Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Zephaniah

The christian doctrine of tongues attributed to Cyril of Alexandria from the commentary on the Book of Zephaniah.

The following is an English translation by Charles Sullivan from Cyril’s Commentary on Zephaniah the Prophet. This translation only covers Zephaniah 3:8-11 where one can find a substantive definition of Pentecost. Not only does it describe what it is, but whether the miracle persisted, or was a one time experience. Analysis and commentary will follow in a later article. In order to assist the reader in building context to this particular translation, Zephaniah 3:8-11 has been provided at the bottom of the document.

S. Cyrilli Alexandrini Archiep. Commentarius in Sophoniam Prophetam.


39. It says that concerning Babylonia which had been conquered and concerning those being displaced in the ruin of arrogance, the nations will learn the vengeful force of God against it (Babylon). The ones who at some time laugh at the falling down and destroyed Israel and when the opposite happens they were to see the house being this brilliant and these ones going down again to the holy city, the opposition, who had utterly destroyed at one time those ones plundered, were then about to change the language1 and the rest in high praises to God. Indeed in the old days those shaking the heads and thinking and also saying that the Jewish people were conquered, certainly to prevail that it is of God perhaps somehow assisting with them according to the leader of the Babylonians. Therefore when they were about to notice the cycle of events turning into the opposite, then they will change tongues2 according to their generations, whether by tribe and race and into praises upon God. They could have chosen, I surmise, also to serve under one yoke and to bring offerings, and if they should be somewhere afar in the sphere of lands including those who dwell in the lands of the Ethiopians. And this indeed, let it be spoken in regards to the account up to this time.3.

Moreover we say it is the speech which extends to the times of the arrival [of Christ],4 and a visible sign put in place of changing tongues.5 For it is written in the Acts of the holy Apostles, that during days of the holy Pentecost all those which are part of the group were in the same place.6 “And behold a sound came from heaven as of the blowing of a mighty wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And behold languages distributed as fire and they rested on each one of them and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and the they began to speak in different languages, even as the Spirit was giving them to utter.”

Indeed, relating to that state of time, it says, I will change the language upon the peoples “For all were hearing them speaking in their own language, Parthian and also Median, and Elamite,”7 and the other ones of the nations. Except carefully weigh the observation. For it says to change the tongue in this generation, that is to say, therefore this language-thing remains in these ones, who were have to spoken at that one occasion until the end of their life, truly of a generation. For it was made a sign as far as those people, and the sacred Scripture was making tongues out to be inactive after that.8 Therefore he says this, “I will change the tongue in it’s generation.”9 For the use did not yet continue with those after these ones.10 In regards to the nature of the cause, let the wise Paul teach us. For he says, as such, “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers”11 For it had been written that, “in strange tongues and in foreign lips I will speak to this people, and even so not any of them believes.”12 Therefore they then use it according to a certain way, that it is to be changing the language in it’s generation, it shows us once more, saying, “that all are about to call upon the name of the Lord, in order to serve Him under one yoke, from the boundaries of the rivers of Ethiopia they will bring offerings to me,”13

For since that they beheld the apostles speaking in other languages, these incredible things being done are not in the realm of ordinary wonders, they believed in Christ, many and also countless of those at that time called on the name of the nature and also true existing God. They bowed the neck down to the Gospel precepts. They served14 in Christ. And they offer sacrifices from the boundaries of the rivers of Ethiopia. The race of the Ethiopians stretches out from the eat to the west, indeed they drink the Geon. “For it is the one that wanders around the whole land of Ethiopia.” (Gen. 2:13) Then the word of prophecy ends in truth. For the Gospel has not only been preached through land of the Romans, but as well wanders through through the uncivilized nations. And in the same manner Churches everywhere, shepherds and teachers, guides and priests and the sacred altars, the lamb is being offered as a sacrifice following understanding15 by the holy priests in the presence of the peoples of India and Ethiopia. And naturally this was the case which was clearly spoken by the voice of another prophet, “Because I am the great king, says the Lord : and that my name is made glorious among the nations : and in every place incense and a pure offering are being brought in my name.” (Pieces of Malachi 1:11) ■


The above translation is based on Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 71. Col. 1005ff. The Greek copy can be located at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: the Original Texts.

This commentary portion is based on Zephaniah 3:8-11 which reads:

8. Therefore wait upon me, saith the Lord, until the day when I rise up for a witness: because my judgment [shall be] on the gatherings of the nations, to draw to me kings, to pour out upon them all [my] fierce anger: for the whole earth shall be consumed with the fire of my jealousy. 9 For then will I turn to the peoples a tongue for her generation, that all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve him under one yoke. 10 From the boundaries of the rivers of Ethiopia will I receive my dispersed ones; they shall offer sacrifices to me. 11 In that day thou shalt not be ashamed of all thy practices, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then will I take away from thee thy disdainful pride, and thou shalt no more magnify thyself upon my holy mountain.16

This translation is part of a multi-article series on the texts attributed to the fifth century Egyptian based Church Father, Cyril of Alexandria. However, history, and the manuscript evidence supports that the texts attributed to him are not solely his. For more information on this, see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues.

A full synopsis of Cyril of Alexandria on tongues including commentaries, translations, and notes can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project menu. Scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.

  1. τὴν γλῶτταν
  2. τὰς γλώσσας
  3. Καὶ ταυτὶ μὲν οὔν εἰς τὸ γράμμα πάλιν είρησθω τέως.
  4. Ἐκβεβηκέναι γε μήν φαμεν τὸν λόγον εἰς τοὺς τὴς ἐπιδημίας καιροὺς
  5. τῶν γλωσσῶν μεταβολῆς
  6. “same place”ἐπιτοαυτό and the Latin equivalent is “in eodem loco”.
  7. Cyril is concentating Acts 2:6-9 here. It is not unusual for a Patristic writer to do this. He is assuming the reader understands this literary effect.
  8. ἐφιζησαι This verb cannot be found in any dictionary so far. I have borrowed from the Latin which translates it as “insedisse.” The Latin translator expands significantly adding an important portion not in the Greek. In iis enim duntaxat, non etiam in posteris eorum factum est signum ; quibus et insedisse linguas sacra Scriptura testatur. “In those then, to the extent that it was not made a sign in their descendants, to which also the sacred Scripture testifies the tongues to be inactive.”
  9. Zephaniah 3:9: Cyril’s Bible text has,Μεταβαλῶ γλῶσσαν εἰς γενεὰν αὐτῆς, as opposed to our Septuagint, μεταστρέψω ἐπὶ λαοὺς γλῶσσαν εἰς γενεὰν αὐτῆς.
  10. The Latin reads, “It did not continue with them after these ones lived.”
  11. I Corinthians 14:22 (NASB)
  12. I Corinthians 14:21: the Cyril text has, “Ἐν ἑτερογλώσσαις καὶ ἐν χείλεσιν ἑτέροις λαλήσω τῷ λαῷ τούτῷ, καὶ οὐδ’ ὅυτως πιστεύσουσιν” and the standard Greek NT has, ἐν τῷ νόμῳ γέγραπται ὅτι Ἐν ἑτερογλώσσοις καὶ ἐν χείλεσιν ἑτέρων λαλήσω τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ, καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως εἰσακούσονταί μου
  13. The Cyril texts omits a few words in this verse on purpose. He is strengthening his argument and avoiding sup-topics.
  14. δεδουλεὺκασι I have not found a specific definition, though the root suggests a “slave.” I used the Latin equivalent “servierunt” as the basis.
  15. νοητῶς
  16. As found at Elpenor’s website Zephaniah 3:8-11 English Translation by L.C.L Benton.

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