The Pentecostal Rewrite of the History of Speaking in Tongues

Two Pentecostal Missionaries listening to Philip Schaff Cartoon

How Pentecostals built their historical framework for their doctrine of tongues from Higher Criticism literature–a necessary but unlikely relationship.

This merging of two opposed systems, one dependent on the supernatural, and the other focused on the rational and logical with no reference to any divine entity, makes for one of the most major shifts in the history of the christian doctrine of tongues.

As shown throughout the Gift of Tongues Project, tongues as an ecstatic utterance was a new addition to the doctrine of tongues in the 19th century. There is no historical antecedent for ecstatic utterance, glossolalia and their variances before this era. Nor is there a connection with the majority of ecclesiastical writings over 1800 years which had a different trajectory.

Pentecostals initially understood their speaking in tongues in the traditional sense: a divine endowment of speaking in a foreign language previously unknown by the speaker. This understanding was the initial impetus of the Azusa Street Revival. Missionary tongues is the the best descriptor of the Azusa participants experience because they initially believed it was the divine equipping to share the Gospel throughout the world.

Unfortunately, when the inspired missionaries arrived at their destinations, they discovered they did not have this ability. On the home front, public media was mocking their practice; saying it was nothing related to language but gibberish. These two influences forced early Pentecostals with a serious theological dilemma.

The solution was shifting the definition away from language to the word utterance. Utterance has a wider semantic range: whether a special language between the person and God, a private prayer language, an angelic one, a language of adoration and praise, or the Pentecostal idea of glossolalia.

The only way to allow for utterance as a serious and credible theological creed was to rewrite the history of tongues. Pentecostals adapted the Higher Criticism approach to make this work.

The Protestant German based system of Higher Criticism dominates contemporary history books, dictionaries, and commentaries on speaking in tongues. This matter leaves most to believe there is no alternative interpretation or history behind the christian doctrine of tongues. Pentecostals saw the connection between their experience and the Higher Criticism definition and modified both to suit their needs.

Such an assertion cannot remain unqualified. The rest of this document substantiates this thesis through copious quotation of early Pentecostal authors and their relationship with Higher Criticism literature.

Table of Contents

Challenges of building a Pentecostal framework for tongues

The focus here is on the alternative historical framework the original Pentecostal pioneers created to legitimize their practices and how they accomplished this. The tongues crisis or the solutions to the crisis that early Pentecostal communities were facing after their heavy emphasis on this rite were addressed in previous articles.

The early Pentecostal search for building a historical framework was a difficult one as they had not developed any analytical form of theology. The highly respected Pentecostal scholar, Gary B. McGee, described the early pioneers as high on personal experience and low on academic study or reflection.1 If they did reflect, they could not draw from their own distinct intellectual thoughts because that did not exist. The movement, having no history before the late 1800s, borrowed from scholars of other Protestant traditions, assuming that “Pentecostal teachings could be easily integrated with some of these formulations without undermining the credibility of Pentecostal beliefs.”2

Early Pentecostals lacked in-depth theological training, Biblical or ecclesiastical language skills. They were missing a comprehensive view of church history, and had a dislike for anything that represented an institutional Christian position.

The conservative religious nature of the Pentecostal movement, largely due to the influence by its Holiness parent, also added to the complexity of the problem. They were totally opposed to any form of Biblical interpretation that represented the German school of Higher Criticism. This strong position was featured in a 1919 edition of the Pentecostal Evangel — the voice of the Assemblies of God. They wrote;

These Assemblies are opposed to all radical Higher Criticism of the Bible and against all modernism or infidelity in the church, against people unsaved and full of sin and worldliness belonging to the church. They believe in all the real Bible truths held by all real Evangelical churches.”3

This established the Pentecostal community identity with the fundamentalists on biblical authority. However, the polemic was limited to certain areas and not related to speaking in tongues because of the parallels of their experience with glossolalia.

The sources for building a Pentecostal framework for tongues

As demonstrated in Pentecostals, Tongues, and Higher Criticism they especially had a great love for the German turned American historian and theologian, Philip Schaff; the Anglican writer, theologian and Dean of Canterbury, Frederick Farrar; the Anglican theologians Conybeare and Howson, and a very short list of other authors and publications. The early Pentecostals felt safe that Schaff’s American identity and the Anglican writers were reliable sources, free from modern bias.

