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V. P. Simmons on the Church History of Tongues

The early Pentecostal writer V. P. Simmons on the Church history of tongues.

V. P. Simmons is an unknown name in the annals of pentecostal history and even moreso in the general historical records. However, the impact of his historical thesis which connects the speaking in tongues of the 1900s with the first-century rite still echoes in pentecostal establishments everywhere. His name may be forgotten but his framework is relatively intact.

The pentecostal theology of speaking in tongues has a distinct historical framework and interpretative system. This unique framework can be traced to his article in a religious newspaper called the Bridegroom’s Messenger back in 1907. Not much is known of Mr. Simmons outside of his contributions to this newspaper.

The Bridegroom’s Messenger held him in the highest honor: “Brother Simmons is known among Pentecostal people as a writer and thinker and an observer of religious movements for years. He has known something of “Pentecost” for about fifty-two years. His observations and research has made his judgment valuable and reliable.”(1)Bridegroom’s Messenger. Sept. 15, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 46

His History of Tongues work was published and republished on a number of occasions in the Bridegroom’s Messenger — an important and influential early pentecostal newspaper that was published out of Atlanta. It arguably supplanted the Azusa Street newspaper, Apostolic Faith in reach and influence by 1908. The Church History of Tongues was converted into a tract and sold by the Bridegroom’s Messenger which gave it a wide reading through North America and the world.

Other writers and editors greatly expanded on the same historical framework penned by him later on. He was somewhat a patriarch of the tongues movement. He had been actively following the subject since the late 1850s.

Enclosed are entire articles by Simmons, a number of quotes, some background texts from the Bridegroom’s Messenger and a few additional notes.

Articles, Quotes, and Notes

Dec. 1, 1907. Vol. 1. No. 3

“A History of Tongues” V. P. Simmons (Frostproof, Fla.)

With the passing of the apostolic age, only one reference in the writings of the early fathers concerning praying, speaking, or singing in tongues, has come down to us. It is more than probable that records of martyrdom on the one hand, and the theological controversies on the other, has crowded out much pertaining to spiritual devotion and spiritual exercises in the church.

We will briefly note what facts have cropped out in church history upon the subject of “tongues.”

1. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, born probably, in Asia Minor, A. D. 115, died at Lyons, France, A. D. 202, for twenty-five years Bishop of Lyons, was a scholar of Polycarp, who, in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John. Drifting westward as far as France in A. D. _77, he became the leader of the Christians and their most learned defender of the faith. In his Adv. Haer. VI page 6, he writes, “We have many brethren in the churches, having prophetical gifts, and by the Spirit speaking in all kinds of languages.” From this statement of Irenaeus the inference is quite conclusive, that, for at least one hundred years after the apostles, “tongues” continued in the church; thus confuting the oft repeated statement that it was confined to the apostle’s day only.

2. After the reformation under Luther a century and a half passed before anything definite is recorded concerning “tongues.” The Protestant French Huguenots were a godly people, who for long generations furnished many thousands for martyrdom, and still more for banishment—a full million banished from their native land, and many ten thousands sealing their faith by their blood, during that long Catholic persecution. It naturally speaks for itself that the Holy Spirit put His sealing grace upon so steadfast and devoted a people. Upon this true people for generation, the spiritual supernatural gifts seemed to rest. From the repeal of toleration, A. D. 1685, the Catholics, like wild beasts, hunted this devoted class of their countrymen, wiping out 166 of their towns, devastating their country, sparing neither men, women, nor children, as they fled to the mountains, to dens and caves of the earth. God was with them, and the Holy Ghost fell on them in mighty power, and supernatural manifestations. Among the Huguenots were some well uneducated; speaking the purest French; others back in the mountain seclusions, like the Camisards, the Cevennes, and others, speaking a very illiterate dialect. On both classes, the learned and the illiterate, came the supernatural manifestations. I quote from the Library of Universal Knowledge, Vol. III, page 352. (From A. D. 1685-1705, again A. D. 1715-1729, also A. D. 1775-1789): “There was a singular psychologic or spiritual phase in the history of the C. that must be noticed. It was a sort of inspiration or ecstasy. The subject who had endured long fasting, became pale, and fell insensible to the ground. Then cam violent agitations of the limbs and head; and finally the patient, who might be a little child, a woman, or half-witted person, began to speak in good French of the Huguenot Bible, warning the people to repentance, prophesying the immediate coming of the Lord in judgment, and claiming that these exhortations came directly from the Holy Ghost; after a long discourse the patient returns to his native patois (that is, to his illiterate dialect) with no recollection of what he had been doing or saying. All kinds of miracles, so they believed, attended upon the Camisards, strange lights guided them to places of safety (from their prosecutors), unknown voices spoke encouragement, and wounds were often harmless. Those who were in ecstasy of trance fell from trees without sustaining hurt.” “The supernatural was part of their life.” Such is the statement of Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of the fifteenth volume Library of Universal Knowledge, 1880 edition.

Dr. Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, also in Religious Encyclopedia, speaks of the Camisards, prophets of the Cevennes, as speaking in unknown tongues, as well as talking in pure French, when in natural conversation theirs was an illiterate dialect.

Before leaving this devout people, it might be added that, from the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France, A. D. 1814 and 1815, another bitter persecution, even to martyrdom, broke upon the Protestants of France, and with it these supernatural manifestations seemed to be again revived.

3. Dr. Shaff also mentions the early Quakers and early Methodists as “speaking in tongues,” but not having the data for either will pass them until such time as we can present facts in this case.

4. “Lasure” movement in Sweden, A. D. 1841-1843, the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is also recorded in history.

5. In connection with the Irish revival (Protestant), A. D. 1859, was the “speaking in tongues.” See Shaff’s History of Christian Church for particulars.

6. Under the ministry of Edward Irving, born in Scotland, A. D. 1792, died A. D. 1834, much of the supernatural was manifested. Irving taught school A. D. 1812 at Huddington, where Jane Welsh, afterwards wife of the historian Carlyle, was among his scholars. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, in A. D. 1815 began preaching __ became assistant pastor under Dr. _____ at Glasgow, A. D. 1822, called to the Caledonian church of the Covenanters at London. So rapid was this church under his ministry that in two years it grew from a small people to a congregation of 6,000. In his ministry Irving made the second personal coming of Christ very prominent, also an entire abandonment of self to God, of which he was an example. Thomas Carlyle, himself a cold and critical writer, said of Edward Irving (A. D. 1835): “His was the freest, brotherlinest, bravest human soul mine ever came in contact with. I call him on the whole the best man I have ever found in this world or hope to find.” Such was the man that became leader of the “Catholic Apostolic Church,” sometimes called “Irvingites,” after the Presbyterian body threw him overboard. He lived and walked too near God for any ecclesiastical organization to manage. In the spring of A. D. 1830, on the shores of the Clyde, Scotland, among some pious Presbyterian men and women, the Holy Spirit fell in wonderful manner. The speaking in tongues quickly spread into widely separated parts of Scotland.

“Mr. Cardale, a Scotch lawyer, brought the news to London, and in 1831 his wife and Mr. Taplin began to ‘prophesy’ and to speak in an unknown tongue in Irving’s church. Irving fell in with the movement, heartily convinced of its scriptural basis and divine authority. Forsaken by a large part of his congregation, he began to hold services on May 6, 1832, with 800 communicants in a new place of worship.” — Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, page 1119. “The order of this movement was: The ‘prophesyings’ were addressed to the audience in intelligible English, and like the Quaker utterances; but the ‘tongues’ were monologues or dialogues between the speaker and God which non one could understand.” Encyclopedia as above, Vol. 1, page 422. This marvelous, supernatural work continued with this people for years, even after the death of the saintly Irving.

