Charles Parham on Speaking in Tongues

Charles F. Parham

Discovering what speaking-in-tongues meant to Charles F. Parham.

Charles Fox Parham was a self-appointed itinerant/evangelist in the early 1900s who had an enormous early contribution to the modern tongues movement. It was his teaching and missional emphasis that encouraged a number of his followers, especially Lucy Farrow, and later William Seymour to go to California and be major patrons in the Azusa Street Revival — a movement that is considered the public symbol for the pentecostal message being spread throughout the world.

Parham is both a controversial and complex figure that goes far beyond his codifying speaking-in-tongues within the holiness movement. This article focuses on what Parham believed the miracle of tongues to be; was it a foreign language, a heavenly one, ecstatic, or a combination?

It is not the goal of this writing to discern whether his perception was true or not, rather, it is simply to ascertain what he believed.

Neither does this investigation want to revisit the historical contribution of Parham’s Apostolic Faith Movement. This has already been well documented.

It is not hard to find his position both experientially and theologically on the subject – he believed it to be the miraculous endowment of speaking in a foreign language unknown beforehand by the speaker for evangelistic/missionary purposes.

The idea of it being foreign languages was clearly made by his wife, Sarah Parham, in her published biography, The Life of Charles F. Parham: the Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement.1 Of course, it is entirely valid to recognize any biography produced by a relative will have an implicit bias, which this book contains but on the case of defining his concept about speaking-in-tongues, it can be held as source material.

It is hard to discuss speaking-in-tongues without first addressing the emerging doctrine called the Baptism of the Spirit in relation to Parham. However, this is outside the scope of this article or the Gift of Tongues Project but some acknowledgment must be given. Reference to this new doctrine is made from Sarah Parham’s book where she wrote:

On Mr. Parham’s return to the school with his friends, he asked the students whether they had found any Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The answer was, unanimous, “speaking in other tongues.”

Services were held daily and each night. There was a hallowed hush over the entire building. All felt the influence of a mighty presence in our midst. Without any special direction, all moved in harmony. I remember Mrs. Parham saying, “Such a spirit of unity prevails that even the children are at peace, while the very air filled with expectancy. Truly He is with us, and has something more wonderful for us than we have known before.”

The service on New Year’s night was especially spiritual and each heart was filled with the hunger for the will of God to be done in them. One of the students, a lady who had been in several other Bible Schools, asked Mr. Parham, to lay hands upon her that she might receive the Holy Spirit. As he prayed, her face lighted up with the glory of God and she began to speak with “other tongues”. She afterward told us she had received a few words while in the Prayer Tower, but now her English was taken from her and with floods of joy and laughter she praised God in other languages.

There was very little sleeping among any of us that night. The next day still being unable to speak English, she wrote on a piece of paper, “Pray that I may interpret.” [Pg. 60-61]

In reference to speaking-in-tongues as a miraculous endowment of a foreign language, there are many references that suggest this was their belief. Here a few examples:

  • On one occasion a Hebrew Rabbi was present as one of the students, a young married man, read the lesson from the Bible. After services he asked for the Bible from which the lesson was read. The Bible was handed him, and he said, “No not that one, I want to see the Hebrew Bible. That man read in the Hebrew tongue.”

    At another time while Mr. Parham was preaching he used another language for some time during the sermon. At the close a man arose and said, “I am healed of my infidelity; I have heard in my own tongue the 23rd Psalm that I learned at my mother’s knee. [Pg. 62]

  • During the wonderful altar service, the audience, having been previously dismissed, moved quietly and informally about, hearing and witnessing the marvelous demonstrations of the power promised to believers. Sometimes as many as twenty various languages were spoken in one evening, not an unintelligent utterance of mere vocal sounds, but a clear language spoken with the intonations and accents only given by natives, who repeatedly gave testimony to that effect.

    It was my privilege to be frequently in concourse with some professors from the city schools and colleges, all of whom spoke some foreign language and one of them spoke five languages. He said to im the most marvelous thing about the use of these languages was the original accent they (the workers) gave. They demonstrated that under instruction, it was impossible for an American to learn. They gave the REAL FOREIGN ACCENT SO PERFECTLY, that when he closed his eyes, it seemed to him as though he were listening to utterances from his native masters in the Old World.

    To me this was very convincing, coming from those unbiased and competent judges. They oftimes interpreted for me when languages they knew were spoken. Many foreigners came to the meetings and were frequently spoken to in their native tongue, with the original accent that could not be perfectly acquired. This, more than anything else, convinced them that it was wrought by some power above the human. Their hearts were always touched and they frequently went to the altar for prayer, convinced that it was the real power of God. [116-117]

A persistent theme in this book was that speaking-in-tongues was not gibberish — a tome directly aimed at what Parham accused the Azusa Street Revival of doing:

I hurried to Los Angeles, and to my utter surprise and astonishment I found conditions even worse than I had anticipated. Brother Seymour had come to me helpless, he said he could not stem the tide that had arisen. I sat on the platform in Azusa Street Mission, and saw the manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, saw people practicing hypnotism at the altar over candidates seeking baptism; though many were receiving the real baptism of the Holy Ghost.

