Irenaeus on the Gift of Tongues

The doctrine of tongues according to second century Church Father Irenaeus.

Irenaeus, according to Wikipedia ”was a Christian Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire (now Lyons, France). He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.”

The following English translations are found at the New Advent website which has a digital reproduction of the Ante-Nicene Fathers by the Christian Literature Publishing Company in 1885.1

The English translation has not been proofed against the Greek or Latin.

Against Heresies (Book 3, Chapter 12:1)

When the Holy Ghost had descended upon the disciples, that they all might prophesy and speak with tongues, and some mocked them, as if drunken with new wine, Peter said that they were not drunken, for it was the third hour of the day; but that this was what had been spoken by the prophet: “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and they shall prophesy.”(3) The God, therefore, who did promise by the prophet, that He would send His Spirit upon the whole human race, was He who did send; and God Himself is announced by Peter as having fulfilled His own promise.2

Against Heresies (Book 3, Chapter 17:2)

This Spirit did David ask for the human race, saying, “And stablish me with Thine all- governing Spirit;”(12) who also, as Luke says, descended at the day of Pentecost upon the disciples after the Lord’s ascension, having power to admit all nations to the entrance of life, and to the opening of the new covenant; from whence also, with one accord in all languages, they uttered praise to God, the Spirit bringing distant tribes to unity, and offering to the Father the first-fruits of all nations. Wherefore also the Lord promised to send the Comforter,(13) who should join us to God.3

Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 6:1)

For this reason does the apostle declare, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” [1 Corinthians 2:6] terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual.4

It is clear from his writings here that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in a foreign tongue. The purpose of the gift was to bring all peoples and nations into one accord.

  1. Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Irenaeus is translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut.
  2. The original source is MPG Vol. 7a. S. Irenaei. Contra Haereses. Lib III:12:1. Col. 892.
  3. The original source is MPG Vol. 7a. S. Irenaei. Contra Haereses. Lib III:17:2. Col. 929
  4. The original source is MPG Vol. 7b. S. Irenaei. Contra Haereses. Lib V:6:1. Col. 1137

15 thoughts on “Irenaeus on the Gift of Tongues”

      • Not really. You yourself are interpreting Irenaeous as able to represent all glossolalic activity in the Early Church. Paul says in First Corinthians that he who speaks in a tongue speaks not to man but to God, for no understands him. He also suggests that tongues are the “language of angels”. It is by far unclear that the tongues of the Early Church is not synonymous with what we see in Pentacostal circles, today. Why even do this if you’re going to be so biased and badly researched? This could have taken you 5 minutes to research.

        • There is much more content in the Gift of Tongues Project that substantiates my statement. I encourage you to the look throughout the site as it has many answers to your assertions.

          Cheers, Charles

          • Thank you! I agree with you. This doctrine has been so butchered up by man. My opinion is as Paul stated in scripture. There should be an interpreter there if someone speaks in tongues. In today’s society I have yet to see one interpreter when I’ve heard someone speak in tongues. So either way, scripture isn’t being followed when this is done. If we want to claim something is real, we must follow it fully.

        • Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1

          The tongues of angels refer to the different languages spoken on earth since the destruction of the tower of Babel. As Moses says in Deuteronomy [:]: “God has set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of angels.” It is therefore the task of each angel to defend the distinction of nations. The tongues of men on the other hand are languages which we learn; they do not come to us naturally. .

          – Severian of Gabala

        • Can you show me one place in the Bible where an angel needed a translator? Can you show me one place in the Bible where the “language” of angels is mentioned besides 1 Corinthians 13? The Testament of Job mentions a gift that Job’s daughter received from God, and that is the only place someone could ever point to. We have to go back to the book of Acts where it is first mentioned as see what it really was. Also, the whole idea of the gifts is mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:7 “For the profit of all…” If it is not building up the body it cannot be a gift. There are no gifts that are not for building up others.

        • the language of angel was hyperbole on pauls part . when angels appeared to humans what language did they speak ?

  1. To be an authority of any form of practice, be it a skill, a sport or a technique, one must not only experience but practice it as time is a good test of many things.
    I have been faithfully walking alongside my Lord Jesus, the Son of God, reading the Word of God diligently for 38 years, leading personally hundreds to Christ.
    I have also been speaking in tongues for 34 years since and it is a part of my prayer life. I have written dozens of book on the Christian faith.
    Unless one speaks in ‘Tongues’, the views expressed are from the outside, similar to a fan of golf who does not play golf at all.
    One has no authority to speak about tongues unless one speaks too.

    • Speaking in tongues creates a conflict of interest when writing on the subject. One must validate his experience or else admit to having erred and to having sinned against the Spirit by having attributed a false, psychologically induced experience to Him.
      In contrast, one who has not spoken in tongues can be impartial. He remains more qualified to objectively interpret what we KNOW to be the words of God. One need not be a Mormon to criticize fatal Mormon doctrines; one need not be a woman to criticize abortion; and one need not have spoken in tongues to interpret relevant scriptures objectively.
      Whether one interprets scriptures in light of traditions as Catholics do, in light of experience as the Pentecostal does, or in shadow of lack of experience as atheists do, one elevates subjective opinion above scriptures. That is a workman who needs to be ashamed, wrongly dividing the Word.

    • If what you are saying is true, then one with the gift of teaching and /or preaching cannot teach on tongues if they do not have that gift also…

    • This argument is weak to say the least. Does one have to be a murderer to speak against murder? Does one have to be homosexual to speak against homosexuality?

    • Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. The Greek word for “vain repetitions is battologéō a proverbial stammerer) and G3056; to stutter, to blubber nonsensical repetitions, to chatter.
      This describes the modern day pentecostal – A proverbial stammerer. Same spirit as the heathen.

    • Does a Physician have to have cancer to treat a cancer patient? Does a police officer have to be a criminal himself to understand one? Can a follower of Christ not warn a Satanist of his ways, unless they themselves were former Satanists at one point?


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