Monthly Archives: January 2012

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues

A translation, research, and analysis of the catenas attributed to Cyril of Alexandria concerning the rite of tongues in the Church.

A worthy study because Cyril reveals some interesting facts of an ancient Church liturgy that sheds some light on the mystery tongues of Corinth.

Cyril of Alexandria was the Pope of Alexandria, Egypt in the early fifth century “at the time Alexandria was at its height in influence and power within the Roman Empire.”1 He was a prolific writer, and was well-educated in the writings of Origen, Eusebius, Didymus, and many more.

He represents an important era in tracing the development and transmission on the Church doctrine of tongues.

The writings are in the form of a catanae, which format is best described by the Catholic Encyclopedia found at the New Advent website:

“Collections of excerpts from the writings of Biblical commentators, especially the Fathers and early ecclesiastical writers, strung together like the links of a chain, and in this way exhibiting a continuous and connected interpretation of a given text of Scripture. It has been well said that they are exegetical anthologies.

These fragments of patristic commentaries are not only quite valuable for the literal sense of Scripture, since their text frequently represents the evidence of very ancient (now lost) manuscripts; they are also serviceable to the theologian (doctrinetic and mystical), to the ecclesiastical historian, and to the patrologist, for they often exhibit the only remains of important patristic writings.”2

One must be always be cautious of a catena. The commitment to keeping the exact text intact is not a priority and could easily be slightly altered by copyists. The catenas often are poorly published reproductions as well. However, the original texts are lost and these are the best ones that presently exist. It has to be assumed that the intent of the message is still preserved.

These catenae are not considered authored solely by Cyril. Philip Pusey stated that there are notes sometimes inserted from the works of Didymus of Alexandria in Cyril’s catena of I Corinthians.3 It cannot be determined exactly which pieces are Didymus’ accounts.

It is considered here that the writings are predominately Cyril of Alexandria with some added opinions by Didymus of Alexandria. The Gift of Tongues Project is more concerned about the original time the work was first written than the authorship. The Project’s main aim is to build a chronology of the tongues doctrine throughout the centuries. The so-called Cyril writings reflect the opinion of the Alexandrians in the fifth century, even if complete knowledge regarding who penned the original work is not entirely clear.

The first step was to identify the Cyrillian writings on the subject. Since their is no digital database available of these works, this had to be done manually.

This was done by going page-by-page through the Migne Patrologia Graeca volumes relating to Cyril’s works. Philippus Edvardus Pusey’s 1872 version called Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium was also consulted.4.

The following works attributed to Cyril of Alexandria are found to have references to either the tongues of Acts or Corinth: Zephaniah (Sophonias in Latin), Acts and I Corinthians.

The catenas attributed to Cyril are not lineal at all. They skip many verses. The catena on I Corinthians 12-14 amply demonstrates this; the column begins with chapter 12:9, followed by 12:12, immediately after is 14:2, then 14:5, 14:10, and 14:12. The verses in-between these numbers are not published.

The manuscripts contain only one or two paragraph excerpts for each of the verses. These were likely taken from much larger works done by Cyril that are lost to us today. It would have been ideal to see the whole work instead of a catena.

Even with the shortcomings of the catenae format, the Cyrillian texts have much to offer on the subject and it will be interesting to see what it all means in the end.

The goal here is threefold:

  • to translate the works from the Greek, with some assistance from the parallel Latin, for the English audience to read for themselves,

  • to analyze and provide commentary on the findings,

  • to provide the original texts in Greek and Latin for those interested.

The translations will have some short commentaries in the footnotes. A full analysis and commentary is being left for the last article on this series.

A synopsis of this project, translations, and notes on Cyril of Alexandria on tongues, can be found at Gift of Tongues Project menu and scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.

Evangelicals on the Problem of Being Saved

What does it mean to be saved? It depends on who you ask.

In general, the modern definition of saved according to many contemporary Evangelical Churches is a defined spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. How this relationship begins and the nuances that publicly confirm such a declaration varies slightly between denominations. The rudiments consist of an acknowledgment of one’s shame, the inability to correct one’s behavior, the need for divine intervention, and the promise of a changed life.

Evangelicals believe the only route for a divine intervention is through the mediation of Jesus Christ who substitutes Himself as both the sufferer and the redeemer on each person’s behalf. This portrait of Jesus, according to Evangelical doctrine, is the only way to forge a relationship with God. However, a verbal confession is required to enact such an arrangement and a prerequisite to gain entrance into heaven. This declaration is volitionally done and verbally expressed both privately and publicly.

Normally this realization is a one-time intense emotional experience that is described as an epiphany between God and the person — a mystical union and results in catharsis. “Catharsis is an emotional discharge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal or achieve a state of liberation from anxiety and stress.”1 This moment is dated, qualified and publicly expressed. Other terms to describe this moment are born again or conversion.’ A clearly defined confession of this epiphany is usually necessary for full entrance into an evangelical community.