7. Among the Second Adventists of America the talking tongues was manifest. In A. D. 1854, Elder S. G. Mathewson spoke in tongues and Elder Edwin Burnham interpreted the same. The writer knew both of these men of God well, has often sat under their preaching. They were large men physically, mentally an spiritually. By some, Edwin Burnahm was regarded as the most gifted in eloquence and used the most glowing rhetoric of all the preachers connected with the Second Advent movement since the days of Edward Irving.

In the early Seventies, A. D. 1873, and onward again among a portion of the Second Adventist believers, the talking in tongues, accompanied largely with gift of healing, was manifested in New England. They were called the “Gift Adventists.” Their most noted leader was Elder Doughty, a man, all things considered, the writer regards as having the strongest faith and power in prayer of any person with whom he ever became acquainted. On Elder Doughty abode the gift of healing in a wonderful degree.

In this recital but one other case will be noted.

8. Charles G. Finney was born A. D. 1792, in Western Connecticut, born again A. D. 1821. Quickly after his conversion he received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and began speaking in tongues. A subject to which in his early experience his attention had never been called. He did not know what to make of it. An indescribable sweetness took control of his whole being. From that hour he abandoned the law business for gospel work. For fifty-four years an active evangelist, much of which time also president of Oberlin, Ohio, College. It is claimed that more than one hundred and fifty thousand were converted under his labors. On him abode such Holy Ghost power that people were powerfully convicted by just his looking at them without speaking. Probably his equal as an evangelist of divine power has not been known to the church since the days of the Apostle Paul. The case of Finney speaking in tongues and concealed by his friends and biographers, as a weakness in the great man, has had a parallel in the experience of many another consecrated laborer. Let not those who have received the Comforter—with tongues, doubt the anointing of a harrowed labourer in the Master’s vineyard whose experience is unknown.”

Republished in February 1, 1908. It is announced in the March 1, 1908 that it is published in a tract form. A version very similar to his but the initials of someone else, Feb. 1, 1911. Vol. 4. No. 79. Reprinted in the White Wing Messenger, March 31, 1928. Vol. V. No. 7 Pg. 3 and continued in April, 14, 1928, Vol. V. No. 8.

April 15, 1908. Vol 1. No. 12

“History of Tongues: Additional Testimony” by V. P. Simmons.

“In writing up testimony concerning prominent persons in the Church in earlier times of Christianity, following the death of the apostles, it behooves one to be very careful whom he indorses or condemns; for prominent writers of those times were either bitter in condemnation, or worshipful in praises of leaders among them. Taking Arius, for example, some writers denounce him as a bitter, obnoxious heretic, while others hold him up as the most saintly church leader of his time.

1. The Montanists, the followers of Montanus, who, A. D. 156, appeared as a new prophet of Ardaban, in Phrygia, on the frontier of Mysia. Both Montanus and his disciples were subjects of severe criticism of ecclesiastics, and by others praised for their fervent piety, their self-denial, their courage in facing martyrdom, their long continuance in prayer, their ardent belief in the supernatural. Like the Pentecostal people of today, they had bitter assailants and zealous defenders; and also like the Pentecostal believers of our times they talked in tongues.

Montanus called “the prophet” and two very active Christian women, named Priscilla and Maximilla, called “the prophetesses,” saintly in their lives, ardent in the gospel labor, laying great stress upon the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and inward illumination, prophesying, speaking in tongues, in all things led of the Spirit, given to fasting, prayer and self-denial, they were very separate from the world, and insisting that an ecclesiastical organization was not the Church, but “an inward illumination of the Holy Spirit upon believers did constitute them the true Church.” See History of Universal Knowledge, Vol. 10, page 160-1. Also Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, page 1561-2, third edition. For full four hundred years the Montanists contained a separate existence, suffering persecution, even to martyrdom, from the heathen, and bitter exclusion from the Catholic party. Rigid in morals, laying great stress on divine leading, they ever affirmed that the very substance of the Church was the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Philip Schaff, former professor in the Union Theological Seminary, New York, says, “Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive Church, against the obvious tendency of the Church today to strike a bargain with the world, and arrange herself comfortably in it.”

2. Tertullian, born A. D., 145 (some affirm A. D., 150 as date of his birth), was perhaps the finest scholar, the most extensive writer, the most brilliant leader of the Church of his generation. Born and educated at Carthage, at that time a seat of learning, he was a man of radical temperament, strong convictions, born leader. He early espoused the teaching of Montanus, prophesying, talking in tongues, spiritual visions, practicing self-denial, ardent in labors, opposing the growing ecclesiasticism of the Church. On all social questions he ever drew a distinct line between the Church and the world, he filled out a long life, being an active disputant to the last, and is ever mentioned by Christian writers as a father of the Church.

3. Cyprian, also born at Carthage, about the beginning of the third century, was but a young man when Tertullian died. He early became a disciple of his illustrious townsman, adopting all of Tertullian’s views. He too, was a finished scholar, even in early manhood venerated for his piety. In him, so-called Montanism had an able defendant. The inner life of the Holy Spirit’s leadings, prophesying, tongues, visions, the actual necessity of a positive Holy Spirit given experience. He was wont to call Tertullian his master. Probably more biographies have been written of Cyprian than of any other of the early fathers of the Church. He went to martyrdom A. D., 258.

Thus we have in a period of one hundred years, not less than four great leaders of the early Church championing the Pentecostal teaching of our own times; all of them men of no mean ability, learning, or piety, to wit: Irenaeus, of Lyons, Montanus, of Phrygia; Tertullian and Cyprian, of Carthage; together with two illustrations Christian women mentioned in this article. Each and all of these had a large following, while all of them battled the then growing spirit of Roman Catholicism.”

June 1, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39

Historians Dodging Tongues

The many bits of history down through the ages, showing the cropping out of speaking in tongues, are but an indication that hidden under the surface is far more that might have been written had not biographers and writers of church history concealed facts about this subject.

If clear headed Christian scholars like Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian of the earlier centuries endorsed the Montanists, defending them in their speaking in tongues, it is probable those eminent men were not alone in their approval of tongues and prophesying.

In fact, Irenaeus, in his Adv. Heur, page 6, writes: “We have many brethren in the churches having prophetical gifts, and by the Spirit, speaking in all kinds of languages.”

The English language abounds with many elaborate encyclopedias; most of them scarcely mention the subject of “Tongues,” leaving for Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of encyclopedia of universal knowledge, and Philip Schaff, D. D., LL. editor of History . . . [a portion of the copy is illegible]

Lutheran writers . . .[a portion of the copy is illegible] silent about the tongue movement in Sweden about A. D. 1841-1843, leaving it to Dr. Schaff, of another denomination, to bring out. Methodist literature abounds in Christian biography and history of Methodist religious awakenings, but how silent are they all upon any tongue talking in their membership, leaving Dr. Schaff and Dr. Bushnall (in his work, “Supernaturalism”), to mention tongue talking among Methodists. Most Presbyterian and Congregational writers give us facts of Methodist history concealed by Methodists themselves.

Elder I. C. Welcome wrote a large, excellent work, “History of the Second Advent Message,” showing great research in compiling; but not a word about Adventists speaking in tongues; and yet from A. D. 1845 to the present time, both in the ministry and laity, this spiritual exercise has almost continually been manifest among some of the most devout and saintly of Second Advent believers. (The writer is collecting quite a goodly number of facts for future publication on this line.)

I do not say that biographers and historians are dishonest in concealing these matters from the readers. They evidently consider tongue talking a fanaticism, a weakness, to be kept out of sight; but in some way it will out, and readers will know that their biographers and compilers are not impartial.

June 1, 1910. Vol. 3. No. 63

“The Exercise of Tongues.” By V. P. Simmons.

The writer having had no personal experience concerning “tongues,” can only judge by observation, and the general effect of “the tongue” movement.

The variety of exercises of “tongues” seems to be: (1) Talking in tongues, (2) exhorting in tongues, (3) singing in tongues, (4) praying in tongues, (5) writing in tongues, (6) interpreting in tongues, (7) playing in tongues upon musical instruments.

