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Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 1

EarlyPentecostalPioneers

This four-part series covers how the traditional definition of tongues all but died and was replaced by the pentecostal practice of glossolalia — an umbrella term for the language of adoration, singing and writing in tongues, and/or a private act of devotion between a person and God.

This series was started to settle a mystery – why the doctrine of tongues had changed so dramatically after 1906. Up until the early 1900s the christian doctrine of tongues was a stable doctrine that either was a miraculous ability to speak in one or more foreign languages, or a miracle of one language being adapted in transmission and understood within each listener’s mind.

After 1906, a potpourri of definitions arose. There was the traditional doctrine of a miraculously endowed foreign language by some while others added newer ones, depending on a number of influences: the gift of tongues vs. the utterance of tongues, writing in tongues, singing in tongues, the language of adoration and worship, a private prayer language, and glossolalia. For an unknown reason, the miracle of hearing was entirely dropped from the pentecostal conversation.

This is an investigation into solving this mystery.

Table of contents for the entire series:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Tongues Crisis

  • The Missionary Tongues Movement
  • The Missionary Tongues Dilemma
  • The Gibberish Movement

Part 3: Solutions to the Pentecostal Tongues Crisis

  • Ignore the Problem
  • Utterance vs. Gift of Tongues
  • Writing and Singing in Tongues
  • Tongues as an Expression of Praise and Adoration
    • V.P. Simmons
    • William Manley and the Household of God
    • A. B. Cox
    • Paul H. Walker
  • Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
  • Tongues as Glossolalia

Part 4: Pentecostals, Tongues and Higher Criticism

  • Pentecostal Reliance on Higher Criticism for defining Modern Tongues
    • Philip Schaff
    • Frederick Farrar
    • Conybeare and Howson
    • Encyclopedia Brittanica
    • James Stalker
    • Pulpit Commentary
  • T. B. Barratt’s Defence against Higher Criticism
  • Conclusion

Introduction

The Gift of Tongues Project has traversed through a variety of challenges: from identifying, translating and digitizing important Greek, Latin and Syriac texts, to understanding ancient Greek philosophy and Jewish liturgy, wading through medieval Catholic mysticism and early Protestant writings, and charting through the German scholars to find answers. The study has centred on places such as Alexandria (Egypt), Constantinople, Rome, London, Kagoshima (Japan), Berlin, and Los Angeles.

However difficult these challenges have been, one of the greatest mysteries has been why the semantic range of christian tongues had been so greatly expanded since the early 1900s. It remains one of the most difficult keys to solving this puzzle.

The late Pentecostal professor, Gary B. McGee lightly touched on this topic believing the shift happened because of the failure of the missionary tongues movement. Unfortunately, he hardly delved into any detail on this. The early Pentecostal biographer, Stanley Frodsham, simply ignored the transition and jumped from the traditional to the new definitions without any explanation. Regardless of any pentecostal author, there is a serious lack in any of their literature detailing this shift.

There definitely was a crisis of tongues in early pentecostalism; largely because of the missionary tongues failure but also because of the public outcry that this movement was bonkers. They were accused of manufacturing gibberish. These two tensions forced early pentecostals to either review their tongues doctrine or admit they made mistakes. History clearly shows they chose to revise their definition.

How did they do this and where did they get license to do such?

There is one theory that has hardly been investigated and that is the correlation between early Pentecostalism and the original doctrine of glossolalia devised by German scholars in the early 1800s. Glossolalia became the standard interpretation in the primary and secondary religious dictionaries, encyclopedias and commentaries before the 1900s. In fact, it was hard to even find the traditional definition of speaking in tongues within any substantive publication by this time.

The Early Pentecostals on Tongues is a continuation of a previous series; History of Glossolalia which covered the origins and early development of the glossolalia doctrine. The emphasis of the original series was how the concept of glossolalia overtook the traditional definition and became the only option in most primary, secondary and tertiary source materials produced after 1879. As will be shown, their dominance in the publication realm helped shape the framework for pentecostal tongues as well.

By the early 1800s the traditional doctrine began to unravel and different streams of understanding began to appear. This began with the London-based Irvingite movement in the 1830s which brought a heightened academic interest and a critical re-analysis. This led to German scholars reclassifying speaking in tongues as glossolalia – that is speaking in tongues was an unintelligible discourse proceeding from an ecstatic state above the ordinary language of communication.(1)Augustus Neander. Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles. London: Henry G. Bohn. 1851. 3rd ed. Vol. 1 Pg. 11 In short, they defined speaking in tongues as a psychological condition rather than a miraculous state. The leading scholar of this subject was August Neander, whose thoughts made it into the English religious vocabulary largely through the later influence of Philip Schaff and Frederick Farrar.

