The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible: Part 2

How the tradition of unknown tongues became entrenched in the English Bibles.

A comparison of six early English Bibles, the Latin and French Bibles on the key-Bible verses that relate to tongues-speaking.

This is a technical comparison. Results and commentary can be found at The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible.

Citations of Unknown Tongues in the English Bible

Unknown Tongues, or similar, only occurs in 20 or so passages of the Bible and possibly more. These are the potential ones listed below:

Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6, I Corinthians 12:11, 12:28, 12:30, 13:1, 13:8, 14:2, 14:4, 14:5, 14:6, 14:9, 14:10, 14:11, 14:14, 14:18, 14:21, 14:23, 14:26-28.

Source Materials Used

The best way to start comparing is to use the English Hexapla. It is a Bible published with all six versions printed in parallel columns. The Hexapla is considered a historic work utilized by the Church, theologians, and clerks for centuries.

Two other sources are used for comparison. First, a Latin version is included underneath the texts as a point of reference. The Latin is supplied from the Vulgate as found at The Latin was not available in the Hexapla. I did not include the Greek text because very few leaders in this period were skilled in this language and so it has little influence. Also, by this period, and documented by the Council of Trent, the Latin Bible was the ultimate authority on Church doctrine.

This comparison includes the French Bible de Genève. The English child, the Geneva Bible owes its style and nature from the French Protestant scholars. As one looks at the comparison, it becomes evident that the Geneva Bible is the text that accelerates the English Bible tradition of adding unknown to the noun tongues in key Bible passages. This French Bible of 1551 also contains the additional adjective.

Jean Calvin, the highly influential sixteenth-century French theologian and Reformer, is also listed. His commentary and Bible translations carry significant influence on early Protestant thought. His contribution to the I Corinthians tongues sequence is essential.

These passages were consulted to look for the word unknown or something similar. The results do indicate when the tradition started and how it developed. The findings do not answer the question of why this tradition began.

The following were the results.1

The English Hexapla2 is a parallel Bible of Six English Translations. They are the following:

  • Wiclif, 1380 (Short as W)
  • Tyndale, 1534 (Short as T)
  • Cranmer, 1539 (Short as C)
  • Geneva, 1557 (Short as G)
  • Rheims, 1582 (Short as R)
  • Authorized (King James or its acronym, KJV), 1611 (Short as A)

These works outside of the Hexapla have been added:

  • Protestant French Bible, 1551 (Short as P)3
  • Latin Bible, ND (Short as L)
  • Jean Calvin, 1565 (Short as J)4

Summary and Statistics of Results

There is a pattern when observing these Bible verses. The Tyndale begins adding the adjective first in 1534 but not significantly. The Geneva Bible expands on this pattern in 1557, and the King James entrenched this phrase in 1611.

Out of the 21 usages that are quoted here:

  • The noun tongue is the predominant word to translate lingua in all the translations except for Wycliffe. Wycliffe is the oldest. Perhaps the word language was proper at the time in the 1300’s, but in later translations, tongue was a better word.
  • Tyndale, Cranmer and Authorized always use tongues to consistently translate the Latin word lingua.
  • Wycliffe and Geneva use language and tongue as synonyms. The Rheims also does this on one occasion.
  • Wycliffe translates 12 occurrences of lingua as language. This is over 57% usage. This occurs both in Corinthians and Acts.
  • The Geneva Bible translates 7 of them as language, including translating Barbarian twice as language. The word language as a translation of lingua is used only in Corinthians.
  • The first editorial insertion of an adjective before tongues occurs in I Corinthians 13:8 with the Tyndale and Cranmer versions. However, both these versions cease to do any interpolations after this.
  • The Geneva Bible adds the editorial insert of an adjective on 9 occasions. 6 times it uses strange and 3 times diuerse as the adjectives. All of them in I Corinthians.
  • The KJV version only interpolates 6 times. On four occasions it mirrors exactly where the Geneva interpolates. I Corinthians 14:14 and 14:27 are the only places where the KJV inserts the interpolation where it does not occur in the Geneva. It always uses the word unknowen which does not occur in the 1560 Geneva. The 1599 Geneva edition changed the adjective to unknown on all occasions – though I am basing this on a website which may be unreliable.

The introduction of unknown tongue(s) to the English religious vocabulary can now be established. Although there are antecedents in the Tyndale and Cranmer versions, it is clear from this study that the word unknown tongue was popularized first in the Geneva and became entrenched in the Authorized King James version. Therefore, one can conclude that the idea of an unknown tongue was first introduced to the English Bible reader beginning in 1534.

