To find out if the words ecstasy or glossolalia existed before the 1800s and how these terms have developed over time.
As described previously in A History of Glossolalia: Origins, it was approximately 1830 that the new definition of tongues as glossolalia was introduced in German religious circles, but it was not universal. Neither was the concept found in the popular realm of English works until Farrar introduced it in 1879. So far, this proposition has been proven through tertiary source materials with a few references to primary and secondary source materials.
A further examination of the primary, secondary and additional tertiary source books is required to substantiate the assertion that the term glossolalia was added after 1879. Indeed, after careful review of such materials, this was found to be true. The Gift of Tongues Project likes to substantiate all claims and therefore the following is how this conclusion was arrived at. The article then goes one step further to briefly document how this influence affects us today.
Table of Contents
- Glossolalia in Greek dictionaries published before 1879
- Glossolalia in dictionaries published between 1880 and 1890
- Examining pre-1879 commentaries for glossolalia
- Examining publications after 1879 for glossolalia
- Dictionaries and language aids
- Secondary source material
- Books published in the 1900s and later on glossolalia
- Glossolalia found in modern English Bibles
- The influence of ecstasy/glossolalia in contemporary in-house church discussions
Glossolalia in Greek dictionaries published before 1879
The following Greek dictionaries were published before 1879 and demonstrate that the word ecstasy, glossolalia or a related synonym did not exist at all in any Greek dictionary published before 1879.
Stephanus Lexicon. This Greek dictionary of dictionaries has human language only. No reference to ecstasy or any other variant.
Henrico Stephanus, or more properly Henri Estienne, was credited for compiling the most definitive Greek dictionary in the latter 1500s and it continued in popularity for centuries. This work still has value even for modern Greek Ecclesiastical translators. The 1598 version has an exhaustive list of which the word γλῶσσα and almost every variation of its form used. It simply states γλῶσσα being language. Ecstasy does not occur in any of its forms.1
The 1825 version of Cornellii Shrevelli’s Lexicon: Græco-Latinum. It simply used language with little else. 2
The 1836 version of James Donnegan’s, A New Greek and English Lexicon: Principally on the Plan of the Greek and German Lexicon of Schneider. This one published tongues primarily meant language but also could be an antiquated dialect or foreign expression.3
The 1858 version of the Greek Hesychii Alexandrini lexicon gave a simple definition with no reference to ecstasy or utterance, though it does relate to divination and to Plato.4
The Tyro’s Greek and English Lexicon in 1825, simply defined it as “speech – the tongue – tongue piece”,5 referring to a piece in a musical instrument.
John Grove’s 1830 Greek student dictionary, admittedly based on Schrevelii, simply stated, the tongue; a tongue, language, speech, converse; the tongue in the mouth piece of wind instruments.”6
E.A. Andrew’s long-named 1852 dictionary: A copious and critical Latin-English Lexicon: founded on on the larger Latin-German lexicon of William Freund L with additions and corrections from the lexicons of Gesner, Facciolati, Scheller, Georges, etc., also only contains a light and simple definition. They understood it as well to mean only lingua – which is translated into English as language.7
Glossolalia in dictionaries published between 1880 and 1890
However, between 1880 and 1890, some cracks started to be revealed between traditional and contemporary Greek dictionaries:
E.A. Sophocles 1887 Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine periods kept γλῶσσα as the traditional definition — a language, nation or people.8.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Bing Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Nove Testamenti or better known as Thayer’s Greek Lexicon in the mid to late 1880s leaned more towards it being ecstatic, but not quite. This demonstrates the noun was in a transitory stage of redefinition.
… as appears from I Co. xiv. 7 sqq,. is the gift of men who, rapt in an ecstasy and no longer quite masters of their own reason and consciousness, pour forth their glowing spiritual emotions in strange utterances, rugged, dark, disconnected, quite unfitted to instruct or to influence the minds of others: Acts x. 46; xix. 6; I Co. xii. 30; xii. 1; xiv. 2,4-6, 12, 19, 23,27, 39. The origin of the expression is apparently to be found in the fact, that in Hebrew the tongue is spoken of as the leading instrument by which the praises of God are proclaimed … and that according to the more rigorous conception of inspiration nothing human in an inspired man as thought to be active except the tongue, put in motion by the Holy Spirit…”9
The dictionary went on to cite Meyer, Schaff, and Farrar to support its position. It may be one of the first major Greek-English dictionaries to introduce this concept
Examining pre-1879 commentaries for glossolalia
It may not be convincing enough to follow only the dictionaries that a redefinition of the Christian doctrine of tongues started in the early 1800s. Therefore, the same examination will also be done with commentaries.