Glossolalia is also a new addition to the christian doctrine of tongues that started in the 1800s. It accelerated in influence and dominated all the major dictionaries and commentaries on the subject by the late 1800s. This concept is so prevalent that the traditional doctrines that existed before 1800 are erased from the historical record.

For more information see the The history of Glossolalia series published on this website.

The concept of glossolalia fits into the contemporay Pentecostal narrative whereas the traditional tongues doctrine does not.

Pentecostal historians on tongues throughout history

Many readers are skeptical about such an assertion but the relationship is a strong one. The following are publications by Pentecostal authors who wrote for early Pentecostal journals, magazines, and newspapers. The dataset is focused on their citation of tongues history and dependance on Higher Criticism texts for their conclusions. The Pentecostal writers did not grapple with, nor recognize the historical church practice that was the standard interpretation before the doctrine of tongues as glossolalia took hold.

One could argue they ignored the traditional practice but it is more likely they did not know any different. Since the major publications of their day omitted major portions of church history to promote the doctrine of glossolalia, the traditional church position was forgotten. Pentecostals lacked the necessary training in ecclesiastical literature to know or even have an awareness of the traditional position.

None of the following authors examined or quoted below would admit such an association with Higher Criticism, but the data is clearly evident.

V.P. Simmons

V. P. Simmons was the first one to attempt to reconcile the Pentecostal experience of the 1900s with the German glossolalia timeline.

Simmons was a regular contributor to a Pentecostal periodical called, The Bridegroom’s Messenger which was started by G. B. Cashwell. Many Pentecostal denominations today such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland) can trace their history to G. B. Cashwell in some form.

It only took the third publication of the Bridegroom’s Messenger to attempt this connection. An article titled, “A History of Tongues” by V. P. Simmons (Frostproof, Fla.) was the first and foremost work on the subject. Simmons was a temperance worker, emphatic about the second coming of Christ, and had been involved with tongues speaking movements since the late 1850s. He was highly respected by the Bridegroom’s Messenger.

See V. P. Simmons on the Church History of Tongues for the original article.

This same work was repeated two more times in the Bridegroom’s Messenger throughout the years.4 The article was converted into tract form by the same newspaper and advertised for sale in the March 1, 1908 edition.

The article had a direct influence for over two decades. The last reprint found was in a denominational newspaper called the White Wing Messenger (March, 1928) – which represented the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).5 The Church of God is one the oldest and largest Pentecostal denominations in the world.

This is his timeline for speaking in tongues.

  1. He starts with Irenaeus in the second century
  2. The Montanists6
  3. Tertullian
  4. Cyprian
  5. The Camisards7
  6. The Quakers and early Methodists
  7. The Lasure movement in Sweden
  8. The Irish revival in 1859
  9. Edward Irving8
  10. The Second Adventists/Gift Adventists
  11. Charles G. Finney

The structure from 1 to 8, with the exception of Cyprian, is similar to what is found in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church9 and the Religious Encyclopedia10 which was edited by Schaff. Simmons does not break Schaff’s structure. Instead, he adds the Irvingites, which happened before the Quaker’s and Methodists, after Schaff’s list ends.

Simmons was hesitant about including Quakers and Methodists to the history of tongues because there was no primary information that connected them. However, since Schaff included them in his analysis, he left it in the list. The addition of the Second Adventists is his own contribution because he personally knew the leaders.11

The reference to the Camisards by consulting the Library of Universal Knowledge was to show that he wasn’t completely dependent on one author.12

He desperately wanted to connect Pentecostalism with Montanism; “Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive Church, against the obvious tendency of the Church today to strike a bargain with the world, and arrange herself comfortably in it.” However, he failed to cite it properly and attributed it to Schaff even though it was written by W. Möller in editor Schaff’s A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology entry on Montanism.

Secondly, he asserted that the early church leader Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian endorsed and defended the Montanists speaking in tongues. This is historically incorrect. There is no literature from any of these writers substantiating such a fact. The only connection can be made is that Tertullian supported the Montanist overall cause, but did not specifically mention Montanist tongues in any detail.

