Monthly Archives: March 2010

Irenaeus on the Gift of Tongues

The doctrine of tongues according to second century Church Father Irenaeus.

Irenaeus, according to Wikipedia ”was a Christian Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire (now Lyons, France). He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.”

The following English translations are found at the New Advent website which has a digital reproduction of the Ante-Nicene Fathers by the Christian Literature Publishing Company in 1885.1

The English translation has not been proofed against the Greek or Latin.

Against Heresies (Book 3, Chapter 12:1)2

”When the Holy Ghost had descended upon the disciples, that they all might prophesy and speak with tongues, and some mocked them, as if drunken with new wine, Peter said that they were not drunken, for it was the third hour of the day; but that this was what had been spoken by the prophet: “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and they shall prophesy.”(3) The God, therefore, who did promise by the prophet, that He would send His Spirit upon the whole human race, was He who did send; and God Himself is announced by Peter as having fulfilled His own promise.”

Against Heresies (Book 3, Chapter 17:2)3

“This Spirit did David ask for the human race, saying, “And stablish me with Thine all- governing Spirit;”(12) who also, as Luke says, descended at the day of Pentecost upon the disciples after the Lord’s ascension, having power to admit all nations to the entrance of life, and to the opening of the new covenant; from whence also, with one accord in all languages, they uttered praise to God, the Spirit bringing distant tribes to unity, and offering to the Father the first-fruits of all nations. Wherefore also the Lord promised to send the Comforter,(13) who should join us to God.”

Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 6:1)4

“For this reason does the apostle declare, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” [1 Corinthians 2:6] terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual.”

It is clear from his writings here that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in a foreign tongue. The purpose of the gift was to bring all peoples and nations into one accord.

Cyril of Jerusalem on the Miracle of Pentecost

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote a surprising description on the miracle of tongues. Cyril lived in the fourth century and was a bishop of Jerusalem. He wrote in his Catechism:

“And they began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak.” The Galilean Peter and Andrew spoke Persian or Median. John and the other Apostles spoke all the tongues of various nations, for the thronging of multitudes of strangers from all parts is not something new in Jerusalem, but this was true in Apostolic times. What teacher can be found so proficient as to teach men in a moment what they have not learned? So many years are required through grammar and other arts merely to speak Greek well; and all do not speak it equally well. The rhetorician may succeed in speaking it well, the grammarian sometimes less well; and he who is skilled in grammar is ignorant of philosophical studies. But the Holy Spirit taught them at once many languages, which they do not know in a whole lifetime. This is truly lofty wisdom, this is divine power. What a contrast between their long ignorance in the past and this sudden, comprehensive, varied and unaccustomed use of languages.

The multitude of those listening was confounded; it was a second confusion, in contrast to the first evil confusion at Babylon. In that former confusion of tongues there was a division of purpose, for the intention was impious; here there was a restoration and union of minds, since the object of their zeal was pious. Through what occasioned the fall came the recovery. They wondered, saying: “How do we hear them speaking [our own tongue]?” There is nothing to wonder at, if you are ignorant. For even Nicodemus was ignorant of the coming of the Spirit, and it was said to him: “The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth.” If when I hear His voice I know not whence He comes, how can I explain what He is in essence?

This is a translation found in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. Volume 2. Transl. by Leo P. McCauley, S.J. and A.A. Stephenson. Washington, DC; The Catholic University of America. Pg. 106-107. There is no publication date given in the book but Google Books suggest it was published in 1969.

This book was found in a local university library. It is odd that such an important English translation on the subject and in existence for over 40 years has never been part of the tongues discussion.

But then, this is a large part of my research project, the lack of easy access to Patristic literature in the original and so few being translated in English are the main factors that have led to our contemporary understanding and practice of tongues today.

There are many more writers than Cyril of Jerusalem that have written on the subject. One will find a number examples on this website with more to come.

If you are interested in the actual original text, this can be found at: Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 33. Col. 987

Never Cite out of Context

Context is important in translating the ancient Church writers. Translating just a small portion without knowing the big picture can be dangerous.

A Bible professor once warned all us fledgling students to never cite Biblical passages out of context.

Here I am almost 30 years later and that voice still resounds, and yet the urge to do that still exists. The English translation development of I Corinthians 12-14 of the Ambrosiaster Manuscript is testimony to that.

In an earlier Post (which I have deleted)I was given the translation:

“But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. These were from the Hebrews who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part in Hebrew who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This translation was based on a Latin manuscript from Migne Patrologia Latina. However, at the time, I did not deeply delve nor translate any other passage from this text. This just seemed from cursory glance the only passage relevant to the gift of tongues.

As I was in the process of translating three chapters of Ambrosiaster on I Corinthians, it became clear the above translation was not correct. It should read:

(Vers. 19) “But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. [Col. 270] These were from the Hebrew who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part by Hebrew women who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Indeed these ones who are mimicking, they prefer to speak in their unknown language to the people in the Church which belongs to them.