This is a critical study on Pentecostalism between 1906 and 1930 and how it was deeply influenced by doctrine of glossolalia. The Pentecostal archives, along with the Missionary Alliance archives, and books produced by early pentecostal leaders were resourced to see the connections between early pentecostalism and higher criticism on the topic of tongues. Higher criticism was the name of the scholarly movement whose framework produced the original glossolalia doctrine. This study will show there was a deep connection.

It was an unintentional connection. Early Pentecostals were deficient in any intellectual framework and internal mechanisms to solve this doctrinal dilemma. They lacked the textual skills of Greek, Latin or Aramaic where the majority of tongues texts resided untranslated into English. Instead, they chose to look at the currently available histories and secondary books published in the English language for their solution. Here they found the works of the highly touted historian Philip Schaff, the Anglican church leader and writer, Frederick Farrar, the Anglican writers Conybeare and Howson and a short list of others. Pentecostals found that these writers conclusions matched their experiences. They did not realize that these authors were strong proponents of the higher criticism doctrine of glossolalia that started in the early 1800s – a doctrine that departed substantially from the christian traditional definition.

All of these scholarly writers lived near the time the pentecostal outbreak happened. They were held with high authority and esteem in the religious academic world. None of these authors had connections with Methodism or establishments that American Pentecostalism was railing against. Neither were these authors adhering to the doctrine of cessationism which the pentecostal accounts are always in contest with. These were all great writers who could be understood by someone with an intermediate reading level. All of these authors were appealing to an experience, not a doctrine.

The early pentecostals were looking for a solution that was within the bounds of Biblical interpretation, free from a preconceived bias, inclusive of the variety of tongues experiences that their pentecostal activity had discovered under the perceived and unquestionable direct power of the Holy Spirit.

The historian Schaff and other similar writers were able to fill this void. Their emphasis on a divine encounter that impacts the innermost soul and results in exalted preaching, ecstatic utterances, poetic words, adoration, and sometimes accidentally a foreign language fit nicely in with the early pentecostal experience.

Pentecostals didn’t realize that these authors formulated and promoted an alternative explanation that started in the 1830s. This doctrine did not follow the traditional christian trajectory of tongues. Ironically, the modern pentecostal definitions are the children of German higher criticism.

There are no early or even later Pentecostal writers that seriously pondered their experiences through the primary source literature of Greek, Latin, or Aramaic dictionaries or texts. They steadfastly held to tertiary literature especially English ones.

The baptism of the Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues is a doctrine unique to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement that started in the early 1900s. An editorial decision has been made not to trace this doctrine. The final ambition of The Gift of Tongues Project is to find out why the traditional definition all but died in 1906 and why it was replaced by glossolalia. This is the final piece for the Project to complete.

The major goal of the Gift of Tongues Project is to trace the perceptions of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries. The perceptions need not necessarily align with reality. The realities, whatever they may be, are up to the reader to decide. You don’t even have to agree with my commentary or analysis. As per the Gift of Tongues Project goals, the majority of the important source texts have been digitized and provided on this website. You can look at the sources themselves and draw your own conclusions.

Although this series will demonstrate today’s doctrine of tongues a new phenomenon in the annals of christian history, it should not be viewed as the litmus test for Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wavers credibility (collectively called Renewalists). There is much more to Renewalists than speaking in tongues. They have grown far beyond tongues and have forayed into far more important matters. The Renewalists are positive agents for social change in our world.

Next: Early Pentecostal Tongues Part 2: The Tongues Crisis.

References   [ + ]

Modern Pentecostal Books on Speaking in Tongues

A brief survey of modern Pentecostal and Charismatic books on the practice of speaking in tongues.

This is an addendum to The Gift of Tongues Project whose focus is to trace the evolution of the doctrine tongues from inception until now.

The Gift of Tongues Project started with pentecostal literature and pentecostal historical assumptions. Once I started reading the ancient texts, it forced to abandon such pretexts and let the ancient writers speak for themselves.

Here is a partial list and commentary of pentecostal and charismatic publications and authors pertinent to the history of the pentecostal doctrine of tongues. Some are only available in print, while others have made their way online. This is in no way exhaustive, and many more can be added.

They Speak with Other Tongues.

SpeakwithOther200

John Sherril’s publication, “They Speak with Other Tongues,” is the top selling book from the Pentecostal perspective. First published in 1964, the writeup at Amazon claims over 2.5 million copies have been purchased.

