not suppose that he introduced the word of love so that he could put an end to the gifts, regarding this he introduced a grace, saying: desire the spiritual things. He makes the case of aggregating together those things belonging to the family of gifts and lessens the gift of languages, neither is the gift useless by any means, nor does it show(9) The text has δεικνὺς which would render it in context here as pres ind act 2nd sg OR pres act masc nom/voc part sg. Neither of which fits in verbally with the flow here. I think it a print error and should read δεικνὺσι the benefit in respect to this.

[v2-4] “For one who speaks in a language, speaks not to men, but to God; for no one hears, moreover he speaks mysteries in the spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and consolation to men. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.”

The one who has the ability to speak to God, points out greatness, but on the other hand smallness since this person does not have the ability to edify the Church. For he absolutely desires this; the edification of the many.

[v5a] “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in languages,”

Not that they should form an opinion here that the person who is critical condemns(10)καθαιρεῖ the languages by these, that this one is in the act of being set right about the suspicion concerning them, he says this:

[5b]“Unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.”(11) NASB

It is less, he says, the act of speaking in languages than that of prophesying. Unless of course someone also can interpret the languages.(12)The Greek has τὰ γλώσσας which I think is a copyist/print error. It should read τὰς γλώσσας The Latin has “Nisi forte aliquis etiam interpres adsit, qui linguas sciat interpretari.” the emphasis here is anyone having the ability to interpret the foreign language being spoken, not just the speaker. It was by no means to be a reference to equality made with the one who prophesies.

[v6] “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking,(13)The Greek has ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς λαλῶν, which I think is a copyist/print error. It should read τὰς γλώσσας while all other editions contain ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς γλώσσαις λαλῶν it is likely a copyist or print error. The commentary below suggests that this was a mistake too. what will I profit you?”

What if I speak other things? He says, if I myself come speaking in languages, it will not be greatly beneficial for those who are listening. Thus he speaks these things, the one who demonstrates enthusiasm for that which is beneficial for these people, he does not have hostility against those who possess the gift.

[v6b] “Unless I speak to you whether by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?”(14)NASB

Unless I speak, he says, that can be easily apprehended by you but otherwise will have shown only that I have a gift of a specific language, consequently you all will have gone away having gained nothing in these things. Why should it be from a voice that you all do not understand?

[v7-9] “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?(15)NASB Likewise you also in this manner, by the office of language.”

What I speak,(16)Τί λέγω he says, is it that the matter is unprofitable with regards to you all? Also wouldn’t anyone have instinctively known this about lifeless things and the harp and bugle?

[v9b] “Unless all of you are given an intelligible word, how will it be known what the person is speaking?”

The alternative,(17)Ἀντὶ τοῦ, unless you all can interpret.

[v9c] “For you will be speaking into the air.”(18)NASB

That is, a person is uttering for no one else, for this one is speaking to no one.

[v10-12a] “There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.(19)NASB So it is also with you.”

That is, so many languages, so many sounds, Scythian, Thracian, Roman, Persian, Mauretanian, Egyptian, other myriads of nations.

[v12b-13] “Since you are zealous of spiritual things, seek to abound for the edification of the church. Therefore let one who speaks in a language pray that he may interpret.”

If it is necessary to be zealous, be zealous for the gifts which builds up the Church. On which account he adds, saying: Pray, that he may interpret

[v14-15a] For if I pray in a language, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do?

That is, the gift which had been given to me, and summons the language.

[v15b-16] “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. Otherwise, when you are praising in the Spirit, how can the one who leads the place of the laymen, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?”

It has a meaning something like: who then is the one apt to teach and be beneficial? And what manner was it necessary to speak? And why is it necessary to request from God? And he responds saying that one ought to pray by the Spirit that is by the gift and with the intent,(20)διανοίᾳ so that when the language is uttered, the mind equally is not ignorant about the things being spoken. For if this should not be [the case where] a strange bewilderment is produced. For the layperson did not know to respond(21)ὑποφωνεῖν Amen. He naturally did not know what you are saying.