The bolded section in English is from the Latin: “Hi ex Hebraeis erant, qui aliquando Syra lingua, plerumque Hebraea, in tractatibus aut oblationibus utebantur ad commendationem.”

The key here is in understanding the foreign loanword Hebraea. It is difficult to translate this loanword because Latin authors do not consistently write this Hebrew word the same. Googling the word did not bring any closure, The Perseus dictionary had no results and Whitaker’s Words provided two definitions: the first one was “Hebrew, Jewish” and the second one was reserved for medieval usage, “Hebrew/Jewish woman.”

At first, I thought the Ambrosiaster manuscript was written by St. Ambrose and was traced back to the 4th century, so the choice of the word Hebrew with no reference to gender seemed the logical and most non-controversial translation to make.

As I went on translating the chapters, this assumption got tossed out the window. First of all, Ambrose never wrote it. It doesn’t even come close to his style or interests. Ambrosiaster is a name given to the mysterious writer(s) much later.

Secondly, the manuscript has all sorts of redactions. Most of them can be traced to around the 11th or 12th century. The Latin text seems to predominantly align better stylistically with this period, though there are pieces that are earlier.

One cannot easily see these things when only translating a small passage.

Also later on in his commentary there is a slight nuance with the tongues problem to women wanting to speak out in Church when they are not supposed to. The wording appears the same, though this is a connection more by observation than by fact.

The bottom line on the whole thing is that one should read all literature within context. By neglecting to do so can lead to some erroneous conclusions.

The Difference Between Language and Tongues

Finding an acceptable solution for the greek keyword glôssa γλῶσσα and why christian doctrine of tongues is the best catch-phrase for the subject.

Glôssa is pivotal for the doctrine of tongues. This word is found in Paul’s address to the Corinthians, Luke’s description of the first Pentecost and subsequent similar narratives in his Book of Acts. This noun is further used by later Greek ecclesiasts and authors on the subject.

The challenge is how a contemporary researcher is to translate this word without a modern bias.

The translation of glôssa has to properly reflect English literary tradition, linguistic changes over the last 200 years, historical and political influences and adherence to the intended meaning penned by the original authors.

When the Greek keyword appears, or if it is found in a Latin text, which is lingua, my mind always wants to automatically translate it as tongue.

The word tongues, which is seldom used in our modern language to specifically mean a modern, regular or contemporary language, is usually understood to be something out-of-this-world, unusual or even weird. Sometimes it is used a synonym to language, but rarely in contemporary literature is it used as the predominant descriptor.

As I have worked over both Greek and Latin Patristic texts, from the likes of Greek writers such as Irenaeous, Origen, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John of Damascus etc., to the Latin writers of Augustine, the Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, the Ambrosiaster authors, and many more, they do not contain references to the gift being a strange, mystical or heavenly language that needs a new definition. It simply means a human language to them. To advance such a thought that it was different from a human language, they would have had to add an adjective to both the Greek or Latin words for language to make it distinct. They never did that. An adjective was added later on in the English Bible, but this had different political motivations altogether — it was a direct shot against the authority of the Catholic Church and its control over the masses by its exclusive use of Latin in church affairs.

Secondly, one must keep in mind that the noun language was the dominant English word used to translate glôssa/γλῶσσα before the introduction of the Geneva Bible in 1534.

More detailed information on this change can be found in a previous post The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible.

It would not be fair to translate the church fathers on the subject using ‘tongues’ instead of languages. It significantly changes the nuance of the text when it is done.

One could argue that I am forcing my own interpretation on the text. However, it is believed that language is more accurate to what the writers meant. So, sticking to the facts, language is the word of choice on the majority of occasions. My own sentiments would like to adhere to the traditional English text and prefers tongues but that simply isn’t the right thing to do. Every once in a while tongues is inserted within the many articles generated for the Gift of Tongues Project for stylistic purposes when the noun language appears too often in a text.

Another similar problem is using the catch-phrase gift of tongues. In religious circles gift of tongues is typically used to describe the currently practiced phenomena in pentecostal and charismatic churches. There is a problem with this because it is too exclusive and hardly open to any scrutiny. The Corinthian tongues church problem and the tongues of fire at Pentecost may not be related. There are a variety of different expressions about speaking in tongues over the centuries that it is dangerous to lump them all into one simplistic category.

Many scholars use glossolalia as the conventional phrase. For the most part, I try to avoid gift of tongues and glossolalia because they already subscribe to a narrow modern definition. One will see the christian doctrine of tongues more commonly in my works because it is more comprehensive and inclusive of different epochs and traditions. It also allows one to trace the evolution of this doctrine over the centuries without having to subscribe to a particular set of doctrines or force an outcome.