Neither did Simmons realize that the keyword for tongues, γλῶσσα glossa, does not exist in the critical text related to Montanism. This, along with a number of other problems, makes the case for speaking in tongues by the Montanists a weak one, if at all.

For more information on the Montanists and their alleged speaking in tongues see; A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism

Simmons would have been better off to side with the Donatists. This was a group described by Augustine. They would have been a better faith movement to identify with because they were proponents of tongues-speaking and were opponents of the institutional Catholic church.

After Cyprian, he recognized that almost 1600 years of history had been omitted. He believed this was because most academics concealed the practice. “ They evidently consider tongue talking a fanaticism, a weakness, to be kept out of sight.”13 He felt that Schaff, along with a person named Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of encyclopedia of universal knowledge, as two historians that did not suppress the subject.14

Simmons did not provide an alternative 1600 year history of tongues that would inevitably draw from Catholic sources or review pertinent Christian literature in the original texts. — a significantly large corpus hardly translated into English. He felt content the concealment by the establishment for over this period as a sufficient conclusion. This interpretation fit nicely in with the Pentecostal narrative.

A 1931 edition of the Bridesgroom’s Messenger updated Simmon’s timetable and added a few additions from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Francis Xavier was referenced where it was written: it “is said to have made himself understood by the Hindus without knowing their language.”15 This is a slight improvement over Simmon’s original. However, the Bridesgroom’s Messenger failed to comprehensively examine Xavier. The Sainthood process for Xavier was partly decided on the basis of speaking in tongues. However, the reality was otherwise. Xavier had linguistic difficulties. The successful political pedalling for his Sainthood, which had serious economic benefits for many parties involved, had been a source of embarrassment for the Catholic Church. It led to Pope Benedict the XIV issuing a treatise on the subject that set forth clear investigative rules for determining whether a person divinely spoke in tongues or not.

For more information on the legend of Francis Xavier see: Francis Xavier Speaking in Tongues

William Manley and the Household of God

In 1909, William Manley, another participant directly blessed at the Azusa Street church, and well known as an evangelist, published a detailed article in his Household of God periodical titled “Tongues: Their Nature and Use According to the Commentators”. The article compiled a list of books and commentaries to prove that speaking in tongues was a language of praise and thanksgiving; purposely shifting the emphasis away from foreign languages. We know Manley was the editor and possibly the author. An archive of the Household of God has not been located. However, a reprint can be found in the Bridesgroom’s Messenger in the January 15th, 1909 edition.16

The work cited a number of critical commentaries: (Clicking on the names will take you directly to their books and pertinent pages cited on tongues):

Adam Clarke; Matthew Henry; Henry Alford; Philip Smith; Gotthard Lechler; Cunningham Geikie; Frédéric Godet; Jameson, Faucette and Brown; John Fulton (actually James Vernon Bartlett); and especially Philip Schaff. Schaff was the last on the list and given by far the longest quotation. 17 The article demonstrates how quickly the definition had evolved since 1906.

A closer look at the commentators selected gives some detailed clues on how editor Manley and Pentecostals in general were inclined to reach a conclusion of speaking in tongues being a language of prayer and adoration.

  • Adam Clarke, was one of the leading theologians in the Methodist movement. He promoted the idea of it being a tongue for the expansion of the Gospel.

  • Matthew Henry was a Presbyterian minister in the early 1700s whose written works greatly impacted later protestant leaders. Manley quoted from him to assert that speaking in tongues is a manifestation of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

  • Henry Alford “The great work of his life, however, was his Greek Testament (4 vole., London, 1849-61; thoroughly revised in subsequent editions), which introduced German New Testament scholarship to English readers. . .”18 He was a disciple of August Neander — the foremost writer and promoter of tongues as glossolalia.