Having witnessed nearly of these various exercises, not excepting even a counterfeit of tongues, and having made the tongue movement a study for more than fifty-years, both from church history and the many recitals concerning it in these last of the last days, the following are our conclusions:

1. It has positive, and repeated Bible authority.

2. Not a hint can be found in the Bible that it has been done away, or will be done away, so long as this gospel dispensation lasts.

3. The class who are exercised with “tongues,” are as a rule the most consecrated, the most crucified, the most given to Bible study, the most self-denying, the most humble, loving, prayerful and saintly; far in advance of the ordinary conscientious church members. Their simple child-like faith with which they take the Bible as it reads, is really marvelous in this sceptical age, when even ministers study the Bible to explain it away.

4. To be even remotely associated with them, to attend their services, their camp meeting, to watch them from the outside, is to feel their quiet power. In short one comes to the conclusion that God is with them. Invalids have repeatedly expressed the soothing influence they experienced when under the quiet nursing of this class of believers.

5. The positively supernatural manifestations and exercises, connected with the tongue movement have convinced many thoughtful mean and women, who even came to criticise; but went away acknowledging that God was with them of a truth.

6. The world wide, rapid spread of this so-called Pentecostal work bears the very mark of divinity upon it.

Some without any natural musical gift, who could not even sing, have, while exercised with tongues, sung sweetly, have played upon musical instruments, and even sung in “tongues,” all with a harmony, and melody equal to a trained musician.

To give anything like an analysis would be careful work for one living in the experience of tongues; but for only an observer, it seems somewhat doubtful business.

F. Bartleman in the Way of Faith, concerning “tongues,” says: “Much of it is evidently no particular language. But Paul suggests the possibility of our speaking even in the ‘tongue of angels.’ I Cor. 13:1. We must keep humble, sober, however. Children must not get foolish. And may we not be given also an ‘ecstatic utterance,’ a ‘new tongue’ spoken neither by men nor angels?” Again he says: “This ‘tongue’ may be for private exercise, devotion, prayer, etc., mainly. Some languages, spoken in prayer and otherwise, have been understood. Possibly some never will, nor can be, except by spiritual interpretation. Let us keep a sound mind at all hazards for God.” We infer from I Cor. 14:18, 19, that much of Paul’s speaking in tongues was in private, for his own comfort, and the spiritual rest it imparted. I Cor. 14:28 seems to confirm this thought, while verse 22d brings out another phase of tongues. “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” At such times the tongue spoken may be in a language that some unbeliever present understands; or a new tongues that another gives the interpretation of, “And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest.” Benjamin Wilson in his Emphatic Diaglott thus render I Cor. 14:10: “It may be there are so many kinds of languages in the world, and no one is unmeaning.” His rendering of I Cor. 12:10 is in harmony with this thought. “To another different languages.” It is not possible that all believers living up to their highest privileges may have for their comfort a heavenly “tongue?” to exercise either alone, or with the saints, while those who have the “gift of tongues” (plural) may speak in languages, which either themselves or another may interpret, or an unbeliever present may understand, and so become a recipient of the grace of Christ?
Occasionally one might be permitted of the Spirit to speak in another language for the benefit of a hearer, or hearers. Some three years ago a Christian woman from Los Angeles went as a missionary to Africa. She was permitted to give two discourses in the native language, after which she had to learn their language, to any further instruct them. Some of her converts in speaking in tongues were permitted to speak English, without having learned the same.

August 15, 1911. Vol. 4. No. 92

A Faithful Worker Called Home

On Tuesday morning, August the first, Mrs. Gertrude E. B. Simmons of Frostproof, Fla., died at her childhood’s home in Plainfield, Con.,

. . .Married in 1873 to V. P. Simmons, an ardent temperance worker and preacher of the Second coming, she found full scope for all her rare mental and social gifts.

. . .In October, 1907, at Durant camp meeting Mrs. Simmons received her Pentecost, speaking in another tongue.”

Nov. 1918. Volume 12. No. 207.

With Long Life Will I Satisfy Him.—Ps. 91:16

Dear Sister: I am glad that you have again started the Bridegroom’s Messenger. No other Pentecostal periodical quite fills the place of The Bridegroom’s Messenger to me.

. . .On November 3rd I will be 83 years of age. I have several times been sick, but I pleaded Bible promises for length of days, and the Lord raised me up.

For more information:

References   [ + ]

Why the Church is Declining Part II

SupermanJesus

Why is Evangelical Church attendance declining? One of the reasons is because the church cannot compete in the entertainment realm. It should not be completely abandoned, but never should be the sole catalyst for church life.

This is part of a series focusing on declining church audiences. The first one covered the fact that marketing and branding have been on an upswing in the church world while content has been sacrificed. See Why the Evangelical Church is Declining Part I for this.

John Lennon knew back in the 1960s what it was. At the height of Beatlemania he stated, “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”(1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_popular_than_Jesus He later stated it was a fact that was taken wrong.

Lennon had the numbers to support his claim. And today it is even clearer. For every time two cents is used to promote Christian values, $10 is spent on an alternative message. Yes, the Beatles and the consumer driven attractions that it symbolizes are far greater monoliths than Jesus.

Financial figures back this up. Religious institution donations in the United States are annually around $115 billion and decreasing. This includes donations to churches, not para-church organizations like World Vision and the like, so if these are included it may be more. However, one must keep in mind that 80% of this $115 billion is likely used for infrastructure costs such as building maintenance, equipment, and salaries, the other 20% may be visibly used for marketing and entertainment purposes, which reduces the total to about $23 billion for propagation of the faith.

This amount designated for the church doesn’t even compete with the liquor revenue sold annually in the United States estimated around $211.6 billion.(2)http://www.parkstreet.com/alcoholic-beverage-market-overview/ Nor does it compare to the United States film industry which had $564 billion dollars of revenue in 2014,(3)http://www.statista.com/topics/964/film/ or the conservatively estimated $400 billion amount that gambling and casinos raked in a one-year period in 2014.(4)http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/gamble/procon/ Gambling could be much more, even double by some estimates.(5)http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/06/14/frequently-asked-questions-gambling-in-the-united-states/

So the church has $23 billion to market and instruct the general public about the Christian tenets while the various forms of the entertainment and beverage industry has over one-trillion in revenue to promote an alternate lifestyle. I am not even including the sales of illegal drugs, annual vacations, or sports markets in this total that the general public has vested interests in. If these totals were included, it would make the differential even higher.

Two cents is not going to beat $10 in the realm of influence. I am not going to argue that these two cents have been well used, it simply is not enough to gain any significant public traction and inject ideas or thoughts into the larger social conscience.

But this hasn’t stopped the church from using entertainment and media as a primary medium to engage greater society. Instead of focusing on the message, the medium has become the important part. In essence, many evangelical churches sensing the decline in membership and anticipating the needs of millennials, have switched the function of the church as a place of worship to that of a church theater.

Is this is what the Church is purposed to do? St. Paul exhorted others to adapt the Gospel to the social context.(6)1 Corinthians 9:19-23 But how far do we take this?

If one makes a broad examin, there are some good Christian movies being produced. For example Courageous, which was developed by an associate pastor and he used actors largely recruited from his Church, Sherwood Baptist, on a tight $2 million budget. The gate receipts for this movie greatly exceeded the budget.

It comes across preachy but the story does work for a Christian audience, not so much for those who are not part of this movement. This may not be a bad thing, as this movie is a powerful didactic for instilling and reasserting core values of church life.

Heaven is for Real, which cost $12 million to make, had made into the public realm of discussion on heaven and God and has made a tidy profit. The movie beat out the $200 million blockbuster flop, Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp which tried, but failed to build a cohesive story on the intersection of God, authority, and technology.

The Veggie Tales movie, Jonah, cost $14 million to bring to theatres and led Big Idea Productions into bankruptcy. It did garner a 3 out of 5 rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

This movie, along with the whole Veggie Tale phenomenon has a combination of music, comedy, and storylines that always seemed to work well together. It is well received among a spectrum of viewers.