The book is not a theological treatise, but written from an investigative journalist perspective, starting from a sceptical point of view, and then finishing as a convert to contemporary tongues speaking. The strength in the book is its narrative. It is so smooth and personal throughout, and contains an element of mystery that forces the reader to continue reading until it is resolved. It is a masterpiece from a literary perspective, but weak in the history and logical background. This book gave legitimacy to the growing pentecostal, and birthing charismatic movements. Even though it is over 51 years old, the popularity has not been surpassed by any later pentecostal or charismatic writer.

Jesus and the Spirit.

DunnJesusSpirit200

The next book goes to a non-Pentecostal scholar who is both sympathetic and critical with the Pentecostal experience, James Dunn. He is well-known and respected in the academic theological world, and popular within the greater Protestant realm. His 1974 book, “Jesus and the Spirit,” gave an external third-party legitimization to Pentecostal practice. This may have been the point when Pentecostalism was allowed into the mainstream of the evangelical movement. He draws from classical Greek sources, not Ecclesiastical ones to draw his conclusions, which falls more in line with the Pentecostal experience.

The Hidden Power of Speaking in Tongues.

HiddenPower

The recently published, “The Hidden Power of Speaking in Tongues,” by Mahesh Chavda, a pastor whose bio says his TV ministry reaches a billion households globally, and that he and his wife are responsible for over one million conversions,(1)http://www.newreleasetoday.com/authordetail.php?aut_id=811 is a terribly written book that appears self-serving, lacking theological focus, and creates more problems than solutions. I never finished reading it.

A History of Speaking in Tongues and Related Gifts.

The academic work, “A History of Speaking in Tongues and Related Gifts,” by George H. Williams, and Edith Waldgovel, is built into the psyche of pentecostal intellectual thought. It is the only well-known piece from a contemporary mystical perspective that seriously attempts to reconcile the ancient writings with the modern experience. They produced a convincing reference – much better than any of its predecessors. However, it fails on two crucial points. First of all the two authors restrict their historical exegesis on already available English translations of the Church Fathers. This is seriously problematic because less than 20% of historical Church literature has been translated into English. Secondly, they build their conclusions on what the dominant Greek Dictionaries and Commentaries conclude, which purposely neglected the ancient Church writers because they believed they were not trustworthy. They felt that classical Greek writers were more dependable. This changes the definition of tongues substantially. This goes into a different realm and both their article, and the greater problems they faced are covered in detail in one of the following series of articles called The History of Glossolalia, specifically Patristic Literature on Tongues as an Ecstatic Utterance.

Charisma Magazine

Charisma Magazine, on the other hand, doesn’t even think that there is any historical incompatibility. What Pentecostals and Charismatics do today is assumed to be consistent with the Biblical record without question. Charisma Magazine has a circulation of about 275,000 readers and is highly influential in the pentecostal and charismatic realm.(2)As of 2009, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charisma_(magazine) In the article 5 Things You Need to Know About Speaking in Tongues the author, Brian Alarid, lead pastor of Passion Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico and area coordinator with the Billy Graham Association, writes that “The gift of tongues is a known or heavenly language unknown to the speaker that enables him or her to communicate directly with God.” His statement is full of assumptions based on an ignorance of historic christian literature and tongues movements over 2000 years.

Pentecostal Experience: Towards a Reconstructive Theology of Glossolalia.

Rev. Heidi Baker wrote her PhD thesis on the pentecostal perspective of speaking in tongues. Pentecostal Experience: Towards a Reconstructive Theology of Glossolalia collects and analyzes a large library of pentecostal thought to build a constructive framework for speaking in tongues. She succeeds and this thesis is one of the most formative works on building a pentecostal systematic theology. Her coverage of pentecostal thought after the 1900s is very detailed and helpful.

The Pentecostal Three

EncycPentChar

Anything by the following Pentecostal scholars, Stanley Burgess, Vinson Synan or Gary B. McGee, are well researched and substantiated works. Gary B. McGee’s small publication for the Overseas Ministries Study Center, “Shortcut to Language Preparation?” covers the old Pentecostal tension between divine inspiration of tongues, or the regular route of language study, is a seminal work. Vinyan has written copiously on pentecostal subjects. His 1999 article printed in Christianity Today, “The Second Comers,” first caught my attention, and saw his name tagged in the “Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity,” which in itself is a grand work worth mentioning. These scholars and the Encyclopedia shows that the Pentecostal brand of Christianity has matured and willing to deal honestly with its own history, even if it is different from today’s expressions.

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