After preaching two or three times, I was informed by two of the elders, one who was a hypnotist (I had seen him lay his hands on many who came through chattering, jabbering and sputtering, speaking in no language at all) that I was not wanted in that place. [Pg. 163]

It has been previously documented in the Gift of Tongues Project that the leaders and the official newspaper of the Azusa Street Revival viewed speaking-in-tongues as the miraculous endowment of a foreign language. Parham was introduced to Azusa as Seymour’s spiritual father. It wasn’t very long before he fell out of favour with Azusa. Some may think it was his segregation or perhaps supremacist views. Perhaps it was an internal leadership problem or their style of worship. We may never know exactly what the reasons were. He must have been personally demoralized and that his assessment of the practices of Azusa, whether true or not, was an effort to regain his lost stature.

It is clear that speaking-in-tongues as ecstasy, prayer or heavenly language were not part of Parham’s religious vocabulary. He certainly believed it was the miraculous spontaneous utterance of a language unknown beforehand by the speaker for evangelistic or missionary purposes. Parham would have vehemently disagreed with Wikipedia’s description that he “associated glossolalia with the baptism in the Holy Spirit”, because he felt it was known human languages, not glossolalia, which implies something psychological or non-human speech.■

For more information:

Footnotes

  1. Mrs. Charles F. Parham. The Life of Charles F. Parham: the Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement. Fourth Printing. 2000. Baxter Springs. Kansas. 1930. Many thanks to Dean Furlong for alerting me about this book and its particular contents.

Charles Sullivan is a researcher and writer on topics of textual criticism, linguistics, theology, Christian mysticism and philosophy. He also frequently likes to delve into contemporary social and ethical issues from a faith perspective.

5 thoughts on “Charles Parham on Speaking in Tongues

  1. All Nations Worship Assembly, Apostle Matthew L. Stevenson III taught this 3-25-18 to his congregation. It was some of the most profound information defining the gift of the Holy Spirit, I’d ever heard in my life. We all went away feeling as if we had been bejeweled with information.

  2. The entire premise of the above article goes against the Bible. Jesus said,”If any man is not born of water and of the spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God” John 3: 5. If the Lord God who came to Earth to establish the truth has said this, then it is very important to consider this statement. This “born of the spirit” is what is called “Anointing of the Holy Ghost” or “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”. This is revealed as utterances by the spirit and speaking in unknown tongues.

    Now consider this: If Lord Jesus mentions something that is very difficult to achieve, then it cannot be truth and He cannot be God. How can he then judge the millions of people? The Bible clearly says that God the Father freely gives the Holy Ghost to anyone who asks. Prophet Joel foretold it and in Acts chapter 2 we see that fulfillment. If everyone has to speak in some foreign language and only then they will be permitted into the kingdom of God, then Heaven will be much emptier space. This is not the plan of God. He promised that He will pour out His spirit upon all flesh!

    The entire article above tries to demonize or disqualify glossolalia which the Bible clearly authenticates and accepts. Read Isaiah 28: 11 and 1 Corinthians Chapter 14. In Corinthians Paul clearly explains both Glossolalia and Xenolalia. Glossolalia is a common sign manifested by the person who has received the anointing of the holy spirit whereas Xenolalia is a gift.

    Tell me one thing. Why should all get this gift Xenolalia? To speak in a foreign language? If so, what is the purpose? To reveal gospel to other language people? Think this – Why should everyone in the world become a Gospeler? Absolutely not required. That is not the plan of God. God has chosen a few and bestowed gifts of the holy spirit for spreading of the gospel. We see that pattern even today. Thus if Charles Parham had spoken in a foreign language, well good, that was given to him as a gift. But he has no right to establish it as a doctrine that only people speaking in foreign language can be accepted as people received anointing of holy spirit. That is absurd!

    The entire argument in the above article does not stand when we thus analyse the facts in the light of the word of God understanding God’s mind on salvation of mankind. It is absolutely skewed, baseless and does not fit into the eternal plan of God. I request you to write to me, and I will expound these truths with more evidences and will easily nullify all your imbalanced thoughts.

    1. Thanks for coming to the site and engaging in this topic. The Gift of Tongues Project does not engage in subjective arguments or restrict itself solely to the Bible for analysis. There are myriads of books over the last 100 years that suffice for such approaches and it is not necessary for me to add to that list with a similar work. The GOT Project works from a comparative literature framework–a method which has been sorely lacking. It provides resources such as ecclesiastical texts in the original languages, translations, and analysis. The GOT Project also assumes readers know their Bible and have a good understanding of the subject. Please continue to read through the many ancient documents provided. They will answer many of your questions. You will find the christian doctrine of tongues has a rich, diverse, and interesting history.

  3. Now we’re getting just like the Catholic so called church using traditions of men(books written by men not Holy Spirit inspired) to over ride The Word of God.

    1. I don’t think this is a Catholic problem but a human tendency to follow rules instead of engaging the heart and mind. The Bible too can be used to hide from our own personal problems or avoid engaging thoughtfully with our fellow man. Our interpretation of the Bible then becomes a form of personal and public slavery. On the other hand, if the Bible is understood and applied correctly, it can be a source of great freedom. For more information see my article Thoughts on the Bible.

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