  • Philip Smith admittedly followed Schaff’s guidance along with another influence, canon Robertson. He admits he shares their defects.19

  • Gotthard Lechler studied in Germany and was a disciple of August Neander.20

  • Cunningham Geikie was a prolific presbyterian theologian and writer with strong ties both in Canada and England. He doesn’t appear to fit in any equation. His books contain a high number of references to German sources and in one of his publications thanks a certain Professor G. Ebers of Leipsic, Germany for his contributions.21 Charles Spurgeon and Franz Delitzsch highly recommended his works.22 His quotation by Manley gives the sense that there is a comprehensive community of theologians from different Christian movements that are all in agreement with speaking in tongues.

  • Frédéric Godet, a Swiss-Protestant theologian, studied in Germany and was especially influenced by Neander.23

  • David Brown, the author of the commentary on the Book of Acts for Jameson, Faucett, and Brown’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible was one of the few who had no connection with Germany, but was an assistant to Edward Irving.24 Mr. Irving and his movement was the precedent-setting event in protestant history that awoke the tongues debate out of a slumber and into a hotly debated subject.25

  • John Fulton was the editor of Ten Epochs of Church History that the Household of God lifted the citation from. Many authors contributed to the Ten Epochs. The quote in this case was from James Vernon Bartlett. There is little biographical information on either one.

  • Philip Schaff was left for the end of the article and was given slightly more space than the rest of the quotations. One of the more important Schaff quotations emphasized praise, adoration and a personal religious language.

    “It was an act of self devotion, an act of thanksgiving, praying, singing within the Christian congregation by individuals who were wholly absorbed in communion with God, and gave utterance to their rapturous feelings in broken, abrupt, rhapsodic, unintelligible words. It was emotional rather than intellectual. * * * * the language of the spirit or of ecstasy as distinct from language of the understanding.”26

  • More about Schaff is explained in Pentecostal Tongues and Higher Criticism.

A. B. Cox

A. B. Cox wrote for the Bridal Call: Western Edition in 1919 on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit where he devoted some thought to the history of speaking in tongues. The magazine was started by popular Pentecostal media icon Aimee Semple Mcpherson. She is noted as one of the major influences in the rise of Pentecostalism. Not much can be obtained about Mr. Cox except for his contribution to the Bridal Call.

A look at his historical timeframe on tongues is similar to that of Simmons. He went into a few more details but there are some flaws.

  • Cox asserted that Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, most of the church fathers believed the disciples of Pentecost were miraculously and permanently endowed with the power of foreign languages. This statement, with maybe the exception of Augustine, cannot be substantiated from these early church writers themselves.

  • Substantiation is elusive for the following quotation; “Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “We still do what the apostles did when they laid hands on the Samaritans and called down the Holy Ghost on them, in the laying of hands. It is expected that converts should speak with new tongues.”

    This citation has become part of the Pentecostal myth. It is found in the Church of God Evangel in 1933,27 and was also repeated by the well known Pentecostal theologian and radio speaker, Carl Brumback in his 1947 work, What Meaneth this? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question.28

  • Cox cites Gregory of Nazianzus to make a connection with the tongues of Babel, but makes no mention of Gregory’s miracle of tongues paradox—a central aspect of Gregory’s coverage on tongues. It makes the researcher ask if Mr. Cox actually looked at the text itself or simply lifted his quote from a third party source.

  • He goes on to claim further sources Oshausen, Baumgarten, Thiersch, Lechler, Hackett, Glaag, Plumptre, Schaff, Schmiedl and Zeller. Most of these are German higher criticism authors with an exception of Edward Hayes Plumptre. Plumptre was entirely familiar with the German position on tongues. His analysis was hesitant, but still followed their framework.29 A further look at sources by Cox demonstrates that this was an edited copy from Schaff’s History of the Christian Church30

Paul H. Walker

Mr. Walker was an important leader in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) denomination between the 1920s and 1960s. His article, “The Baptism with the Holy Ghost and the Evidence” written 1933, goes into historical detail to assert his position. It is one of the more lengthy works that follows the typical Pentecostal historical framework. There are a few problems:

  • He cited Frederick Farrar’s book, Darkness to Dawn as a primary source, though it is only a work of fiction.

  • He too cites the same spurious reference to Augustine about converts being expected to speaking in tongues.

It must be noted that he too references Schaff’s History of the Christian Church in his reference to speaking in tongues through the ages.31

Conclusion

The reader can clearly see a pattern developing here where the Pentecostal framework for speaking in tongues was based on Higher Criticism.