A significant problem with avoiding gift of tongues and glossolalia and using the newly coined, the christian doctrine of tongues, is with the Google search engine. By minimizing the phrases gift of tongues and glossolalia Google Search ranks all my articles lower because the general readership definitively links this subject with gift of tongues and glossolalia.

Gift of tongues has a proper place when referencing the problem tongues of Corinth, but it does not extend beyond that. However, current religious tradition extends it beyond this realm. The gift of tongues and the Gift of Tongues Project are often used here as transitory phrases. It is a beginning point to bring the reader into a much deeper awareness of the christian doctrine of tongues that has developed over 2000 years of church history. ■

For more information:

  • The following is a pentecostal review of the word tongues in the English Bible: Tongues or Languages? Contextual Consistency in the Translation of Acts 2* by Jenny Everts. Journal of Pentecostal Theology. 4. April 1994. Pg. 71–80

The Mysterious Latin Gerundive

This is an in-depth look at the problems of translating the Latin gerundive and potential solutions.

For example, the so-called Patristic-Latin Ambrosiaster text utilized the gerundive on at least two occasions in its commentary on the Book of Corinthians in the 14th chapter. This is not a problem for a Latin writer to do, but the English lacks a direct equivalent. This leads to the question, how does one translate the gerundive here?

First before delving into the text, one needs to define what a gerundive is.

The gerundive is a future passive participle used in Latin literature. A number of authors and sites are devoted to addressing the gerundive but there is no unanimous approach on how to translate it into English.

Some authors have simplified it for the sake of novice Latin students who are tackling it for the first time. For example, one Latin study guide suggests it “is usually translated into English with the words ‘to be’ followed by the past participle.” 1

This same website outlines the thought behind the gerundive and how to translate it, “It is important to note that the gerundive does not have an exact translation into English, and in order to convey the idea of obligation or suitability inherent in its meaning, translations can include such forms as ‘fit to be’, ‘must be’ and ‘ought to be’.”2

Another author wrote, “The gerundive can be translated with ‘about to be’ or ‘to be’: epistula legenda = the letter (about) to be read. Sometimes it can be translated as a simple adjective: homo abominandus = ‘horrible man’ in place of ‘man about to be abominated.’3

John Burroughs School gets closer to the nuances and range of the gerundive along wth the problems of translating it into English.

“Sometimes the gerundive is used simply as any other Latin adjective, in which case it is best treated as a future passive participle. amandus, for instance, could thus be translated (very literally) “about to be loved,” but “to be loved” gets the same point across. But when Roman authors used gerundives, the emphasis in not only the futurity, but imminence and perhaps even inevitability. Horace himself (whom we, of course, know fondly as Quintus) is very fond of gerundives used like this in his poems. Here is an example: 

cur invidendis postibus…/sublime…moliar atrium?
Why should I toil over a hallway lofty with columns bound to be envied?

Horace’s point is not that, if he exerts lots of effort to build a fancy house, it will cause envy, but that it is bound to cause envy. The emphasis lies not on establishing a time-frame, but upon the probable or even inevitable effect. He could have used a simple adjective invidiosis, which would be translatable as “enviable,” but that would not get across the idea that if you build ostentatiously, somebody is sure to feel envy. As you can see, gerundives bring us firmly into the realm of “nuance” and connotation rather than ordinary denotation.

Here’s another example, again from Horace’s Odes; I have simplified and abridged it for purposes of clarity:

  • compescit Geryonen Tityonque tristi unda enaviganda omnibus, sive reges sive inopes coloni erimus.
  • He imprisons Geryon and Tityos with that gloomy stream bound to be navigated by us all, whether we will be kings or peasants.

Horace refers here to Pluto, king of Hades, who uses the River Styx as a sort of security barrier to keep sinners (Geryon and Tityus were two of those eternally punished) in the underworld. But his main point in this sentence is that everybody, rich or poor, is bound to cross that same river–in other words, everyone has to die, regardless of social status. The gerundive enaviganda conveys both the futurity and inevitability of this sad fact with an economy that English cannot manage.”4

The author frequently likes to use ‘bound to be’ as his English translation.

Charles E. Bennett’s book, New Latin Grammar, covers it in-depth; “The Gerundive denotes _obligation_, _necessity_, etc. Like other Participles it may be used either as Attributive or Predicate.” He goes on to give some good examples. Here is one of them;

  • “liber legendus, _a book worth reading_;
  • leges observandae, _laws deserving of observance_. “

He described some other important aspects and then wrote that after certain verbs the gerundive has to be translated as a purpose clause;

“After curo, _provide for_; do, trado, _give over_; relinquo,
_leave_; concedo, _hand over_, and some other verbs, instead of an
object clause, or to denote purpose; as,
Caesar pontem in Arari faciendum curavit,
Caesar provided for the construction of a bridge over the Arar_;

imperator urbem militibus diripiendam concessit,
the general handed over the city to the soldiers to plunder_. ”

John R. Porter at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) provides the most comprehensive portrait of the gerundive and even challenges the notion that it is a future passive participle. He thinks it is simply the “the adjectival counterpart to the gerund.”