The Billy Graham Association has liked to emphasize this moment as born again and describes this state succinctly:

A born-again Christian is someone who has repented of their sins and turned to Christ for their salvation, and, as a result, has become part of God’s family forever. All this takes place as God’s Spirit works in our lives.2

This is typical of most evangelical Churches, but perhaps is an over-generality. John Stackhouse, a Professor at Regent College in Vancouver, believes being saved to be a distinctive mode of Evangelical spirituality but that the date and time of conversion are not universal within Evangelical circles. He cites that Billy Graham does not give an exact date or time of his being saved but a process.3

However, once one starts to get into the details and begin asking questions such as;

  • What is a qualified experience?
  • Is it an intellectual or psychological state?
  • What is the demarcation line between sincere and insincere penitence?
  • Does it take a crisis moment, such as a death of a family member, loss of a job, etc., as the Christian Missionary Alliance puts it, to bring on a conversion.?
  • What if a person is incompetent and cannot understand the abstract foundations of penitence, redemption, sacrifice or confession? Does their lack of intellectual capacity damn them?

These details start to unravel the unity between the various camps on the subject.

Many leaders within are beginning to question the traditional Evangelical position and have called for a re-evaluation. Brian D. McLaren, a Pastor from a Plymouth Brethren background, and one of the leaders of the growing Post-Modern Christian movement believes it is outdated:

“I think our definition of “saved” is shrunken and freeze-dried by modernity. We need a postmodern consideration of what salvation means, something beyond an individualized and consumeristic version.”4

McLaren reflects an active tension in the Church community where one is questioning or even repudiating the modern evangelical definition, but lacks a solid model to replace it.

Scot McKnight, a New Testament Professor at North Park University, takes it even further:

Whether evangelicalism was paying attention or not, it is now. Universalism, or at least the prospect of it, is the single most significant issue running through the undercurrent of evangelicalism today… My own estimation is that somewhere near 75 percent of my students, many if not most of them nurtured in the church, are more or less universalist. They believe in Jesus and see themselves as Christians but don’t find significant problems in God saving Muslims and Buddhists or anyone else on the basis of how God makes such decisions.5

The Evangelical world has been challenged internally on the definition by Rob Bell, whom some considered the replacement for Billy Graham. A review in Christianity Today accuses him of universalism and then claims that Bell’s thesis offers answers that “sabotage his own goals.”6

Salvation is intended to be the defining character of Evangelicalism, but as Cathleen Falsani, web editor and director of new media at Sojourners, has found the movement itself is very diverse. In her web article titled, Defining “Evangelical” and Other Unsolved Mysteries she asked a number of Evangelical leaders on their definition and concluded:

As you can see from the answers some of our authors have offered, “evangelical” at best has a fluid definition, depending on whether the question is asked in a cultural, religious, historical or political context — and then colored by where both the speaker and the listener situate themselves in those worlds.

Perhaps defining “evangelical” is a bit like trying to define (definitively) what pornography is. To paraphrase former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in a 1964 Court opinion, I shall not today attempt further to define it, but I know it when I see it.

The best answer I’ve heard lately to the question, “What is an Evangelical,” arrived unexpectedly at a New Year’s Eve party I attended a few weeks ago in the southern California town where I live. Not long before the clock struck 12, a mutual friend casually turned to my longtime friend (and now neighbor) Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill church in Michigan, and casually asked him what “evangelical” really means.

With a glass of champagne in one hand and a smile on his face, Rob answered, “An evangelical is someone who, when they leave the room, you have more hope than when they entered.”

A quote attributed to the late science fiction writer Rober A. Heinlein finds a serious weakness in the Evangelical theology of being saved, “A long and wicked life followed by five minutes of perfect grace gets you into Heaven. An equally long life of decent living and good works followed by one outburst of taking the name of the Lord in vain — then have a heart attack at that moment and be damned for eternity. Is that the system?”7

It is indeed a subjective experience that cannot be qualified except through emotional fervency. One could perhaps surmise that the strength of such a definition was waning in the mid-1900’s until Billy Graham exploded on the scene.

Graham’s preaching and the Evangelical voice came in the 1960s during a radical shift in cultural thinking regarding life and personal identity.

21st-century philosophers discussed a similar parallel that Graham so strongly emphasized. Philosophers Karl Jaspers’ and Martin Heidegger promoted that to experience true existence, one must confront reality and make a decision. It did not matter if the final personal result was a grim one or a leap of faith. It was the decision that counted. It was considered the special moment that defined one as fully human. If one did not confront reality and come to that moment of decision, they would not discover their true humanity.

Karl Jaspers called this the first order experience and also final experience. Followers of Jasper were known to say, “I have had a final experience”.8

It is not surprising that many of Graham’s programs have the word decision as the key phrase in their traditional literature, such as the Decision Magazine, the radio program The Hour of Decision etc.