Mel Gibson’s $30 million dollar re-telling of the Crucifixion stirred controversy for his abstract, violent, gory, and over-simplistic approach. However, the cinematography, sound, clothing, and the speech in various languages really were top-notch. He did succeed in bringing viewers into evaluating the Christian message for their lives.

The DaVinci Code which explores religious themes, especially that of the possibility of Jesus being married to Mary Magdelene and begetting a line of children, brought the Christian faith into a critical review.

Although the theology is whacky, the author, Dan Brown, brought the discussion of history back into the forefront of modern society. It was somewhat of a revival of Greek and Latin literature studies. I am very thankful for this part of his story.

Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz is a refreshing change from shallow or predictable Christian movies.

He is one of the few who has intellectually engaged culture and Christianity into a complex and interesting narrative. A vlogger called Half-The-Mike did a short movie review on this movie and concluded, “I don’t think it is a Christian movie or a religious movie. Its kind of in between… I usually think of those movies as absolute crap and they usually are absolute crap. But I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.”(7)https://youtu.be/r9kINOfVpOA around the 4 minute mark

The Chronicles of Narnia movies are very good but have not impacted or become viral because they are very predictable. Each film has cost between $155 to $225 million and collectively have exceeded over $1 billion dollars in revenue.

C.S. Lewis’ work has been around for fifty years and his stories are well-known. This removes the element of surprise that the movie should possess, and, therefore, audiences are more critical. The expectations are extremely high and almost impossible to meet.

The Left Behind series of movies, based on the books of the same name which have sold over 65 million copies and evoked Jerry Falwell to say the most impactful book in contemporary times outside the Bible,(8)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left_Behind hasn’t helped to expand the Christian faith. It really hasn’t detracted either. The latest 2014 installment was rated a 2.1 out of 10 at the Rotten Tomatoes website(9)http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/left_behind_2014/ RogerEbert.com describes the movie in this way:

Christian readers and audiences are the base here, but it’s hard to imagine that this incarnation of the story will persuade anyone else to find the Lord unless they’re sitting in the theater praying for the dialogue or special effects to improve. This is essentially an “Airport” movie with an Evangelical spin, but it lacks the self-awareness to turn such a wild concept into a guilty pleasure.(10)http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/left-behind-2014

In relation to the amount of movies being produced, distributed and watched, christian movies are a small drop in the bucket. It hardly dents into the myriad of genres available for the public to peruse.

Sometimes the use of media can create a negative reaction and hurt the Church brand more than help it. For example, Bible Man was a popular series produced from 1995 to 2011 about “an evangelical superhero who fights evil and quotes scripture.”(11)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibleman

Or the Kenneth Copeland based videos, SuperKid Academy:

This is a b-movie that is a simplistic narrative that the child actors enunciate favourite Christian phrases. It rivals Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

The following may be the most infamous of all. The music video Jesus is a friend of mine by Sonseed.

A YouTube commenter noted: “This song will make terrorists give up hostages...”

One must be reticent of making such a bold assertion. Corny videos may have been a sign of the 1980s music scene. Billy Joel’s For the Longest Time video similarly parallels Jesus is a friend of mine. Joel is singing about a girl, but no woman ever appears in the video. The age of the singers related to the content of the song, clothing, flashbacks and the dancing did not seem synchronized as a cohesive story at all. You be the judge. See the video below:

The use of the theater in church services, which are done on very tight budgets, usually falls into the category of being too preachy and predictable or simply assuaging its already established base. Success usually needs a significant cash infusion and, at least, six months to a year’s worth of full-time preparation by a large committed, creative, smart and salaried team. This type of product is out-of-reach by most churches. I have yet to see a church-based play explore the complex human condition with any meaningful feeling from a faith perspective.

Another problem is the legacy gift of the televangelists – its become a derogatory term throughout most households. If one self-identifies as a Christian in any discussion, this is one of the first topics to be brought up. The televangelist abuses have created real barriers to any discussion about matters of faith.

Last Week Tonight host, John Oliver, recognize most churches have a positive impact, but televangelists are a serious problem. His commentary, small portions laced with profanity, expresses the typical viewer mindset:

John Oliver demonstrates how the power of media can be very profitable, but if not managed properly, can be a real disaster. In the case of Christianity in North America, it is almost irreparable.

There is an alternative that works and it is found in the Catholic approach. Pope Francis and the present Catholic Church has instead asserted the Church as a “voice of the conscience of the West,”(12)https://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/VATMOD.HTM on ecological, social, ethical, and humanitarian issues and has not tried to compete as an alternative theater venue.

However, this would be difficult to duplicate. This Pope represents over 400 million adherents, whereas the large 1 billion plus Protestant umbrella group of Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wavers, Baptists and so on are fragmented. They do not speak with a unanimous voice nor have any central form of hierarchy. This deeply hurts their message. These groups convey an existential religious smorgasbord that people can pick and choose – a western capitalist form of commoditized religion, or as Reginald Bibby, the author of Fragmented Gods, puts it, a consumerized religion.(13)http://aurora.icaap.org/index.php/aurora/article/view/30/41 This status takes away any moral authority in the public sphere and does not communicate with any unilateral support.

Secondly, the Pope is drawing ideas, thoughts and draws from a strong group of thinkers and strategists. The Pope himself is very intelligent about matters of the church and the modern psyche. Most Protestant-based pastors and leaders do not have the educational background or a professional team that has the ability to properly understand the historic faith and communicate it in modern terms.

The problems of the lack of unity and trained spiritual leaders leaves evangelicals with few options to communicate with the larger society. The church as a theater is the most natural fit in the present circumstance.

This will probably never succeed. First of all, the church isn’t designed to be a media megastar. It is intended to be an embassy for God’s coming kingdom. Making films or using multimedia may be a part of this role, but it cannot be the mission. The church does not have the resources to richly and professionally communicate via film to the public and make its message stand out. The church also has abandoned the richness of the message and shed part of its humanity to be an entertainment alternative. With the one exception of Sherwood Baptist Church, the success of Christian based films is produced by extremely talented third-party religious adherents who feel strongly motivated to present their message in film form. There are always the few exceptions and these must be encouraged. Donald Miller is one of the leading examples of this genre. It may be better for churches to skip their performances and pool their resources for talented people such as Mr. Miller to get their message out.

References   [ + ]

John of Damascus on Tongues: an English Translation

A translation of the eighth century John of Damascus’ Commentary on I Corinthians as it relates to the doctrine of tongues.

In Epist. Ad Corinth I. by Joannis Damasceni. Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 95. Col. 676ff as translated from the Greek by Charles A. Sullivan.

I Corinthians 13:1-3


[v1-3] “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and I know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my possessions, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

By saying this, he insinuates the holding of negligent responsibilities results in receiving much less, and those who remain steadfast,(1) κυρίους if they so wish, results in something much greater. So love is much greater than all the gifts. He thus establishes this and lays-out the combination, as all the gifts are nothing with the absence of love. For see how he builds this premise. Namely, he does not say, If I knew languages,(2) Ἐὰν ἴδω γλώσσας but instead, if I should speak in the languages of angels. Nor does he simply say, If I am going to prophesy, but, I know all the mysteries and all knowledge, with careful detail(3) μετὰ ἐπιτάσεως And he does not say, If I could give possessions,(4) Δῶ τὰ ὑπάρχοντα but, if I could distribute,(5) ψωμίσω so that he combines service with the cost. In fact demonstrating all here with careful detail, he shows it is greatly inferior with that of love. On which account if you passionately are desirous of the greater gifts, he says, pursue love.

Love is rightly the greatest of the gifts. For these other things naturally had been the cause of division,(6) διέσχισαν while on the other hand love unites those who disagree.