Similar to Bennett’s approach, he translates the gerundive according to context and gave copious examples;

“Gerund: uēnit ad legendum librōs.
Gerundive: uēnit ad librōs legendōs.
[“He/She came with a view to books having an act of reading applied to them.” — i.e., to read books]

Gerund: studium legendī librōs
Gerundive: studium librōrum legendōrum
[“zeal of/for books having an act of reading applied to them” — i.e., of/for reading books]

Gerund: ōtium petit legendī librōs causā.
Gerundive: ōtium petit librōrum legendōrum causā.
[“He/She seeks leisure for the sake of books having an act of reading applied to them.” — i.e., of reading books]

Gerund: discimus legendō librōs.
Gerundive: discimus librīs legendīs.
[“We learn by means of books having an act of reading applied to them.” — i.e., by reading books]

Gerund: hoc locūtus est dē legendō librōs.
Gerundive: hoc locūtus est dē librīs legendīs.
[“He/She said this concerning books having an act of reading applied to them.” — i.e. concerning the reading of books].”

Porter then concluded, “In each instance, the gerundive is inserted as the passive, adjectival correlative to the active, substantival gerund. The construction with the gerundive is much more vivid, to the degree that it allows the immediate focus to be placed on the noun (“books”) rather than on the abstract action (“reading”).”5

Of course there are the typical gerundive as a passive periphrastic or when it is combined with ‘ad’ plus the gerundive to denote purpose, but this is not the case here with the examples shown below with Ambriosaster, so this aspect of the gerundive will be ignored.

The gerundive creates an ambiguity that one must ponder about all the options above and see which one is most suitable for a text. Perhaps it will even take more thought and one may have to use a totally different structure as Charles Bennett demonstrated to capture the nuance.

With all these options in mind, the following two texts in Ambrosiaster’s commentary on the Book of Corinthians provide some good examples on how to translate it.

The following are from MPL Vol. 17. Ad Opera S. Ambrosii Appendix. Comment. In I Ad Corinth. Col. 268ff. The gerundives are highlighted in italic for the reader to easily identify.

The first example is from I Corinthians 14:12 “Quia prodest Scripturas explanare propterea ad hanc partem studium monet applicandum.”

If one is to use a number of the methods mentioned above, the translations work out like this:

“Because it [prophecy] is useful to explain the Scriptures…

    1. The ‘about to be’ method: “therefore he teaches learning is about to be applied by this office.”
    2. The ‘bound to be method’: “therefore he teaches learning is bound to be applied by this office.”
    3. The Porter approach: “therefore he teaches transformational learning [learning having to be actively put into practice with it] by this office.”
    4. The ‘ought, fit or must’ method: “therefore he teaches learning is fit to be put into practice by this office.”

In this instance the preferred translation would be:

“Because it [prophecy] is useful to explain the Scriptures… therefore he teaches transformational learning by this office.”

This one suits the best because Ambrosiaster was trying to emphasize the fact that the learner is going to go deeper in the Scriptures with the aide of a prophet. The prophet can teach a type of knowledge that transcends the intellect and changes one worldview.

The second example is a bit more complex. I Corinthians 14:5 “Non poterat prohibere loqui linguis, qui superius donum istud dicit esse Spiritus sancti : sed ideo prophetandi magis studium habendum, quia utilius est.”

If one is to use a number of the methods mentioned above, and assuming prophetandi to be a gerund, the translations would go something like this: “He could not prohibit to speak in languages which he teaches to be such a superior gift of the holy Spirit but…

If it is to be translated as a gerundive, then these possibilities exist:

    1. The ‘about to be’ method: “more learning is about to be had by means of prophecy because it is more beneficial.”
    2. The ‘bound to be’ method: “more learning is bound to be had by means of prophecy because it is more beneficial.”
    3. The Porter approach: “rather study [having an act applied to it] impacted by prophecy because it is more beneficial.”
    4. The ‘ought, fit or must’ method: “more learning must be had by means of prophecy because it is more beneficial.”

Note that the noun studium – learn, study, zeal, fondness etc., and the adverb magis are changed depending on how the gerundive is understood.

All carry a similar gist to the thought but my personal preference is, “He could not prohibit to speak in languages which he teaches to be such a superior gift of the holy Spirit but more learning is bound to be had by means of prophecy because it is more beneficial.” This does not mean one should use the ‘bound to be’ method every time. It just seemed to fit here the best.

See also Translating Future Active and Passive Participles into English by John Garger.