It is noteworthy to see three who were left off the list that would have appealed to the Pentecostal Protestant sense. The great seventeenth-century churchman and Hebraist John Lightfoot, whose commentary on I Corinthians, especially his coverage on tongues, first written in Latin somewhere in the late 1600’s and later published in English in 1859, was a masterpiece. John Gill, whose commentary follows that of Lightfoot, or Jean Calvin’s Commentary on Corinthians. None of these would easily agree with the above observations.

This article is an expansion of Pentecostal Tongues and Higher Criticism. The previous article focused on the affinity Pentecostals had with certain Higher Criticists while this article concentrates on how Pentecostals rewrote the history of speaking in tongues using Higher Criticism literature.

Footnotes

  1. Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Gary B. McGee ed. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock. 1991. Pg. XVI
  2. Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Edited by Gary B. McGee. Oregon: Wipf and Stock. 1991. Pg. XVI
  3. Pentecostal Evangel. December 27, 1919. Volume 320 and 321. Pg. 5
  4. Republished in February 1, 1908. A version very similar to his but the initials of someone else; Feb. 1, 1911. Vol. 4. No. 79. He also published “Historians Dodging Tongues” June 1. 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39
  5. March 31, 1928. Vol. V. No. 7 Pg. 3 and continued in April, 14, 1928, Vol. V. No. 8
  6. Library of Universal Knowledge. Vol. 10, Pg. 160-161; A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology Vol. 3  Pg. 1561-1562
  7. The Library of Universal Knowledge, Vol. III, Page. 352
  8. Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, page 1119
  9. Volume 1. Pg. 237
  10. W. Möller, “Montanism,” Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 3. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.1561-1562.
  11. Also known as the Millerites; the beginnings of the Adventist movement and its sect, Seventh-Day Adventists.
  12. The actual copy from the Library of Universal Knowledge: A Reprint of the Last (1880) Edinburgh and London Edition of Chambers’s Encyclopaedia. Vol. III. New York: American Book Exchange. 1880. Pg. 352 “There was a singular psychologic or spiritual phase in the history of the C. that must be noticed. It was a sort of inspiration or ecstasy. The subject who had endured long fasting, became pale, and fell insensible to the ground. Then came violent agitations of the limbs and head; and finally the patient, who might be a little child, a woman, or half-witted person, began to speak in good French of the Huguenot Bible, warning the people to repentance, prophesying the immediate coming of the Lord in judgment, and claiming that these exhortations came directly from the Holy Ghost.”
  13. V. P. Simmons. “Historians Dodging Tongues.” Bridegroom’s Messenger. June 1, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39
  14. V. P. Simmons. “Historians Dodging Tongues.” Bridegroom’s Messenger. June 1, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39
  15. Bridegroom’s Messenger. March 1931. Vol. 24. No. 279
  16. Bridegroom’s Messenger. Jan. 15, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 30
  17. Bridegroom’s Messenger. Jan. 15, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 30. This was a reprint from another religious periodical called the Household of God.
  18. http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc01/htm/iii.iii.vii.htm
  19. British and Foreign Evangelical Review. London: James Nisbet & Co. 1878. Pg. 569
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotthard_Victor_Lechler
  21. Cunningham Geikie. Hours with the Bible: In Light of Modern Discovery and Knowledge. Vol. 1. New York: John B. Alden. 1886. Pg. V
  22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cunningham_Geikie
  23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Louis_Godet
  24. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/brown_d
  25. See The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues for more info.
  26. The Household of God says it is citing Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. Vol. 1. Page 230ff
  27. See Paul H. Walker below
  28. Carl Brumback. What Meaneth this? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question. Missouri: Gospel Publishing House. 1947. Pg. 91
  29. Edward Hayes Plumptre “Tongues, Gift of” as found in A Dictionary of the Bible. William Smith, ed. London: John Murray. 1863. Pg. 1555ff
  30. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.IV_1.24.html
  31. The Church of God Evangel. Nov. 18, 1933. Vol. 24. No. 37. Pg. 6

Leave a Comment