With the general society already conditioned that a one time intensely subjective experience is necessary for becoming being fully human, the Evangelical message of being saved nicely fit. One could argue that this evangelical conversion process is the religious alternative to the final experience.

Factions of the Catholic Church have had their own internal struggle against the contemporary definition of salvation and struggle to re-find what they believe to be their traditional one. Extremist groups within this realm, such as the St. Benedictine order, led by the late Father Feeney, have fought against Liberalist theology and modernism, by enforcing an ancient decree, “Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Omnino Salvatur”–“Outside the Church, there is no salvation for anyone” (the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215). The statement conveys that only formal members of the Catholic Church can be saved. They cite numerous Church Fathers throughout history to support their position. Father Feeney and his followers are recoiling against a modern challenge by urging allegiance to the Church and its traditions. It is a protectionist type of reaction, which does not give a precise definition of what the term saved means.9

The discussion of conversion in the annals of the Evangelical world can be traced back to the Methodist movement that struggled over the same question. Harold Roberts, the President of the World Methodist Council in the late 1950’s, stated:

“The test of the reality of conversion is to be found in a sense of forgiveness, a growing sensitiveness to sin, a conviction that all sin can finally be overcome by the power of God, an assurance that we are on the right road and that our life is in the hands of divine love, a changed relationship to our fellows revealed in social justice, the pursuit of peace, compassion, patience, humility, and absence of self-concern, and deepening allegiance to the Church as the people of God.”10

This is one of the better definitions, but it is not ironclad. How can one test that a person has changed relationships, overcome sin, has conviction etc.? The question of conversion then switches from the pronouncement of the individual’s conversion experience to confirmation by the Church authority.

Another approach can be taken from J.A. Wickham’s A synopsis of the doctrine of baptism, regeneration, conversion, etc.11 He argues that the historic Church taught and believed conversion and regeneration were represented in baptism. Baptism and being saved are synonyms. Either one is baptized or not. Whickham’s approach takes away the subjective nuances of conversion. There are weaknesses in this argument, but it is compelling.

These are a few of the problems that modern Evangelicals face today in defining the core of their belief system. However, none, except for J.A. Wickham, offers a satisfactory and a non-subjective alternative.

The next article on this subject looks into the earliest role of faith in the Christian message. It is an analysis of two key phrases found in the Books of Mark, and Luke. What it means to be Saved.

A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible

The complex story on the present chapter and numbering system of the Hebrew Bible.

The present book divisions, chapters, verses and structure of the Bible were standardized in the sixteenth-century. One would think this would apply exclusively to the Christian editions of the Bible, but has been administered retroactively to ancient Hebrew Bibles as well.

Most would assume the Hebrew Bible is so old and carefully guarded that the text has been standardized for almost 2000 years. This is not so when it comes to book names, chapters and numbering. The Hebrew versions popularly available today are considerably different from the Dead Sea Scrolls when it comes to format structure.

To understand the problem, one has to uncover the history of the Hebrew Bible.

Book structure as it is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The best place to start is with the handwritten Great Isaiah Scroll written between 125-100 BC. This text comprised two methods to break up copy into paragraphs, but did not have chapters. Instead, it had:

  • One or two words as orphans on a line with complete white space until the next line. This is the end of a distinct literary unit.
  • Having a four to nine character white space between words, which would simply be interpreted today as the end of a paragraph.

The sample below is taken from Isaiah 7:25-8:5. It is a demonstration of long spacing representing a literary unit, and short spacing for a paragraph within a literary unit.1

Aleppo Codex Sample

It may not be so obvious so the same image is supplied below with highlights. The yellow highlights are to demonstrate the long blank spaces that represent where a literary unit has ended and the next one should begin. The small blue highlight represents a paragraph within the same literary unit.


Why the ancient book structure had to be modified.

By the 9th century AD, Hebrew died as an active tongue. The writing system lacked vowels and just had consonants. The only way to know how to pronounce a word properly was passed on through the generations by oral traditions. This skill became very technical and fewer people had this ability as each generation passed. The loss of pronunciation naturally led to ambiguity of interpretation.

This process of Hebrew being eroded as a native tongue was recognized as a problem at least in the 7th century or earlier. Starting in the 7th century in Tiberius and Jerusalem, a Jewish group of scholars and Karaite scribes, called the Masoretes, laboured to retain the ancient pronunciation and speech that existed in the ancient Hebrew text. The tradition set-forth by Ben Asher standardized these additions, called niqqud, in the tenth century. The creation of the niqqud system inserted vowels and alternative vocalizations of consonants in the text. The niqqud became common in the 11th century and afterwards as part of the Hebrew text. These were placed above and below the consonants.