It was found that before the 1800s commentaries do not have a single correlation between tongues, ecstasy or with the Greek prophets. For example:
John Lightfoot’s 1660 A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew – I Corinthians,10
Matthew Henry’s 1704, Commentary on the Whole Bible 11 and
John Gill’s 1775 Entire Exposition of the Bible,12 do not contain such a reference.
The British Empiricist, John Locke (1632-1704), relied on Lightfoot’s interpretation of Corinthians being a Hebrew language liturgy problem. He made no reference to any other interpretation.13
The 1752 edition of the Monthly Review, covered a book on Christian tongues and concluded that it had ceased its purpose at Pentecost. There was no reference to any other explanation. Almost thirty years later, the same periodic piece published in 1787 a book review that defined the gift of tongues as musical tones, of which the reviewer concluded, “We think it unnecessary to lay any of the Author’s arguments before our Readers; most of them are hypothetical and none of them satisfactory, while the original word militates to strongly against them.”14 The first article claimed the standard interpretation for the time, the second suggested any idea different from tongues as a foreign language was far too foreign for the public to consider. They were not ready for any deviation from the standard interpretation.
The origins and transition of the doctrine of tongues from natural human language to ecstasy between 1820 and 1879 is not covered here, but can be found at The History of Glossolalia: Origins
Examining publications after 1879 for glossolalia
The following is an analysis of the dictionaries, commentaries, and some Bible translations after this period. The approach here is not to trace the linear development of the thought but to analyze the most widely used and trusted primary, secondary and tertiary source-books that most Bible researchers used to form a contemporary opinion.
The publications produced since the late 1800s and especially early 1900s leads one to think that the concept of tongues as an ecstatic utterance was the only historic and complete conclusion. The majority of these texts fail to be comprehensive and does not allow the reader to understand the different theories, ecclesiastical usage and approaches to this complex subject.
The following is simply to trace the doctrine of tongues in popular literature from 1879 onwards and how the idea of ecstasy was injected into it. Another treatise has been written on the comparative usage of Ecclesiastical literature in the primary source books and can be found at The History of Tongues as an Ecstatic Utterance: An analysis of Patristic Usage.
Dictionaries and language aids
The most popular language aide for Greek Bible students is the dictionary, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. This has highly influenced scholars, ministers and Greek translators for almost a century now. Though the first edition is not available for research, the second edition, published in 1979 reflects the evolution. It concluded strongly on the side of ecstasy with only one very brief reference to ecclesiastical usage:
There is no doubt about the thing referred to, namely the broken speech of persons in religious ecstasy. The phenomenon, as found in Hellenistic religion, is described esp. by ERhode (Psyche’ 03, Eng. trans. ‘25, 289-293) and Reitzenstein; sf. Celsus 7, 8;9. The origin of the term is less clear. Two explanations are prominent today. The one (Bleek, Henrici) holds that γλῶσσα here means antiquated, foreign, unintelligible, mysterious utterances (Diod. S. 4, 66, 7 κατὰ γλῶτταν=according to an old expression). The other (Rtzt., Bosset) sees in glossolalia a speaking marvelous, heavenly languages.15
This lexicon goes into much further detail than the quote above. It graphs almost the entire history of the ecstatic tongues doctrine by listing the important authors’ names and titles of their articles with no explanation of their special contribution or viewpoint, leaving the Patristic and any other opinions almost entirely aside. German works, for the most part, are referred to. One of the more important ones was written by Erwin Rhode.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature key-sourced Erwin Rohde’s work, Psyche: the Cult of Souls in its coverage of the Christian practice of tongues. The book is an incredible description of classical Greek religion with a strong portion focusing on ecstasy and frenzy. Rohde himself did not make any correlation with that of the Corinthian tongues problem or Pentecost, but the association could easily be made by the reader. A portion of Rohde’s masterpiece can be found here at Rohdes, Psyche: the Cult of Souls.
The lexicon also does cite J.G. Davies 1952 opine, Pentecost and Glossolalia — a short treatise on why the miracle is not ecstatic but foreign languages. Davies article is however very short and lacks any real historical contributions.16
It became normative for this concept to appear in translator guides such as Max Zerwick’s, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, where the Greek student is advised to translate the glôssa of the Book of Corinthians as “ecstatic utterance.”17
This is not held so strongly by the competitor, Linguistic Key to the New Testament by Fritz Rienecker. It hardly states anything, referring one to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which is pro-ecstatic and Hellenistic.18
Secondary source material
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, an original German publication introduced to an English audience in the 1960s, takes on an approach established by August Neander in the 1850s with some additional appendages. Johannes Behm, the contributor for the Gift of Tongues wrote in this dictionary:
In Corinth, therefore, glossolalia is an unintelligible ecstatic utterance. One of its forms of expression is a muttering of words or sounds without interconnection or meaning. Parallels may be found for this phenomenon in various forms and at various periods and places in religious history.”19
Behm then wrote a very strong unsubstantiated assertion:
“Paul is aware of a similarity between Hellenism and Christianity in respect of these mystical and ecstatic phenomena.”
