A History of Glossolalia: Objections

19th century objections to the new definition of speaking in tongues as glossolalia rather than the traditional definition of miraculously speaking in a foreign language.

As shown in the previous article, A History of Glossolalia: the Origins, the new definition of tongues as an ecstatic utterance was not universally accepted and initially ran into strong opposition. Glossolalia was recognized as a departure from the traditional interpretation.

Examples of opposition to the new definition

Two examples demonstrate adherence to the traditional definition in the German community and ignoring the idea of glossolalia.

  • A German lexicographer named Hermann Cremer simply ignored the movement in his Biblico-Theological Lexicon and continued on with the old definition in 1883 and insisted that γλῶσσα always be understood as language.1
  • Joseph von Görre, a German historian who wrote a book in the 1840’s on magic and miracle throughout the centuries, mixed the concept of ecstasy and miraculous foreign languages. He described these two features in the experience of St. Jeanne of the Cross who lived in the early 1700’s. She “had this gift when she was in ecstasy; and she could communicate in various languages, according to the needs of its listeners… She had an ecstasy, and spoke Arabic with them, so that they ended up asking for the baptism.”2

There are echoes from scholars in England that the new definition had deserted the traditional one.

  • Rev. Edward Hayes Plumptre was a highly esteemed scholar, hymnist and Professor of Divinity at the King’s College in London. His greatest connections with history was his opposition to Charles Darwin and that he was ordained by Bishop Wilberforce – the son of the revered William Wilberforce. Plumptre wrote a compelling overview in the 1863 edition of Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible on speaking in tongues. He compared the ancient versus the contemporary definition and found the new one wanting. His coverage may be one of the most comprehensive historical writings on this religious topic up until this point. He concluded that the “theories of Bleek, Herder, and Bunsen,” cannot be reconciled, “without a wilful distortion of the evidence.”3 In his defence he documented different views over history along with the traditionally accepted one.4
  • In 1871, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary: Critical and Explanatory on the whole Bible, rejected this new thesis, “Tongue must therefore mean languages, not ecstatic, unintelligable rhapsodies…”5
  • Christopher Wordsworth, a leading Anglican scholar in the 1850s, challenged such new thinking and re-affirmed the traditional position. A stance that had the backing of the Anglican Church:

    One of the most convincing proofs of the truth of the Ancient Interpretation of this text, as thus declared by the CHURCH OF ENGLAND, is to be found in the almost countless discrepancies of the Expositors who have deserted that Interpretation.

    There is a large and consistent body of Interpreters, dating from the second century, and continued for many hundred years in all parts of Christendom, in favour of the Ancient Exposition; whereas, on the contrary, the Expositions at variance with it, which have been propounded in modern times, have no ancient authority in their favour; and are as inconsistent with one another as they are irreconcilable with the teaching of Christian Antiquity.”6

  • The 1878 Churchman Magazine reflected such intensity on this matter. A number of letters to the editor argue against a minister of the Irvingite Church, John Davenport, who previously wrote that Pentecost was not foreign languages or for the purpose of universal propagation. A writer replied that this was the weakest and most untenable position to make on this subject.7

Glossolalia overtakes the traditional interpretation.

Although the sampling is small, these writers demonstrate that there was a traditional definition that was in the process of being abandoned and being replaced by a new one. These objections were relatively minor compared to the momentum the doctrine of glossolalia had already accrued. The spirit of the times was decidedly shifting to the new definition.

This will be outlined further in the next segment, A History of Glossolalia: Did it exist before 1879?

For further reading:


  1. Hermann Cremer, D.D. Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek. Trans. by William Urwick, M.A. Edinburgh: T&T Clarke. 1883. Pg. 164
  2. My English translation from the French Translation of the German work. Joseph von Görres, La Mystique Divine Naturelle et Diabolique. Trans. By Charles Sainte-Foi. Paris: Librairie de Mme Ve Poussielgue-Rusand. 1861. 2nd ed. Pg. 453
  3. “Tongues, Gift of” by E.H. Plumptre. Dictionary of the Bible. William Smith, LL.D. ed. London: John Murray. 1863. Pg. 1556
  4. IBID. Plumptre. Pg. 1557ff
  5. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. Commentary: Critical and Explanatory on the whole Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. Orig. publishing date 1871. Pg. 289
  6. Wordsworth, Chr. The Greek New Testament. Vol. 2. London:Rivertons. 1930. Pg. 44: Or go to Google Books. for the original publication.
  7. The Churchman. Vol. 38. Pg. 14

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