In the old way, Genesis 1:1 would look like this:

בראשית ברא אלהים את השםים ואת הארץ

The niqqud were then added, and it looks like this:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

Cantillation marks were then added for vocalization and punctuation. This looks very similar to the niqqud. One has to view carefully to see the difference. Wikipedia has a great article on how the cantillation system looks along with an explanation. Here is their sample with the cantillation in blue and the vowels in red from Genesis 1:9:

Wikipedia graphic on Hebrew cantillation

More on how cantillation acts as punctuation can be found at the Hebrew for Christians website.

In addition to this, many texts have editors notes on the edge of the manuscript page showing word usage. These were typically for identifying the amount of words the copyist had written and therefore to be compensated for. This also counts for scribal accuracy as well. The count is to match that of the master manuscript. These margin notes are not typically reproduced in any digital or modern printed Hebrew Bible.

Structure according to the Aleppo Codex.

The Aleppo Codex is a tenth-century manuscript that accurately reflects the Jewish tradition of properly reading the Hebrew Scriptures. It was written by the renowned Masorete, Aharon Ben Asher.2

The manuscript shows chapters, literary units and paragraphs in a slightly expanded form from that of the Dead Sea Scroll era:

Aleppo Sample header Deuteronomy

The large space on the right side is where Deuteronomy 29 begins in the Christian Bible. However, the Aleppo Codex does not recognize it as such. It’s division happens at the Christian position of 29:9. The margin notes also indicate this as well.

The sof pasuq ׃

One of the more important cantillation marks that one must be aware of is the sof pasuq. It looks like a large semi-colon (:). It is similar to the period used to mark the end of a sentence in the English language. This was the Hebrew traditional method which shows the end of a verse.

The sof pasuq is not an old invention. It was introduced in the ninth-century.3

Sof Pasuq in Aleppo Codex

The sof pasuq is highlighted with a yellow oval so it is easier to identify.

Note the nine character empty space in the middle of the last line after the sof pasuq. It demonstrates the end of a paragraph. A larger space but not a complete blank line, usually indicates the end of a literary unit.

These snapshots are taken from the Aleppo Codex website.

This spacing was typical of older Hebrew manuscripts. It was not acceptable to improve the text by adding chapters and headers in the copy. The margins had allowances for this. However, it was OK to identify literary sections by the creative use of leaving empty spaces between words.

The results of these labours are called Masoretic texts. The Aleppo and the Leningrad codexes are the best known copies of this tradition and based around 900 to 1010 AD.

Approximately 200 years later after the introduction of Masoretic texts, the influence of the Christian chaptering and numbering system began to infiltrate the Hebrew copy.

When was the modern edition of chapters introduced to Hebrew Bibles?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia found at the New Advent website, chapters were first introduced by Stephen Langton in the early 1200s. Then Arius Montanus in 1571 actually broke up the Hebrew text into chapters. This article explains why most Hebrew Bibles contain the structure they do today.

The Christian division into chapters, invented by Archbishop Stephen Langton about the beginning of the thirteenth century, has gained an entrance into the Hebrew Bible. The beginning was made by Rabbi Solomon ben Ismael who first (c. A D. 1330) placed the numerals of these chapters in the margin of the Hebrew text. In printed Bibles this system made its first appearance in the first two Bomberg editions of 1518. Arias Montanus, in his Antwerp Bible of 1571, “broke up the Hebrew text itself into chapters and introduced the Hebrew numerals into the body of the text itself” (Ginsburg). This, though contrary to the Massoretic directions, is still followed in nearly all printed Bibles on account of its great usefulness. In most instances (617 out of 779) the chapter coincides with one or other of the Massoretic sections. In Bomberg’s great Bible of 1547-8, Hebrew numerals were affixed to every fifth verse.4

The work of Stephan Langton was so popular and influential that by 1330 this divisional system became a standard in the Jewish community when Rabbi Solomon ben Ismael placed these numbers in the margins of the Hebrew Bible. More importantly, the current divisional system was introduced by the controversial christian, profiteer, and printer, Daniel Bomberg, who under the blessing of Pope Leo X, included the numbers inside the printed Hebrew text, along with the fifth verse being in Hebrew. Bomberg took advantage of the warm spirit of learning of Hebrew texts within Catholic studies and the need for printed materials. This epoch was opposite to earlier crusades against Jewish literature that led to massive destruction of documents or severe censorship of their writings.

The old spacing technique better served the reading-out loud of a text than personal reading. When the printing press came along, the spacing technique lost prominence. Paragraphs were now identified by a line height of 1.5 or 2x larger from the previous text. This spacing, or in typography language called leading, was done to make the paragraph section more obvious. Chapters were given a header plus a number instead of a large amount of space from the previous text.

This has highly influenced the popular Hebrew Bibles in use for study and research today in the Evangelical community.

The Snaith edition Hebrew Bible.