“b. If the judgement of Paul on glossolalia raises the question whether this early Christian phenomenon can be understood merely in the light of the ecstatic mysticism of Hellenism, the accounts ot the emergence of glossolalia or related utterances of the Spirit in the first Palestinian community (Ac. 10:46; 8:15.; 2:2 ff.) make it plain that we are concerned with an ecstatic phenomenon which is shared by both Jewish and Gentile Christianity and for which there are analogies in the religious history of the OT and Judaism.”20
The same outlook was expressed by E. Andrews in The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible:
Such ecstatic speech as described above prevailed among the earliest Hebrew prophets, the professionalized nebi’im, who, as Yahweh enthusiasts, wandered about the country in bands, working themselves into religious frenzy by means of music and dancing… The word nabi, by which they were called, was probably suggested by their ecstatic babblings and their hith-nabbe, “prophesying,” may well have corresponded to the glossolalia, though scholars are not agreed upon this. In Hellenistic circles also, followers of the Dionysian cult, or of some mystery religion, under powerful emotional pressures of ceremonial rites, often slipped into ecstatic states bordering on frenzy, and expressed themselves in forms intelligible only to the initiated. Through the centuries glossolalia has frequently reappeared among Christian groups, the Montanists, the Camisards, the Irvingites, and many modern sects given to emotional extremes. The psychological aspects are patent.21
The 1993 compendium, The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, considered a “monumental work by an ecumenical group of scholars”,22 asserted that the origin of glossolalia in the Corinthian Church can be found in the “Syncrestic piety of the Hellenistic Mediterranean world.”23
Even the encyclopedias had this new thought entrenched. The 1917 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, played down the miraculous and described tongues in a weakly tone, concluding:
It was the Holy Ghost who impelled the disciples “to speak”, without perhaps being obliged to infuse a knowledge of tongues unknown. The physical and psychic condition of the auditors was one of ecstasy and rapture in which “the wonderful things of God” would naturally find utterance in acclamations, prayers or hymns…24
The article then contradicts itself at the end:
Faithful adherence to the text of Sacred Scripture makes it obligatory to reject those opinions which turn the charism of tongues into little more than infantile babbling (Eichhorn, Schmidt, Neander).25
There is hardly any reference to any of the patristic writings on their conclusion either. This contradictory style of writing on glossolalia is confusing and offers the reader no sense of conclusion.
The 1987 version of Encyclopedia Britannica, claimed the gift of tongues to be, “utterances approximating words and speech, usually produced during states of intense religious excitement… Glossolalia occurred in some of the ancient Greek religions and in various primitive religions.”26
The 1911 New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge vacillates in the definition, slightly mentioning the traditional stance without great success. The author then stated the gift of tongues along with St. Paul’s experience to be one of an ecstatic experience27 and then makes a correlation with the Greek religion.28
The popular Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible in Five Volumes alluded to tongues and ecstasy though not overtly.29 A favorite of Evangelical Bible Students, The New International Bible Encyclopedia, gave prominence to the thought of tongues being ecstatic, citing influences of the Greek Delphic Oracles.30
Books published in the 1900s and later on glossolalia
Commentaries and books, especially since the 1900s, promote tongues as an ecstatic utterance almost exclusively.