Details of the Results

If the reader is interested in the details of this study, and the tabulation of the results, they are given below:

Mark 16:17

Hexapla. Volume 1

  • W “…thei schuln speke with newe tungis”
  • T “…and shall speake with newe tonges”
  • C “…they shall speake with newe tonges”
  • G “…and shal speake with newe tongues”
  • R “ …They shal speake vvith nevv tonges”
  • A “…they shall speake with new tongues”
  • L “…linguis loquentur novis”
  • P “…ils parleront langages nouueaux”
  • J – Not found

Acts 2:4

Hexapla. Volume 2

  • W “…and thei biunnen to speke dyuers langagis as the hoi goost zaf to hem to speke”
  • T “…and beganne to speake with other tonges, even as the sprete gave them vtteraunce”
  • C “…and beganne to speake wyth other tonges, euen as the same sprete aue them vtteraunce”
  • G “…and began to speake with other tonges, even as the same Sprite gaue them vtterance”
  • R “…and they began to speake vvith diuerse tonges, according as the Holy Ghost, gaue them to speake”
  • A “…and began to speake with other tongues, as the Spirit gaue them vtterance”
  • L “…et coeperunt loqui aliis linguis prout Spiritus Sanctus dabat eloqui illis”
  • P “…& commencerent à parler langages estranges; ainsi que l’Esprit leur donnoit à parler”
  • J “…et commencerent à parler estranges langues, ainsi que l’Esprit leur donnoit à parler”

Other tongues is the correct translation. The Latin aliis as well as the Greek ἑτέραις, which usually translates into English as other, does exist here in Acts 2:4. All the historic English Bibles consistently translate this passage with the words diverse and other. It is not translated by any editions with unknown.

Acts 10:46

  • W “for thei herden hem spekynge in langagis,”
  • T “For they hearde them speake with tonges”
  • C “For they hearde them speake with tonges”
  • G “For they heard them speake with tongues”
  • R “For they heard them speaking with tongues”
  • A “For they heard them speake with tongues”
  • L “audiebant enim illos loquentes linguis”
  • P “car ils oioyent parler langages”
  • J “Car ils les oyoyent parler langages”

Acts 19:6

  • W “…and thei spaken with langagis”
  • T “…and they spake with tonges…”
  • C “…and they spake with tonges…”
  • G “…and they spake with tounges…”
  • R “…and they spake vvith tongues…”
  • A “…and they spake with tongues…”
  • L “et loquebantur linguis”
  • P “& parloyent langages”
  • J “et parloyent langages”

I Corinthians 12:28

  • W “…kyndis of langagis, interpretaciouns of wordis,”
  • T “…diversite of tonges”
  • C “…diuersite of tonges”
  • G “…diuersite of tonges”
  • R “…kindes of tonges”
  • A “…diuersities of tongues”
  • L “…genera linguarum”
  • P “…diuersitez de langues”
  • J “…diuersitez de langues”

I Corinthians 12:30

  • W “…alle speken with langagis, whether alle expownen…”
  • T “Do all speake with tonges? Do all interprete ?”
  • C “Do all speke with tonges? Do all interprete ?”
  • G “Do all, speake with tonges? Do all, interprete ?”
  • R “do al speake vvith tonges? do al interpret ?”
  • A “doe all speake with tonges? doe all interpret ?”
  • L “numquid omnes linguis loquuntur”
  • P “Tous parlét ils diuerses langues?”
  • J “tous parlent-ils diuerses Langues?

I Corinthians 13:1

  • W “IF I speke with tungis of men and aungels”
  • T “THOUGH I spake with the tonges of men and angels”
  • C “THOUGH I spake with the tonges of men and angels”
  • G “THOUGH I spake with the tonges of men and Angels”
  • R “IF I speake vvith the tonges of men and Angels”
  • A “THOUGH I speake with the tongues of men and of Angels”
  • L “si linguis hominum loquar et angelorum”
  • P “Si ie parle langages des hommes & des Anges”
  • J “Si ie parle langages des hommes & des Anges”

I Corinthians 13:8

  • W “ether langagis schulen ceese”
  • T “other tonges shall cease”
  • C “other tonges cease”
  • G “tongues shal cease”
  • R “or tonges shal cease”
  • A “whether there bee tongues, they shall cease”
  • L “sive linguae cessabunt”
  • P “que les langues cessent”
  • J “que les langues cessent”

This is the first time where any of the translations add an adjective where it does not exist in the Latin Vulgate used today. Wycliffe does not add the adjective in his early work. Why? It is not known specifically why the Tyndale Bible added it at this point. The Cranmer version follows 4 years later with the same interpolation.