The Snaith edition Hebrew Bible was named after Norman Henry Snaith who prepared this for the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1958. It is a controversial publication because it is not clearly known which manuscripts it is based on, and there are numerous publishing and textual errors. However, it is a representation on the evolution of the Hebrew Bible. It is a synthesis of Masoretic Hebrew text influenced by Christian and modern traditions. It is laid out for the novice Christian Hebrew reader to easily read, index and understand. It is also inexpensive, and at one point, at least in Canada, was given for free to any Bible student studying ancient Hebrew.

The Snaith edition is an odd book in that it has a two different numbering and chaptering systems represented on each page. The headers and header numerals are in Latin. Every page strangely has a parallel Hebrew number at the margin where the Latin chapter header appears. Then the verses are in the modern western numbering system with every fifth numeral in Hebrew. The Hebrew is following the Latin and Christian chaptering system which doesn’t exist in the original Masoretic texts.

The second system is the Masoretic one. But one has to look more carefully to see it. A header will be found solely in Hebrew with a corresponding Hebrew chapter number and slightly to the left of the Hebrew is a contemporary modern number.

Henry Snaith's version of the Hebrew Bible

A sample of Exodus 27:19 – 28:2 from the Snaith Edition with a cross-section of Latin headers, Latin numerals, Hebrew and Arabic numbers, and Christian chaptering system.

The Snaith edition also includes the ancient Jewish cyclical reading system called Parshiyot — a system which recognizes Genesis to Deuteronomy as one book broken into 54 sections. The combination of Genesis to Deuteronomy is called the Torah. The above illustration which has תצוה כ 20 means Parashat Tetzaveh 20 — the twentieth reading from the annual reading cycle. Parashat is the singular form for Parshiyot.

The Parashiyot is broken up this way: the Genesis section in the Hebrew Bible has only 12 readings, compared to the Christian 50 chapters. In the Hebrew system, the Book of Exodus doesn’t exist by name. This section starts at reading 13. Leviticus is a continuation and begins at reading 24. Numbers starts at 34. Deuteronomy at 44 and ends at reading 54.

The combination of all these influences are very strange and confusing to the novice or intermediate Hebrew reader.

Bibilia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.

The much better received Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartstensia is standardly used in places such as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. BHS does not follow the Snaith edition in the Hebrew numbering system. It has its own set of guidelines to show the spaces found in the Hebrew manuscript.

Here is an example of how it appears in BHS. The paragraph and division formatting is highlighted in red in this example so the reader can easily spot it.

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Sample

The online edition of BHS, which lacks critical notes, does not input the old Hebrew numbering system at all. It simply displays the Christian order. It makes it appear that the chaptering system is based on the Masoretic text, when it is not.

How printed editions of the Hebrew Bible try to alert the readers of space formatting.

Editors of printed Hebrew editions felt the necessity to alert the reader when a traditional space formatting had occurred in the original handwritten text.

The Snaith and BHS alert the reader to this phenomena by use of special codes.

In the Torah:

  • Snaith edition only: Hebrew chapters usually can be found to begin after the repetition of the Hebrew letter peh, פפפ, repeated three times in a row, and a newline. About 15% of the time it is alternately written as ססס, as seen in the above example. This is not done in BHS. BHS uses this symbol: ס פרש.

  • A literary unit can usually be identified by the single letter peh,פ with a large space afterwards. This is short for פתוחה petuchah or in its longer form, פרשה פתוחה, parashah petuchah. Sometimes referred to as a open paragraph.

  • Paragraphs within a literary unit are represented by a samech, ס, and a smaller four to nine blank space. This is short for סתומה stumah or in its longer form,

    פרשה סתומה, parashah stumah. Sometimes referred to as a closed paragraph. These are sub-paragraphs.

Both the Snaith and the BHS add another layer of abstraction for the reader/analyst. The Hebrew reader is either forced to use his or her time to learn this abstraction or learn to read the original manuscripts without the use of the niqqud or cantillation marks. The level of abstraction is quite large and will take some time. It is better and less confusing to use the original manuscripts first.

The Snaith and BHS Bibles are not consistent with the ancient formatting.

These editions do not parallel the spacing system found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. If one looks at the Dead Sea Scroll sample of Isaiah above and compare it to Snaith or BHS, there are many irregularities between them.

The sof pasuq in the Aleppo Codex is used less than in the Snaith edition. For example in Joshua chapter 1, the Snaith used it 17 times. The Aleppo used it only six times.

One mystery of demarcation in the Snaith edition, is that it stops the ancient Hebrew tradition of printing pehs after the Torah (Pentateuch). The sof pasuq still exists after that from the Book of Joshua and onwards.

If one looks further and compares the Aleppo Codex with Snaith in the Book of Joshua, it becomes clear there is not an exact agreement on punctuation and structure. The Book of Joshua begins chapter two in the same location in both texts but it departs from there. Joshua 4:16 has the next double return in the Aleppo, meaning that a chapter should start here but the Snaith is totally absent in any marking. Joshua 5:1 are in agreement, but the Aleppo then begins the next chapter at 5:10 which once again is in disagreement with the Snaith edition, which has nothing to demarcate here at all.