One of the most acclaimed commentators of the 20th century, Hans Conzelmann, paved the way for a broader audience to accept the new definition. In his, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, published in 1975, he contended:
. . .that speaking with tongues is unintelligible to a normal man, even a Christian. On the other hand it must be meaningful, must be logical in itself. For can be translated into normal language, which is again made possible by a special gift…. If we could explain it, then we must set out from comparable material in the history of religion, above all from the Greek motif of the inspiring *pneuma*, which is expressed especially in Mantic sources, and is bound up more particularly with Delphi. The deity speaks out of the inspired.31
He vacillated between ecstatic and real languages, mixing the two together in understanding Pentecost in the Book of Acts: “The Pentecost narrative alternates between an account of an outbreak of glossolalia and miraculous speech in many languages. Luke has fashioned it not its present form as an episode with a burlesque impact, a mixture of themes which lead to reflection. In addition to the meaningful event as such, the episode contains instructive material in the description of the scene itself.”32 He believed Luke’s reflection of Pentecost as being a “naive legend.” and that Luke lost “conception of the original glossolalia.”33
The New International Commentary on the New Testament, edited by the revered Evangelical F.F. Bruce, does not go so far to indicate Greek syncretism, but the tongues of Corinth were not human language.34
William Barclay, a popular commentator that has attracted a conservative audience, also didn’t accept the idea of the Greek influence but still thought ecstasy was the central core, it was “very common in the early Church. A man became worked up to an ecstasy and in that state poured out a quite uncontrollable torrent of sounds in no known languages… the very desire to possess it produced, at least in some, a kind of self-hypnotism and deliberately induced hysteria which issued in a completely false and synthetic speaking with tongue”.35
The NIV Application Commentary: I Corinthians significantly added to the idea that tongues and ecstasy are synonyms. The writer succinctly stated on the Corinthian tongues that it did “not imply that Paul recognized glossolalia as actual foreign languages spoken by people somewhere on earth, or even that they have a comparable linguistic structure,… Various Greco-Roman religions were well-known for their outburst of ecstatic speech and unintelligible repetition of “consense” syllables”.36
The influence of ecstasy/glossolalia in contemporary in-house church discussions
A few examples on how the word ecstasy and associated terms have affected modern day tongues perspectives within and outside the Church.
The concept of ecstasy has been used by more conservative Christian leaders as an attack on Pentecostals and Charismatics. For instance, John MacArthur has argued that the Pentecostals have gone wrong by following ecstasy rather than biblical truth: “This was a very common practice in their culture. In fact, the term used in I Corinthians to refer to speaking in tongues (glossais lalein) was not invented by the Bible writers. It was a term used commonly in the Greco-Roman culture to speak of the pagan language of the gods which occurred while the speaker was in an ecstatic trance. By the way, this language of the gods was always gibberish. Beloved, as much as I wish it weren’t true, I’m convinced that what we see going on in today’s Charismatic movement is the same kind of situation that occurred in the Corinthian Church – and engulfing of the church in pagan religion.”37
The pagan Greek connection was also echoed by J.G. Dunn, who is referred extensively by a selection of Pentecostal and Evangelical thinkers to affirm their doctrine of speaking in tongues:
There are some indications that the Corinthian glossolalia was indeed ‘ecstatic utterance’, measured in value by them precisely by the intensity of the ecstasy which produced it and by the unintelligibility of the utterances. …These features of Corinthian glossolalia are too reminiscent of the mantic prophecy of the Pythia at Delphi. . . and the wider manifestation of ecstasy in the worship of Dionysus, so the conclusion becomes almost inescapable: glossolalia as practised in the assembly at Corinth was a form of ecstatic utterance – sounds, cries, words uttered in a state of spiritual ecstasy.38
Glossolalia and the modern English Bible
The idea of tongues as an ecstatic utterance entered into some Bible translations –though this is a minority. The majority of Bibles keep the traditional reading and do not introduce the new definition. The King James version remains unaffected with its own problem of “unknown tongues” in the text, which has misled many an English reader for its original intention. Even though the adjective unknown was not initially written to express the concept of ecstatic utterances, it blends in quite well. The ubiquitous New International and New American Standard Bibles simply follow their traditional approach which is neutral.
Two newer English Bible translations have revised their translation with a glossaly interpretation:
The New English Bible translates the tongues passages with the new definition, Acts 19:6 “and when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues of ecstasy and prophesied,”39 and I Corinthians 14:2, “When a man is using the language of ecstasy he is talking with God.”40
The popular Message Bible, I Corinthians 14:4ff “The one who prays using a private “prayer language” certainly gets a lot out of it, but proclaiming God’s truth to the church in its common language brings the whole church into growth and strength.”41
Study notes at the bottom pages of different Bibles have not been extensively reviewed for this work. It does bring up a question on how extensive Bible study notes have been used to perpetuate the myth of ecstatic utterances. For example, the Harper Study Bible teaches in its study notes that the phenomenon in Acts is languages, but in Corinthians, “the tongues are described as ecstatic utterances not corresponding to any known languages but given direct expression to ineffable emotions with insights of the souls.”42 This whole realm remains unstudied.
The results of this study suggest that glossolalia and the associative definitions did not enter the tongues theology until later in the 1800s. After it took hold, the ancient traditional position was excluded. This erroneously leads the reader or any ardent Bible student to think that there is no other option and it must be understood as some form of ecstatic utterance or glossolalia.
The modern historians have also reframed the christian doctrine of tongues to fit into the glossolalia paradigm. Instead of tracing the tradition of speaking in tongues through church literature, the majority have chosen to follow the trajectory of classic Hellenistic literature instead.