I Corinthians 14:2

  • W “and he that spekith in tongis…”
  • T “For he that speaketh with tonges…”
  • C “For he that speaketh wyth the tonge…”
  • G “For he that speaketh a strange tonge…”
  • R “For he that speaketh vvith tongue…”
  • A “For he that speaketh in an unknowen tongue…”
  • L “qui enim loquitur lingua…”
  • P “Car qui parle langages estranges…”
  • J “Car celuy qui parle langage incognu…”5

The 1557 version of the Geneva Bible has strange tonge and the 1611 Authorized has unknowen tongue. Strange and unknown are exclusive to the Geneva, and King James. It was beginning to stray further from the Latin and closer to better reading English.

I Corinthians 14:4

  • W “spekith in tunge”
  • T “speaketh with tonges”
  • C “speaketh wyth the tonge”
  • G “speaketh a strange langage”
  • R “speaketh vvith tongues”
  • A “speaketh in an unknowen tongue”
  • L “qui loquitur lingua”
  • P “Qui parle langage estrange…”
  • J “Celuy qui parle langage incognu…”

Note here that the Geneva is interchanging the noun tongue with langage — combining this observation with Wyclif, who does the same thing, establishes that the two words are synonyms. There is no distinction in meaning in these passages. Once again also notice the pairing in both the Geneva and the KJV. The KJV appears to be paralleling the Geneva.

I Corinthians 14:5

  • W “alle ze speke in tungis… spekith in langages”
  • T “spake with tonges… speaketh with tonges”
  • C “spake with tonges… speaketh with tonges”
  • G “ye all spake strange langages… speaketh diuers tonges”
  • R “speake vvith tongues… speaketh vvith tongues”
  • A “spake with tongues… speaketh with tongues”
  • L “omnes vos loqui linguis… loquitur linguis”
  • P “vous parliez tous langages estranges… diuerse langages”
  • J “vous tous parliez diuers langages… diurse langages”

This time the Geneva does the interpolation, but the KJV refrains. Note how the Geneva uses both strange and diuers as synonymns.

I Corinthians 14:6

  • W “If I come to you and speke in langagis…”
  • T “if I come to you speaking with tonges…”
  • C “yf I come vnto you speakvnge wyth tonges”
  • G “yf I come vnto you speaking diuerse tonges”
  • R “if I come to you speaking vvith tongues”
  • A “if I come vnto you speaking with tongues”
  • L “si venero ad vos linguis loquens”
  • P “Si ie vien à vous parlant diuers langages”
  • J “si ie vien à vous parlant langages incognus

I Corinthians 14:9

  • W “so but ze zeue an opun word bi tung”
  • T “when ye speake with tonges”
  • C “when ye speake wyth tonges”
  • G “when ye speake strange langage”
  • R “by a tongue vnlesse you vtter manifest speach”
  • A “ye vtter by the tongue words easie to be vnderstood”
  • L “ita et vos per linguam nisi manifestum sermonem dederitis”
  • P “si vous ne donnez de vostre langue parolle signifiante”
  • J “si vous ne prononcez de vostre langue parole significante”

I Corinthians 14:10

  • W “there ben many kyndis of langagis in this world”
  • T “Many kynds of voyces are in the worlde”
  • C “Many kyndes of voyces are in the world”
  • G “There are so many kyndes of voyces”
  • R “There (for example) so many kindes of tongues in this world”
  • A “There are, it may bee, so many kindes of voyces in the world”
  • L “tam multa ut puta genera linguarum sunt in mundo”
  • P “Il y a (pour vous bailler per exemple) tat de maniere de voix au monde”
  • J “Il y a (selon qu’il audient) tant de manieres de fons au monde”

Although the translations have been fairly consistent throughout, the translation of linguarum is interesting. It tends to give some interpretation differences. Wyclif and Rheim utilize it more from the Latin, while the rest tend to learn towards the Greek, φωνή, which can be used semantically to mean language as well, but typically for voice or sound.

I Corinthians 14:11

  • W “but if I knowe not the vertu of a vois I schal be to him to whom I schal speke, a barbarik, and he that spekith to me : shal be a barbarik,”
  • T “If I know not what the voyce meaneth, I shalbe vnto him that speaketh, an alient : and he that speaketh sahlbe an alient vnto me.”
  • C “If I knowe not what the voyce meaneth, I shalve vnothim that speaketh, an alient : and he that speaketh, shalbe an alient vnto me”
  • G “Except I knowe therfore what the voyce meaneth, I shalbe vnto hym that speaketh, as of another langage, and he that speaketh shalbe as of another langage vnto me.
  • R “If then I knovv not the vertue of the voice, I shal be to him to vvhom I speake, barbarous : and he that speaketh, barbarous to me.”
  • A “Therefore if I knowe not the meaning of voyce, I shall bee vnot him that speaketh, a Barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a Barbarian to mee.”
  • L “si ergo nesciero virtutem vocis ero ei cui loquor barbarus et qui loquitur mihi barbarus.”
  • P “Si donc ie ne sçay la vertu de la voix, ie seray barbare a celuy qui parle, me sera barbare.”
  • J “Si donc ie ne scay la vertu de la voix, ie seray barbare a celuy qui parle, & celuy qui parle me sera barbare”