There are many more details that could be written on the subject but hopefully this introduction will assist many Bible researchers with studying and understanding the Hebrew Bible.

For more information and links:

Thoughts on the Bible

How the Bible should be revered but not worshiped.

As a young child and at the point of first questioning matters of life, death, God, and everything in-between, I discovered the Bible.

It was first thought that this book possessed a magical quality, so I slept with the Book underneath my head, and expected spiritual wonders to happen. Waking up the next morning, my head hurt, and my ear was sore from rubbing against it. This approach was immediately abandoned.

As a young adult, the Bible expanded my mind about the world around me. It gave a framework of how to live. The joy of connecting with a greater power, the freedom of conscience, and knowing what true love is, are by-products that I am always thankful for.

On the negative side, it became a way to avoid the complexities of life and personal situations. Everything was black and white with little or no grey area. Discussion was not necessary on the majority of life challenges because the Bible had already endorsed or rejected a multitude of situations. I didn’t have to think. It was already pre-packaged and done. It was an easy way-out, and it kept me in adolescence for a few more years than normal.

This is not a problem of God or the Bible. It is part of the weakness of the human character. This same type of behaviour is also exhibited in communism and democratic capitalism where untold lives have been taken in the name of an ideology. It is not a problem of the system, but a flaw in either a personal or corporate character that has misapplied the real meaning.

The Bible can refer to a source of great liberation, but can equally enslave and do serious damage if employed incorrectly.

Positive social effects of learning to Read the Bible

There are rewards for learning to read the Bible that extend beyond the religious realm. Literacy is one of them. It is a foundational pillar that Evangelicals stress with new believers. This is a concept that everyone has to learn to read the Bible for themselves. This emphasis not only makes some new believers who struggle with social or economic disadvantages functionally literate, but it often increases the literary skill-set from intermediate to advanced. This attainment leads to improved critical thinking skills and gives confidence for higher education and better job prospects. It opens a whole new world.

The close connection between literacy and the Bible has existed for centuries. Missionaries have used the Bible to not only spread the Gospel, but also to put unwritten languages into written form and subsequently develop literacy within many populations initially unreached by western civilization. When these people groups finally intersect with the western world, their literacy positively aids the many health, cultural, legal, social and political problems that typically arise. Wycliffe Bible Translators is an organization well known for this type of work. Bruce Olsen, a missionary to the Motilone tribe in Columbia, is a well known personal figure for this approach.

There is a problem side to Bible reading. . . the over-adulation of the Bible. This can be expressed in a number of ways.

Over adulation of the Bible

Jesus spoke out against over-adulation of the Book, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (NKJV) He is addressing the fact that the Bible is not an end in itself. It is meant to be a reference point describing something far greater. So sleeping with the Bible, obeying the exact words, or even worshipping it misses the point.

Over adulation has caused much bloodshed. For example, Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel, outlined how the Spanish used the Bible as a source of provocation and subjugation against the Incas. In 1532, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro first encountered the Incas and its leader, Atahuallpa, he summoned a Friar to bring a Bible before Atahuallpa. Atahuallpa, not knowing what it was, threw it on the ground. This gave evidence to the Spanish that the Incas and their leader had repudiated God’s word — they were heathens. Therefore, it was legally allowable to slaughter and subject them to the King of Spain and the Church.

Many radio, TV and Sunday preachers often say, “the Bible says…”, as if the words of this Book are the final authority. A statement that indicates that many are in the position of over-adulation of the Book.

This leads for an important question to ponder. Is God jealous if we worship the Book and not Him?

The purpose of the Bible

The Book is meant to reveal the character and nature of God. It is not purposed to cover all aspects of everyday living in some written legal form. Our daily living is to be derived from what we understand who God is, who we are, and then simply do what is right.

God is not too concerned about the sacredness or inerrancy of His Word. On the contrary, He may allow for imperfections to exist in order to prevent our civilization from idolizing the Book over Him. If the Book is perfect then this would make God almost unnecessary in our everyday lives. Why do we need to be in contact with Him if the Book suffices with all we need?

Also, if the Book was perfect and we adulate it as a legal text then it does not require personal or emotional connection or genuine concern for others. This approach can allow for inhumane practices or disrespect against those in need. In many cases those in positions of authority can hide behind the veil of legal texts and remain apathetic.

Legal versus Moral obligation

The Christian faith urges us to love everyone as much as ourselves. We are obligated to pursue this higher moral law. Only when we fail this difficult standard, are we to apply a legal requirement. We must always try to live by the spirit of the law first.

If one is restricted to merely fulfilling a legal obligation, it means we don’t have to think or care about others beyond this. We are simply fulfilling our civic duty, nothing more. This is dangerous.

For example the problem of abortion. It is not directly written in the Bible that it is wrong, but it is inferred. On a legal basis, the Christian is only obligated to say it is wrong and do nothing more.