[v17] “For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.”(22)NASB

So that he did not appear to utterly hold the gift as worthless, he provides this. On the contrary this was elevated when he was saying, This one who is speaking speaks mysteries as well speaks to God and builds himself up.(23)A modified version of I Corinthians 14:2 by John. You, therefore, he says, give thanks well. For you are speaking, being moved by the Spirit. But the person hears nothing, nor knows the things being spoken, and remains standing(24)ἔστηκεν this is in the perfect 3rd sg but it doesn’t fit with the present participles or the flow of the sentence. I agree with the Latin that it should be understood as present tense. — the one who receives does not benefit much.

[v18-19a] “I give thanks to my God that I speak in a language more than you all. But in the Church.”

He says this so that it would not show that he is hostile as one depriving [them] of the gift.

[v19b] “I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also.”(25)NASB

That is, understanding that which I speak and having the ability also to interpret for others.

[v19c] “Rather than ten thousand words in a language.”

He says In fact this is holding a performance(26)ἐπίδειξιν without a companion,(27)Τοῦτο μὲν γὰρ ἐπίδειξιν ἔχει μόνην The Latin is: Hoc enim ostentationem solam praefert.. On the other hand the greater benefit is to be for the other people.

[v20] “Brothers, do not be children in thoughts, but on the other hand be like a child with evil.”

Namely the little ones gape at astonishment(28)κέχηνεν This is a pluperfect 3rd pl verb but it doesn’t fit here. The Latin translates it as present 3rd pl. Neut to the littlest of things, while on the other hand does not contain so much an admiration of the great things. Seeing too then that those who have the gift of tongues, they were supposing to have the ability to master everything, albeit it was the least of them all. For that reason he says, do not be children in thoughts. That is, these things should not be senseless,(29)μὴ ἀνόητοι The verb is omitted here but is intimated. whereby it is necessary that these things to be intelligible.(30)ἔνθα συνετοὺς εἶναι χρή But in that predicament they are children and simple minded, some at one side are vain-glorious, some at the other are puffed-up. On the latter note, what does it mean to be children in evil? Or does it mean not ever having the ability to know what is evil?

[v21] “In the [Law] it is written, that “in strange tongues, and other lips I will speak to this people and even so they will not hear me” says the Lord.”

The Divine Scripture is called [the] Law, and the Prophets.

[v22-30a] “So then tongues are for a sign, not for those who believe but for unbelievers. Prophecy on the other hand is for a sign, not to unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore, if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and uneducated or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uneducated person enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, and thus the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

What is the outcome then, brothers? When you assemble, each one of you has a psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation, interpretation. Let all be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a language, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. On the other hand if a revelation was to be made to someone else sitting by…”(31) Verses 22-29 are a mixture of a direct quotation of the NASB and others adapted from the NASB to match the slight differences of the Damascus text.

That is a shocked feeling,(32) ἔκπληξιν not so much for the purpose of instruction.(33) κατήχησιν usually refers to elementary instruction or teaching of initiates

[v30b] “Let the first one be silent.”

Namely it was not appropriate, while the one who is being moved in the matter of prophecy, this person can speak.

[v31] “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.”(34) NASB

He says this for the one has been put to silence(35) τὸν ἐπιστομηθέντα The Latin has “ut eum qui loqui prohibitus sit” — that of the person who has been prohibited to speak so that this is made more bearable.(36) παραμυθούμενος The whole sentence reads: Τοῦτο φησι, τὸν ἐπιστομηθέντα παραμυθούμενος. — the sentence works using only participles, but this is not a typical construct used by most ancient Greek authors.

[v32] “And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”(37) NASB

So that there should not be someone who is contentious or slanderous, he shows the gift itself being placed under authority.(38) αὐτὸ τὸ χάρισμα δείκνυσιν ὑποτασσόμενον For then he cites the work as of the spirit. So if the spirit is being placed under authority, you too can be with fullness.(39) πολλῷ δ’ ἄν σύ.

[v33] “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—and so I direct in all the holy Churches.”(40) a modification of the NASB along with Damascus adding an extra verb and adjective ταῖς Ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων διατάσσομαι

He shows this as also appeasing to God, so that the person who holds a contrary position may not spread strife.■


The actual Greek text is found here: John of Damascus on Tongues: the Greek Text.

References   [ + ]

Charles Parham on Speaking in Tongues

Charles F. Parham

Discovering what speaking-in-tongues meant to Charles F. 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 be major patrons in the Azusa Street Revival — a movement that is considered the public symbol for the pentecostal message being spread throughout the world.