See from where it begins, by the greatness appearing with them of these languages, and not only of men but also of angels. Furthermore, about the tongue of angels, a body is not assumed for angels. The matter being referred to is like this: although I should utter a sound in this way as the means that the angels dialogue between each other, for instance when he says, every knee should bow to him: of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth,(7) Philippians 2;10. Damascus has slightly modified his Greek text replacing “to Jesus” with “to him”. he is not saying these things as one who assumes knees and bones with angels, but wishes to allude to the fervent-pitched act of worship by means of this imagery to us. That is why he cited language here, wishing to show to the rest of the audience a sermon(8) ὁμιλίαν in a familiar way with us.■


I Corinthians 14:1-33


[V.1]“Follow after charity.”

And consequently to us, the work of the race is supremely for this.

“And desire the spiritual things, rather that you may prophesy.”

In order that someone may not suppose that he introduced the word of love so that he could put an end to the gifts, regarding this he introduced a grace, saying: desire the spiritual things. He makes the case of aggregating together those things belonging to the family of gifts and lessens the gift of languages, neither is the gift useless by any means, nor does it show(9) The text has δεικνὺς which would render it in context here as pres ind act 2nd sg OR pres act masc nom/voc part sg. Neither of which fits in verbally with the flow here. I think it a print error and should read δεικνὺσι the benefit in respect to this.

[v2-4] “For one who speaks in a language, speaks not to men, but to God; for no one hears, moreover he speaks mysteries in the spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and consolation to men. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.”

The one who has the ability to speak to God, points out greatness, but on the other hand smallness since this person does not have the ability to edify the Church. For he absolutely desires this; the edification of the many.

[v5a] “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in languages,”

Not that they should form an opinion here that the person who is critical condemns(10)καθαιρεῖ the languages by these, that this one is in the act of being set right about the suspicion concerning them, he says this:

[5b]“Unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.”(11) NASB

It is less, he says, the act of speaking in languages than that of prophesying. Unless of course someone also can interpret the languages.(12)The Greek has τὰ γλώσσας which I think is a copyist/print error. It should read τὰς γλώσσας The Latin has “Nisi forte aliquis etiam interpres adsit, qui linguas sciat interpretari.” the emphasis here is anyone having the ability to interpret the foreign language being spoken, not just the speaker. It was by no means to be a reference to equality made with the one who prophesies.

[v6] “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking,(13)The Greek has ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς λαλῶν, which I think is a copyist/print error. It should read τὰς γλώσσας while all other editions contain ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς γλώσσαις λαλῶν it is likely a copyist or print error. The commentary below suggests that this was a mistake too. what will I profit you?”

What if I speak other things? He says, if I myself come speaking in languages, it will not be greatly beneficial for those who are listening. Thus he speaks these things, the one who demonstrates enthusiasm for that which is beneficial for these people, he does not have hostility against those who possess the gift.

[v6b] “Unless I speak to you whether by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?”(14)NASB

Unless I speak, he says, that can be easily apprehended by you but otherwise will have shown only that I have a gift of a specific language, consequently you all will have gone away having gained nothing in these things. Why should it be from a voice that you all do not understand?

[v7-9] “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?(15)NASB Likewise you also in this manner, by the office of language.”

What I speak,(16)Τί λέγω he says, is it that the matter is unprofitable with regards to you all? Also wouldn’t anyone have instinctively known this about lifeless things and the harp and bugle?

[v9b] “Unless all of you are given an intelligible word, how will it be known what the person is speaking?”

The alternative,(17)Ἀντὶ τοῦ, unless you all can interpret.

[v9c] “For you will be speaking into the air.”(18)NASB

That is, a person is uttering for no one else, for this one is speaking to no one.

[v10-12a] “There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.(19)NASB So it is also with you.”

That is, so many languages, so many sounds, Scythian, Thracian, Roman, Persian, Mauretanian, Egyptian, other myriads of nations.

[v12b-13] “Since you are zealous of spiritual things, seek to abound for the edification of the church. Therefore let one who speaks in a language pray that he may interpret.”

If it is necessary to be zealous, be zealous for the gifts which builds up the Church. On which account he adds, saying: Pray, that he may interpret

[v14-15a] For if I pray in a language, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do?

That is, the gift which had been given to me, and summons the language.

[v15b-16] “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. Otherwise, when you are praising in the Spirit, how can the one who leads the place of the laymen, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?”

It has a meaning something like: who then is the one apt to teach and be beneficial? And what manner was it necessary to speak? And why is it necessary to request from God? And he responds saying that one ought to pray by the Spirit that is by the gift and with the intent,(20)διανοίᾳ so that when the language is uttered, the mind equally is not ignorant about the things being spoken. For if this should not be [the case where] a strange bewilderment is produced. For the layperson did not know to respond(21)ὑποφωνεῖν Amen. He naturally did not know what you are saying.

[v17] “For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.”(22)NASB

So that he did not appear to utterly hold the gift as worthless, he provides this. On the contrary this was elevated when he was saying, This one who is speaking speaks mysteries as well speaks to God and builds himself up.(23)A modified version of I Corinthians 14:2 by John. You, therefore, he says, give thanks well. For you are speaking, being moved by the Spirit. But the person hears nothing, nor knows the things being spoken, and remains standing(24)ἔστηκεν this is in the perfect 3rd sg but it doesn’t fit with the present participles or the flow of the sentence. I agree with the Latin that it should be understood as present tense. — the one who receives does not benefit much.

[v18-19a] “I give thanks to my God that I speak in a language more than you all. But in the Church.”

He says this so that it would not show that he is hostile as one depriving [them] of the gift.

[v19b] “I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also.”(25)NASB

That is, understanding that which I speak and having the ability also to interpret for others.

[v19c] “Rather than ten thousand words in a language.”

He says In fact this is holding a performance(26)ἐπίδειξιν without a companion,(27)Τοῦτο μὲν γὰρ ἐπίδειξιν ἔχει μόνην The Latin is: Hoc enim ostentationem solam praefert.. On the other hand the greater benefit is to be for the other people.

[v20] “Brothers, do not be children in thoughts, but on the other hand be like a child with evil.”

Namely the little ones gape at astonishment(28)κέχηνεν This is a pluperfect 3rd pl verb but it doesn’t fit here. The Latin translates it as present 3rd pl. Neut to the littlest of things, while on the other hand does not contain so much an admiration of the great things. Seeing too then that those who have the gift of tongues, they were supposing to have the ability to master everything, albeit it was the least of them all. For that reason he says, do not be children in thoughts. That is, these things should not be senseless,(29)μὴ ἀνόητοι The verb is omitted here but is intimated. whereby it is necessary that these things to be intelligible.(30)ἔνθα συνετοὺς εἶναι χρή But in that predicament they are children and simple minded, some at one side are vain-glorious, some at the other are puffed-up. On the latter note, what does it mean to be children in evil? Or does it mean not ever having the ability to know what is evil?

[v21] “In the [Law] it is written, that “in strange tongues, and other lips I will speak to this people and even so they will not hear me” says the Lord.”

The Divine Scripture is called [the] Law, and the Prophets.

[v22-30a] “So then tongues are for a sign, not for those who believe but for unbelievers. Prophecy on the other hand is for a sign, not to unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore, if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and uneducated or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uneducated person enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, and thus the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

What is the outcome then, brothers? When you assemble, each one of you has a psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation, interpretation. Let all be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a language, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. On the other hand if a revelation was to be made to someone else sitting by…”(31) Verses 22-29 are a mixture of a direct quotation of the NASB and others adapted from the NASB to match the slight differences of the Damascus text.

That is a shocked feeling,(32) ἔκπληξιν not so much for the purpose of instruction.(33) κατήχησιν usually refers to elementary instruction or teaching of initiates

[v30b] “Let the first one be silent.”

Namely it was not appropriate, while the one who is being moved in the matter of prophecy, this person can speak.