The moral obligation on this subject is completely different. Everyone is morally obligated to love, which may mean providing housing, clothing, counseling, adoption services, and other forms of assistance to remedy where a crisis pregnancy exists. However, this requires more effort, action and resources. Observing the legal responsibility is much easier than the moral route.

Another example is the well known commandment, “thou shalt not kill,”. If one simply accepts, “thou shalt not kill,” as a legal contract, it doesn’t require anyone to think about God, or others. It simply means not to physically kill. But if one continues to read the Bible to build a clearer picture of what God likes and dislikes, it will become clear that deprivation, torture, denying access to food or health products, child-slavery, rape and so many other circumstances that kill a person emotionally are a form of killing. If the text is taken literally, the moral sense is lost.

Of course the primary objective of altruism rarely or seldom appears, but one must always pursue this goal.

Church leadership is required to fill in the blanks

Some issues cannot be tackled by personal reading of the Bible. Technology has brought about new concerns that the Sages of 2000 years ago would never believed possible. Problems of end-of-care, euthanasia, chemical dependencies, changes in the marital relationship, new definitions of sexuality, gender issues, and much more cannot be easily figured out by the individual person alone.

It is a God-given mandate for church leadership to give direction in these matters.


These are wandering thoughts on the subject and are by no means final. It would be great to hear your views and practices regarding the Bible. Your comments on the subject would greatly enhance this conversation. One can leave a comment on the main website here, or go to Facebook, or dialogue at Twitter.

A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism

Did the Montanist’s speak in tongues and is this the historical antecedent for tongues in the church today?

The christian doctrine of tongues can be traced backward in two ways. The first one through ecclesiastical literature which chronicles the passing of this rite through the centuries and marks how it has evolved. The second and more popular way is to trace the lineage back to pagan Greek antecedents. Montanism is one of the key steps in this second order. Pentecostals and Charismatics take this second option further and claim Montanism and their alleged speaking in tongues as their historical parallel.

This article is an in-depth investigation to find an answer to the above question. In accordance with the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project, source texts are provided, analyzed and commented on. Such details may seem boorish for the regular reader, but the lack of source literature and analysis is one of the greatest problems that have plagued the modern christian doctrine of tongues debate.

What is Montanism and the source texts for this controversy?

In a simplified form, it was begun by a man named Montanus around 162 AD and aided by two women, Maximilla and Priscilla. Montanism lasted up until the 6th century. For a deeper historical overview of the Montanist movement, an old publication, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 6 covers the movement in the best detail to help the reader get up to speed with the debate at hand.

The movement is revealed through three major sources, Eusebius of Caesarea, Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis, and Tertullian. The first two write about the Montanists in very negative and vitriolic terms while Tertullian defended them. There are a number of works that allude to Epiphanius correlating Montanism with ecstatic utterances but substantiation or a source text similar to these claims has yet to be found.1 There are other citations about Montanists found in the writings of Jerome and Didymus of Alexandria, but these do not refer to the Montanist glossolalia controversy.

The most important source for the Montanists and glossolalia is Eusebius’ account. One must keep in mind that Eusebius’ account is a critical report of the Montanist movement. It contains over-the-top rhetoric which makes the reader wonder why so many resources and time were utilized against them. The strong attack causes one to either pity the Montanists or think there is an ulterior motive by the established church against them. Judging by the voracity of words, the Montanists must have been a populist movement that the institutional church felt threatened by.

Eusebius himself has his own internal doubts about the account provided to him by an unknown author and stated, “They say that these things happened in this manner. But as we did not see them, O friend, we do not pretend to know.”2 For that reason, Eusebius’ history should be taken with a degree of skepticism.

Eusebius’ source was trying to demonize the Montanists in almost every way. The wording and semantics are purposely kept distant from anything familiar to the christian faith.

The actual text used to link Montanist with Pentecostal speaking in tongues

The alleged Montanist experience is a brief account by Eusebius in his Historiae Ecclesiasticae who narrated about two Montanist followers who went into a state of ecstasy and uttered strange sounds. What exactly were the sounds? Were they foreign languages, ecstatic speech, or something else? Is this one of the earliest christian expressions of tongues after the first Pentecost? This is the crux of the discussion.

Here is the actual text :

There is said to be a certain village called Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.

8. Some of those who heard his spurious utterances at that time were indignant, and they rebuked him as one that was possessed, and that was under the control of a demon, and was led by a deceitful spirit, and was distracting the multitude; and they forbade him to talk, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord and his warning to guard watchfully against the coming of false prophets. But others imagining themselves possessed of the Holy Spirit and of a prophetic gift, were elated and not a little puffed up; and forgetting the distinction of the Lord, they challenged the mad and insidious and seducing spirit, and were cheated and deceived by him. In consequence of this, he could no longer be held in check, so as to keep silence.

9. Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises. But sometimes he rebuked them openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover. But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number.3

The important sequences are:

  • . . . and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy. . . — πνευματοφορηθῆναί τε καὶ αἰφνιδίως ἐν κατοχῇ τινι καὶ παρεκστάσει γενόμενον, ἐνθουσιᾶν.
    I don’t know how the English translator worked it out that way. An alterntive would be: “that he was inspired by a spirit and suddenly became elated in some type of catatonic stupor and spurious ecstasy.”
  • . . .began to babble and utter strange things. . . — ἄρξασθαί τε λαλεῖν καὶ ξενοφωνεῖν
  • . . .spurious utterances. . . —

The glossolalia connection

The interpretation of this text centres around the word glossolalia. If the Montanists were glossalists, then there is a potential connection to the ancient christian rite of speaking in tongues. If not, then there is no connection with the christian community and the discussion is irrelevant.

Anyone who tries to make this association assumes that glossolalia was a special rite of speech practised by the ancient christian community. This assumption ignores that glossolalia is a new definition added to the christian doctrine of tongues that started in the early 1800s.4 This term should not be used to describe antecedents to the christian doctrine of tongues any earlier than this, but since the term glossolalia is so popular in the minds of contemporary scholars and readers alike, it will be permitted so that this discussion can run its course.

The importance of Montanism in the christian doctrine of tongues

Pentecostal scholars such as Rev. Heidi Baker parallel their tongues-speaking experience with the Montanists.5 She also holds a widely held belief in pentecostal circles that the primitivist virtues of the earliest church were lost when the church was institutionalized, regained by the Montanists, then forgotten again, until finally revived by the pentecostal movement 1800 years later.6 The acclaimed Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements edited primarily by Stanley Burgess, a “distinguished professor of christian history at Regent University and Professor Emeritus, Missouri State University”7 claims that that gift of speaking in tongues flourished with the Montanists and later influenced the glossolalic speaking eighteenth-century Camisards in south-central France. The Camisards then left a legacy for modern Pentecostals to follow.8

The Presbyterian minded Biblical scholar who has closely studied the pentecostal movement, F. Dale Bruner, believes there is a connection between the two; “Montanism interests us as the prototype of almost everything Pentecostalism seeks to represent.”9

Indeed looking at the Montanist movement, especially the coverage given by the renowned nineteenth-century scholar, August Neander, as found in his book, The History of the Christian Religion and Church during the First Three Centuries (Page 327), demonstrates many parallels between the two parties. However, this commonality does not mean an automatic connection with speaking in tongues which some suggest or want to happen. The pentecostal affinity to the Montanist experience makes it necessary to see if the Montanist story is a serious contributor to the history of christians speaking in tongues.

An essential keyword missing.

If one looks closely into the details, the actual historic evidence that equates Montanism with the gift of tongues is very weak. The critical Greek keyword which is used throughout the New Testament writings in reference to tongues speaking, γλῶσσα — glôssa does not appear in the text. This is required to definitively connect Montanist glossolalia with the church rite. This word connection does not exist.

This omission is a very crucial point. In order to reinforce this fact, the Greek, Latin and an English translation can be found at the following link: Eusebius on Montanism. The source work reinforces the skeptical reader that the critical Greek keyword is not there.

Two scholars, two different outcomes

Christopher Forbes and Rex D. Butler try to answer the question about the Montanists and glossolalia but come up with different results.

Christopher Forbes, who “is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, and Deputy Chairman of the Society for the Study of Early Christianity”10 at Macquarie University, argued that there is no conclusive evidence the Montanists used glossolalia.

If Montanist prophecy was in any sense analogous to glossolalia it is quite remarkable that no ancient writer ever noticed or commented on this fact. Though it is certainly true that Montanist prophecy was characterised by ecstasy (in the modern sense), and occasionally by oracular obscurity, there is no unambiguous evidence whatsoever that it took glossolalic form.11

Rex D. Butler, Associate Professor of Church History and Patristics, at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary goes in the opposite direction.12 He reported that the elements of the Montanist text all correlate with glossolalia and directly counters Forbe’s claims.

  • His first argument rests on the role of the interpreter. If the prophecy was given in intelligible speech why would the service of the prophetess Maximillia, an interpreter ἑρμηνεύτην, be required?13

  • Secondly, he charged that Forbes failed to recognize that the prophets utilized both intelligible and unintelligible speech. Third, he argued against Forbes definition of ξενοφωνεῖν. Forbes believed it to mean to speak as a foreigner while Butler believed it to mean to speak strangely. Butler further adds if it is combined with λαλεῖν, which is found in the Eusebius text as λαλεῖν καὶ ξενοφωνεῖν, then the phrase should be translated as chatter or babble. Finally, Butler concluded, “Forbes arguments are not sufficient to overturn the historic understanding that Montanists engaged in glossolalia.”14

The arguments on both sides rest on ancient sources and linguistics. Therefore, it is necessary to take a further look into the subject matter. Continue reading A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism