Irenaeus on the Gift of Tongues

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

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.

The English translations of the source texts with a little explanation of Irenaeus is provided below to substantiate this claim.

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


  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

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