[v31] “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.”(34) NASB

He says this for the one has been put to silence(35) τὸν ἐπιστομηθέντα The Latin has “ut eum qui loqui prohibitus sit” — that of the person who has been prohibited to speak so that this is made more bearable.(36) παραμυθούμενος The whole sentence reads: Τοῦτο φησι, τὸν ἐπιστομηθέντα παραμυθούμενος. — the sentence works using only participles, but this is not a typical construct used by most ancient Greek authors.

[v32] “And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”(37) NASB

So that there should not be someone who is contentious or slanderous, he shows the gift itself being placed under authority.(38) αὐτὸ τὸ χάρισμα δείκνυσιν ὑποτασσόμενον For then he cites the work as of the spirit. So if the spirit is being placed under authority, you too can be with fullness.(39) πολλῷ δ’ ἄν σύ.

[v33] “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—and so I direct in all the holy Churches.”(40) a modification of the NASB along with Damascus adding an extra verb and adjective ταῖς Ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων διατάσσομαι

He shows this as also appeasing to God, so that the person who holds a contrary position may not spread strife.■


The actual Greek text is found here: John of Damascus on Tongues: the Greek Text.

References   [ + ]

Film Review: God Loves Uganda

God Loves Uganda Cover

God Loves Uganda — a faulty premise that neglects important details and falls for grandiose stereotyping.

This documentary film by the acclaimed director Roger Ross Williams is a story about the complex mix of homosexuality, faith and politics in Uganda. He sees it as religious fanaticism stoking the flames of hatred and forcefully blames the influence of American evangelicals as the root cause of Ugandan homophobia.

His documentary thesis is supported by filming a devoted group of followers, and highlighting one of their former leaders, Lou Engle, from the International House of Prayer — an unaffiliated charismatic community located in Kansas City.

John Stackhouse, who holds the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., reviewed the film for Christianity Today and wrote:

Some people, alas, will be tempted to channel their outrage into hating evangelicals right here at home, those frightening people who are trying to wreck Africa and who, if they only could, would criminalize homosexuality here, too, and even kill unrepentant homosexuals. Such seems to be the unsubtle subtext of the film. More moderate evangelicals need to say, and say clearly, that to identify Scott Lively or Lou Engle as a typical American evangelical is like suggesting that Osama bin Laden was a typical Muslim or, closer to home, like suggesting that all homosexuals are like the most outlandish figures in Gay Pride Parades. We must speak up in public and both denounce and distance ourselves from such extremists, rather than muzzle ourselves in misguided charity for errant brothers and sisters, or we will see the gospel increasingly attacked as homophobic in just the way these people are.

…Yes, homophobia is bad. But so is evangelophobia. And what might have seemed just a decade ago to be a ridiculous and paranoid parallel doesn’t seem so now.

Stackhouse’s claim of evangelophobia has generated considerable buzz and I think he is right in this assessment.

The documentary succeeds at evoking immediate anger against evangelical christians and reinforces the stereotype of them being weird, racist, white bigots who are attempting to force their brand of truth throughout the world regardless of any human consequence.

It thrives by sweeping all evangelical christians under the same category of having a homophobic agenda. In reality, the evangelical movement is split over the topic of faith and homosexuality. This movie in no way represents this spectrum and neither is there any attempt to demonstrate that the International House of Prayer is considered a sect outside of mainstream evangelicalism. Williams selected it because it fit his premise.

It is a movie not only about Uganda, faith and homosexuality, it is also a journey for Williams to make sense of himself as a gay person who grew up in an American religious home. This should have been stated somewhere in the movie about why he was personally motivated to cover such a topic. It would give the viewer important context.

The film touches on an important subject that is becoming a genre. It is that of charismatic extremism. This can also be found in the controversial movies Machine Gun Preacher, and the The Jesus Camp where they are about independent and pioneer charismatic leaders doing their own thing with little training or external accountability. Williams has grouped IHOP as evangelical and pentecostal while it is actually charismatic – an important nuance neglected in his coverage.

Charismatic churches are hard to define and has been a subject of debate for over a decade. They are typically independent bodies that have split from a mainstream denominational evangelical church over the doctrines relating to the christian mystical experience. Many of these churches have little or no external accountability, tend to rely more on personal revelation and divine encounters which do not necessarily have to be rational. This movement is much smaller than its pentecostal counterpart, but it is highly emotive and vocal This form of mystic extremism can be very damaging for the christian movement as a whole and has to be urgently called into account.

IHOP and its brand of faith do not represent any pentecostal organized constituency which has a much larger member base. Neither am I aware of any mainline pentecostal North American organization promoting a homophobic agenda. If that was the case, then Williams would have filmed a historical masterpiece of immense value.

The film also fails to take into account that homophobia is a part of the Ugandan and African social tapestry. Same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of Africa’s 55 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in some states. according a Guardian.com article written by David Smith. This is a huge oversight by the Film and seriously erodes the argument of American evangelical influence interfering with Ugandan politics and being responsible for increasing homophobia in Uganda.

God Loves Uganda starts with an important survey of homophobia in Uganda but denigrates into a poor stereotype of Christians. He took the easy-way-out on a very difficult topic and oversimplified the causes. Because of this, I would rank this movie a 4 out of 10.

Where have all the Prophets gone?

The need for modern prophets in the age of spin.

Prophet is an old term used for people who have the capacity to discern between the lines. These people have the ability to discover and expose the truth where things appear unclear or hidden. They don’t take things at face value but look into the motivations behind the words. These type of people are independent, free-thinkers, who are devoted to the truth and are not bound to any particular brand, organization, or institution.

Today, the title of prophet is little used, and the noun journalist is preferred.

Unfortunately, the prophet as journalist is disappearing. It takes a lot of work to be a prophet and communicate to the masses. It is not simply an esoteric task that happens in an instant moment where someone is suddenly inspired. It takes time, research, networking, access to key persons and literature on a subject, and finding those that are in the know. It is a full time job which requires compensation and teamwork in order to succeed.

Newspapers, radio and television organizations supplied a highly developed journalism department backed by strong administrative and legal support. Today, this is no longer economically viable and the journalism that society has counted on for generations is dying. Those that do remain are forced to compete with the myriad of amateur perspectives posted on the internet. If they are not picked up by a major media outlet, their message can easily be lost. Most media channels, due to the present lack of a strong journalism department, simply restate whatever press release is given by a government or corporation.

There are many prophet/journalist wannabees who do proliferate the internet and many magazines with stories that are not grounded on truth but are written to either titillate or provoke, improve readership, their own image, or make easy money. These are false-prophets and are a different genre altogether. This further erodes public confidence in investigative journalism.

This is a dangerous time. With the erosion of the journalist role in society, governments and monolithic corporations can do or say whatever they want with impunity.

It takes a special person to be a prophet, and every society needs this type of function. It is an outside agent that calls against the excess of any social system. In the past it took the form of spiritual enlightenment where God reveals in a dream or circumstance to a person the most intimate things involving those that has significant importance. Such as the prophet Nathan being told by God of King David’s selfish act of murder to hide a secret liaison. However, this wouldn’t go over too well today in such a direct fashion. Or it could be, as Thomas Aquinas insists, the highest ability to gather all the information available; the words, the circumstances, the spirit, non-verbal expressions, testimonies, history, and any other finite detail, and make cohesive sense out of it all. Prophetic voices are needed on so many fronts from ecological, to medical, moral and economic concerns that have generational impacts.

However, this is not happening on any large-scale to counter the rhetoric being spewed by large institutions. This does not imply that institutions are inherently bad. The problem is the lack of accountability. The present social system is deeply flawed.