The Geneva sees the word Barbarian as a synonym to langage, which means that the translator saw nothing mystical in the Corinthian saga at all. No secret or hidden language. It was a human language.

I Corinthians 14:13-14

  • W “therfor he that spekith in langage : preie that he expowne, for if I preie in tonge:”
  • T “Wherefore le thim that speaketh with tonges, praye that he maye interpret also. If I praye with tonges”
  • C “Wherefore, let him that speaketh with tonge, praye, that he maye interpret also. For If I praye with tonge”
  • G “Wherefore, let him that speaketh the tonges, praye, that he may interpret also. For if I pray in a strange tongue,”
  • R “And therefore he that speaketh vvith the tongue, let him pray that he may interpret. For if I pray vvith the tongue”
  • A “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknowen tongue, pray that he may interprete. For if I pray in an unknowen tongue”
  • L “et ideo qui loquitur lingua oret ut interpretetur nam si orem lingua.”
  • P “celuy qui parle langage estrange, qu’il prie à fin qu’il interprete. Car si ie prie en langage estrange”
  • J “Parquoy, il faut que celuy qui parle langage incognu, prie de pouuoir interpreter. Car si ie prie en langage incognu

I Corinthians 14:18-19

  • W “for I speke in the langage of alle zou… in tonge,”
  • T “I speake with tonges moare then ye all… with the tonge.”
  • C “I speake with tonges more then ye all… wyth the tonge,”
  • G “I speake langages more than ye all… in strange langage.”
  • R “I speake vvith the tongue of you al… vvordes in a tongue.”
  • A “I speake with tongues more then you all… unknowen tongue.”
  • L “quod omnium vestrum lingua loquor… in lingua.”
  • P “que ie parle de langage plus que vous tous… lágage estrange.”
  • J “que ie parle plus de lágages que vous tous… langage incognu.

I Corinthians 14:21-22

  • W “that in other tungis and other lippis…therefor langagis…”
  • T “with other tonges, and with other lyppes…Wherefore, tonges…”
  • C “with sondrye tonges and with sondrye lippes… Wherfore tonges…”
  • G “By sundry tonges, and sundry lyppes…Wherfore, tonges…”
  • R “That in other tongues and other lippes… Therefore languages…”
  • A “With men of other tongues, and other lippes… Wherfore tongues…”
  • L “in aliis linguis et labiis aliis… itaque linguae.”
  • P “en autres lágages, & en diuerses parolles… Parquoy, les diuers lágages”
  • J “par autres langages, & par leures estranges… Parquoy les langues estranges

I Corinthians 14:23

  • W “and alle men speken in tungis”
  • T “and all speake with tonges”
  • C “and all speake with tonges”
  • G “and all speak in strange tonges”
  • R “and al speake with tongues”
  • A “and all speake with tongues”
  • L “et omnes linguis loquantur”
  • P “& tous parlent langages…”
  • J “& tous parlent langages estranges

I Corinthians 14:26-27

  • W “he hath tunge… whether a man spekith in tunge..”
  • T “his tonge… If eny man speake with tonges…”
  • C “hath a tonge… If eny man speake wyth tonge…”
  • G “or tonge… If any man speake the tonges…”
  • R “hath a tonge… Vvether a man speake with tongue…”
  • A “hath a tongue… If any man speake in an unknowen tongue…”
  • L “habet linguam… sive lingua quis loquitur.”
  • P “ou langue… Soit que quelcun parle langage…”
  • J “ou langage… Soit que quelqu’un parle langage incognu
  1. excepting I Corinthians 12:11; I cannot remember why I excluded this
  2. The English Hexapla. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons. 1841 2 Volumes
  3. La Bible. Geneva. 1551
  4. The Corinthian quotes are from: Commentaires De M. Iehan Calvin sur toutes les Epistres de l’Apostre Sainct Paul The Acts references are from Commentaires de Jehan Calvin sur le Nouveau Testament Paris: Libraire de Ch. Meyrueis et Compagnie. 1854
  5. the typography in the original book has incognu listed in italics

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