Parham is both a controversial and complex figure that goes far beyond his codifying speaking-in-tongues within the holiness movement. This article focuses on what Parham believed the miracle of tongues to be; was it a foreign language, a heavenly one, ecstatic, or a combination?

It is not the goal of this writing to discern whether his perception was true or not, rather, it is simply to ascertain what he believed.

Neither does this investigation want to revisit the historical contribution of Parham’s Apostolic Faith Movement. This has already been well documented.

It is not hard to find his position both experientially and theologically on the subject – he believed it to be the miraculous endowment of speaking in a foreign language unknown beforehand by the speaker for evangelistic/missionary purposes.

The idea of it being foreign languages was clearly made by his wife, Sarah Parham, in her published biography, The Life of Charles F. Parham: the Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement.(1)Mrs. Charles F. Parham. The Life of Charles F. Parham: the Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement. Fourth Printing. 2000. Baxter Springs. Kansas. 1930. Many thanks to Dean Furlong for alerting me about this book and its particular contents. Of course, it is entirely valid to recognize any biography produced by a relative will have an implicit bias, which this book contains but on the case of defining his concept about speaking-in-tongues, it can be held as source material.

It is hard to discuss speaking-in-tongues without first addressing the emerging doctrine called the Baptism of the Spirit in relation to Parham. However, this is outside the scope of this article or the Gift of Tongues Project but some acknowledgment must be given. Reference to this new doctrine is made from Sarah Parham’s book where she wrote:

On Mr. Parham’s return to the school with his friends, he asked the students whether they had found any Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The answer was, unanimous, “speaking in other tongues.”

Services were held daily and each night. There was a hallowed hush over the entire building. All felt the influence of a mighty presence in our midst. Without any special direction, all moved in harmony. I remember Mrs. Parham saying, “Such a spirit of unity prevails that even the children are at peace, while the very air filled with expectancy. Truly He is with us, and has something more wonderful for us than we have known before.”

The service on New Year’s night was especially spiritual and each heart was filled with the hunger for the will of God to be done in them. One of the students, a lady who had been in several other Bible Schools, asked Mr. Parham, to lay hands upon her that she might receive the Holy Spirit. As he prayed, her face lighted up with the glory of God and she began to speak with “other tongues”. She afterward told us she had received a few words while in the Prayer Tower, but now her English was taken from her and with floods of joy and laughter she praised God in other languages.

There was very little sleeping among any of us that night. The next day still being unable to speak English, she wrote on a piece of paper, “Pray that I may interpret.” [Pg. 60-61]

In reference to speaking-in-tongues as a miraculous endowment of a foreign language, there are many references that suggest this was their belief. Here a few examples:

  • On one occasion a Hebrew Rabbi was present as one of the students, a young married man, read the lesson from the Bible. After services he asked for the Bible from which the lesson was read. The Bible was handed him, and he said, “No not that one, I want to see the Hebrew Bible. That man read in the Hebrew tongue.”

    At another time while Mr. Parham was preaching he used another language for some time during the sermon. At the close a man arose and said, “I am healed of my infidelity; I have heard in my own tongue the 23rd Psalm that I learned at my mother’s knee. [Pg. 62]

  • 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 im 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. [116-117]

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:

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. [Pg. 163]

It has been previously documented in the Gift of Tongues Project that the leaders and the official newspaper of the Azusa Street Revival viewed speaking-in-tongues as the miraculous endowment of a foreign language. Parham was introduced to Azusa as Seymour’s spiritual father. It wasn’t very long before he fell out of favour with Azusa. Some may think it was his segregation or perhaps supremacist views. Perhaps it was an internal leadership problem or their style of worship. We may never know exactly what the reasons were. He must have been personally demoralized and that his assessment of the practices of Azusa, whether true or not, was an effort to regain his lost stature.

It is clear that speaking-in-tongues as ecstasy, prayer or heavenly language were not part of Parham’s religious vocabulary. He certainly believed it was the miraculous spontaneous utterance of a language unknown beforehand by the speaker for evangelistic or missionary purposes. Parham would have vehemently disagreed with Wikipedia’s description that he “associated glossolalia with the baptism in the Holy Spirit”, because he felt it was known human languages, not glossolalia, which implies something psychological or non-human speech.■

For more information:

References   [ + ]