The Catholic Church continues to issue a prophetic voice to the nations, but this is not enough. The Occupy Wall Street movement is also a prophetic movement, albeit without the religious doctrine, on the corruption of the financial system, but is failing because of a lack of structural organization. The Muslim community is also issuing a prophetic voice — though because of the violent tactics used and misogyny within its circles, the West refuses to listen to moderates that have valid points. Organizations such as Sojourners attempt to regain the prophetic voice for Evangelicals, but it is relegated to being a special interest group. If the Evangelical Church refuses to acquire a prophetic voice, which should be a base of its activities, it will continue into its progression of being a superficial artifice. This lack of a prophetic voice will permit the growth of a society that no longer has the ability to discern good from evil.

The Evangelical Church, because of its heavy influence on American social life, which in turn effects the international psyche, needs to encourage prophets and the prophetic voice. It has the finances and resources to do such a thing. This would be a big factor in bringing accountability and justice throughout the world. It is hoped that the young people growing up in the Evangelical movement will embrace the prophetic role. It will not only change the world around them, but will also rescue the Evangelical Church from its current evacuation of young people from its ranks. ■

The Public Reader in the Church

The role of the public reader in the earliest diasporan Church, how the language changed over time, and the new problems it created.

The practice of public reading (lector) is found occasionally in the New Testament writings,(1)Luke 4:16, Acts 13:15, I Timothy 4:13 while the Catholic Encyclopedia states that it continued after this period: During the first centuries all the lessons in the liturgy, including the Epistle and Gospel, were read by the lector.”(2)As found at New Advent’s website under Lector

Previous studies found on this blog starting with Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church address the Corinthian liturgical rites in the Church and logically concludes that the public reading and the instruction were given in Hebrew which both required interpreters for the audience to understand. This article identifies the role of the public reader afterwards in the Church and its evolution over the centuries. This is by no means an exhaustive effort but does provide a framework.

The importance of the Public Reader

Literacy throughout the ancient Mediterranean world was small; it is estimated that only 10-15% of the population was literate.(3)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven: Yale University. 1995. Pg. 4 This means that public reading was a necessity.

The Public Reader in Earlier Christian literature

Justin Martyr

The first reference outside of Biblical literature was in the second century AD where Justin Martyr makes a scant reference to the continued existence of the public reader in his writing, Apology:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen;(4)Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. . The Greek can be found at MPG. Vol. 6. S. Justini. Apologia I Pro Christianis. Chapter 67. Col. 429

The text relates to a public reading being done and it very much parallels that of the Jewish rite where one reads and a leader instructs on the contents. Yet this was performed here without the use of a special liturgical language unfamiliar to the laypeople as was practiced in the earliest Corinthian Church.

The Apostolic Constitutions

The Apostolic Constitutions — a writing dated to the fourth or fifth century, but some parts could be much earlier, perhaps late second or third, attests that the Apostle Matthew instituted the office of public reader in the Church based upon the practice first established in the synagogue by Ezra:

Concerning readers, I Matthew, also known as Levi, previously a tax collector; the person who lays the hand on him that is elected a reader, and prays to God, let him say, “O God, the everlasting, the mighty in mercy and compassions, the one who has made manifest the structure of the world by the effects being actively carried out and by preserving the number of your elect. Who also now look down upon your servant, the person who is commended to read Your Holy Scriptures to your people, and give him the Holy Spirit, the prophetic Spirit. The one who instructed Ezra your servant for the purpose of being able to read Your laws to Your people, and now [the reader] beseeches on our behalf, make wise your servant and grant him the activity be accomplished without blame the work entrusted to to him, that he be shown worthy of a greater degree through Christ with whom the glory is Yours, and the reverence, and the Holy Spirit for the ages to come, AMEN.” (5)Translated from: Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum. Franciscus Xaverius Funk. Volume 1. Paderbonae. 1906; VIII: XXII. Pg.526 See also, Apostolic Constitutions Book VIII:22. MPG Vol. 1. Col. 1117ff. Translation is mine. An alternative English translation by James Donaldson can be found at the New Advent website.

The Apostolic Constitutions outlined the duties and structures within the offices of the Church. The text names an apostle and designates a certain duty or function as its benefactor. For example Bartholomew instructs about deaconesses, while Thomas informs about sub-deacons. These, along with Matthew being the founder of the Christian custom of public reading, should not be taken literally. It is simply a well structured literary device. However, the meaning here is not lost. It clearly demonstrated that the rite of reading in the Church was inherited from its Jewish parent and was still being practiced in some type of modified form.

The Office of the Reader

Harry Gamble, author of Books and Readers in the Early Church believed that the Reader was assigned as an office of the minor orders of the clergy.(6)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 218 This was considered the entry level position into a clerical life.

This is corroborated by Cyprian of Carthage. He demonstrated in the middle third century that it had become a position that had at least entry status into the priesthood. The following quotation is from when Cyprian proclaimed the ordination of a certain person name Celerinus, on which he lavished praise:

To the Clergy and People, About the Ordination of Celerinus as Reader. . .

There is nothing in which a confessor can do more good to the brethren than that, while the reading of the Gospel is heard from his lips, every one who hears should imitate the faith of the reader. He should have been associated with Aurelius in reading; with whom, moreover, he was associated in the alliance of divine honour; with whom, in all the insignia of virtue and praise, he had been united. Equal both, and each like to the other, in proportion as they were sublime in glory, in that proportion they were humble in modesty. As they were lifted up by divine condescension, so they were lowly in their own peacefulness and tranquillity, and equally affording examples to every one of virtues and character, and fitted both for conflict and for peace; praiseworthy in the former for strength, in the latter for modesty.(7) Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. .The Latin can be found in: MLT0004-Cyprianus. Epistolae. 34:4. Cooperatorum Veritatis Societas. Excerpta ex Documenta Catholica Omnia.Pg. 29

It can be understood from here that the public reader had an prominent role that affected the mood and spiritual faith of the whole community and the person selected was under critical scrutiny.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the office of the public reader, known in Catholic circles as the Lector, had diminished after the first few centuries and transformed into a rite performed by a deacon.(8)As found at New Advent’s website under Lector Nevertheless, the public reader in the church liturgy still existed.

It is at this point the reader is asked to make a logical jump here through time — partially due to lack of easy-to-find source materials and the effort required to find the more difficult ones. Generalities will have to suffice until more material is uncovered and examined. Hebrew quickly vanished within the first generation of the Corinthian Church as the non-Jewish Greek adherents began to greatly outnumber the Jewish ones. A second century anonymous text covering II Corinthians claims that the Greek adherents had formally overtaken the Jewish ones by this time.(9)MPG Vol. 1. Clement. Epistola II Ad Corinthios. Chapter 2. Col. 333 A number of other factors could have been involved in the change. The first one being the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. It sent shock waves to the Jewish communities throughout the empire and “Jews in the Hellenistic Middle East found themselves in a truly precarious position.”(10)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Volume II. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 371ff They may have had to shed, or de-emphasize Jewish practices, including the public use of the holy tongue, in order to avoid punitive sanctions. The late first century was also the time Rabban Gamaliel at Yavneh “took a fateful step, one that was to have far-reaching historical consequences. They declared in unequivocal terms that the Jewish Christians could no longer be considered part of the Jewish Community nor of the Jewish people.”(11)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Volume I. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 307 This alienation could have accelerated the loss of Jewish identity in the fledgling messianic communities as well.

This may have fast-tracked the public reading in Greek, and perhaps Latin in some instances. Later on, Latin overcame Greek in the Western portion of the Church while Greek remained in the Eastern. Latin became the sole authority in the religious life which extended to civic and social affairs as well. It is not known exactly when Latin became the dominant language of religion in the West but it clearly occurred.

Thomas Aquinas on the Public Reader

This general foray above takes this study back to certitude in the thirteenth century where Thomas Aquinas described the public reader and the use of Latin in the Church. He linked the gift of tongues with the public reader and noted that the transition was an understood evolution in the Church:

“In the mouth of two or three, etc..” (Deuteronomy 17:6) but it must be noted that this habit for the most part is being served in the Church for we have the [public] readings and the epistles and also the gospels in the place of tongues, and for that reason it follows in Mass two are being delivered, because only two are being said whose antecedent is to the gift of tongues, specifically the epistle and the gospel. Accordingly in Matins many are done, in fact you say three readings in one. For in the former times they used to read a nocturn the next three night watches separately. Now however they are being spoken at the same time but on the other hand the procedure is not only to be preserved in regard to the number of those who are speaking but as well in regards to the way [it is done]. And this is what he says, “and through sharing,” that is in order that those who are speaking are to follow in turns with one another, a fact that one is to speak after another, or “through sharing,” that is interrupted, specifically that one is to speak on part of a vision or of instruction and is to explain it, and afterwards another and explains the very thing being shared and so follows one after another. Preachers have become accustomed to preserve that way when they are to preach to men of an unknown tongue by means of an interpretation. And for that reason it says, “Let one interpret.” as he result he says, “if there will not be available, etc.,” he shows when it is not to be practiced with tongues, saying that the one who is about to speak is through sharing and the one ought to interpret but, “if there will not be available,” anyone [who is an], “interpreter,” that is who understands, [then] those who have the gift of tongues, “are to keep silent in the Church,” that is he is not to speak because he himself understands and this silence is to be manifested in prayer or in meditation.

In other portions of his works he strongly positioned Latin as the language of religious polity:

But why do they [the priests] not give the blessing in the common [tongue], that they may be understood by the people and adhere themselves more to them? It has been said that this had been done in the early church, but afterwards, the faithful ones were taught and knew what they heard in the common office, the benedictions take place in Latin.(12)Thomas Aquinas, Lectures. My translation from Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc3

And again elsewhere:

A contrary argument. It is the same to speak in tongues and to speak clearly enunciating [the Latin words] to such a degree for the uneducated. Since then everyone is to speak clearly enunciating in the Church, that all is being said in Latin. It appears that it is madness in the same way. One ought to say to this: Madness existed in the early Church on that account because they were unacquainted in the custom of the Church, consequently they were ignorant of what they should do here unless it was to be explained to them. But certainly in the present all have been educated. Although from this point everything is being spoken in Latin, they still know what is taking place in the Church.(13)Thomas Aquinas, Lectures. My translation from Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc3

Thomas Aquinas’ opinion and the role of the Church reader represents an era in Church polity that would come to to forefront three centuries later. The Reformation was in part a protest against Latin being the sole language of religious instruction throughout a diverse ethnic and linguistic community — which gave rise to the revolutionary and later misunderstood words unknown tongues. More on this can be found at The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible.■

References   [ + ]

Evangelicals and Health Care Ethics

How health care ethics need to be ingrained in the fabric of the evangelical mindset.

Technology has introduced great breakthroughs on issues of life and death but has also naturally brought about new ethical issues that the traditional faith has not been prepared to engage in.

Most evangelicals are left with making life or death decisions, not on the basis of religious piety, but the insistence of economics or social convenience. They are game time decisions made in hospitals and doctors offices. These decisions are not considered the role of the church or faith. It is just what has to be done. Faith comes later.

When to pull the plug, is nowhere to found in the Scriptures. Neither is in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, or the question, does life begin at birth, conception or when the fertilized egg implants on the uterus? Then there is the other difficult question — when is someone really dead? Families are often forced to make life decisions for their members based on statistical chances of recovery. Others are compelled by insurance or economic costs. Sometimes medical advances have allowed suffering to go beyond normal expectations. What framework are Christians to have to make the numerous and difficult decisions on the grey areas of life and death?

The contemporary dilemmas brought on by modern technology have no immediate parallel in the Scriptures. Readings from the ancients like Tertullian and Augustine could easily be used to strengthen the concept of life from beginning to end but they are moralistic more than technically descriptive.

There is no be-all-to-end-all solution to any of this either. The new technologies are always creating new ethical problems. Evangelicals feel morally strong about the equality of all human life but have little know-how in applying this in the health-care arena.

The problems confronting evangelicals on such new territories are not going away by simply ignoring them.

Evangelicals, along with everyone else, are personally confronted with ethical dilemmas on numerous occasions in their lives. For example, a Christian nurse sees a patient’s health chart has a yellow star on it, which means that the patient is not to be resuscitated if there is a health emergency. On some occasions this may be OK, on others, this could be murder. If an emergency does arise, there is no time to think about it. How does the nurse know what is the right move in God’s eyes? What if it goes against the policy and procedure of the hospital?

Or the husband being tasked a life or death decision about his very sick wife, who is hospitalized, overweight, has diabetes, and is need of open heart surgery. The hospital business administrator asks the spouse to make a life ending decision based on statistical chances of survival and advises that surgery is an unnecessary cost. A decision is required now, or within the next few days. He has to go it alone with what his conscience dictates. If he should say that he wants the treatment to continue, he has to convince a thoroughly skeptical administrator who will push hard to achieve the hospital’s objectives. What should he do?

Most evangelicals assume that conception means the fertilizing of the egg but that is no longer correct. It has changed in the last 60 years from the sperm fertilizing the egg to the successful implantation of the blastocyst into the lining of the womb. This is a very controversial subject and a primary concern from a life perspective to look into. Yet, this has never been the subject of popular scrutiny in the evangelical realm.

Evangelical belief holds surgical abortion is wrong, but the use of a chemical pill, such as misoprostol, to immediately dispel a fetus, seems to be in a grey zone. As one blog commenter noted on using it, “It was private, effective, and relatively painless. It is more “moral” (from my Christian perspective anyway).”(1) As found at pregnancyoptions.info

Ethical problems can be found in some types of pregnancy testing. For example older women are routinely advised by doctors to get testing so that a prognosis can be made whether the fetus has down’s syndrome. It is statistically known that there is a greater chance for older women to have a child with this. If a woman is discovered to be carrying a defective child, the medical system allows the woman to choose to carry or abort. I suspect many Christian women have not considered the ethics of such a practice. They simply do the test on the doctor’s advice whom they implicitly trust.

Physician assisted suicide has recently been opened up for discussion in the Canadian political realm. I have not seen or witnessed any feedback from the grassroots Christian community. The silence and lack of action on such subjects always are concerning.

There are many more examples that could be used but this is sufficient to show that Christians are confronted with these difficult deliberations throughout life.

This is the very battlefield that is thrust upon the church; how to get the conscience of the grassroots members of the church body in tune with these issues from a Christian perspective so when the moment comes to make these life or death decisions, they are made correctly.

Prior education from a Christian perspective is required before these moments occur. It cannot be done at the moment of crisis.

Medical ethics has to be an inherent part of the church curriculum that repeatedly needs to be communicated in both public and private occasions. It cannot be simply a yearly symposium, or two sermons a year. It has to become part of the fabric of the church. This is the only way it can fully enter into the grassroots conscience. The ethics have to be viewed as temporary absolutes and has to change as new medical advances arrive.■

References   [ + ]

Lightfoot on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

John Lightfoot

A digitalization and short analysis of John Lightfoot’s Commentary on the tongues of Corinth.

John Lightfoot was a seventeenth century English Churchman and rabbinic scholar whose exegetical system was significantly advanced for that time period.

A small but brief window had opened in England during the Reformation for Hebrew studies, but the roadblocks to full public acceptance was great. England had long banished Jews from living in England(1)See John Lightfoot: the English Hebraist for more information during Lightfoot’s era, and if later novels like Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens indicate, negative English perceptions concerning the Jews was strong. Lightfoot was a time anomaly. He shouldn’t have succeeded in this field of studies, but he did, and his work, though with some defects, has withstood the test of time.

Unfortunately after the death of Cromwell in 1658 and a number of Governmental interdicts within the Church realm, Hebrew studies once again lost its footprint in the English speaking world. This prevented Lightfoot’s works from gaining ubiquitous traction. Lightfoot’s focus on a complex multilingual comparative narrative rather than a theological emphasis, along with his lack or just average use of critical analysis, may also have contributed to a limited audience.

Lightfoot’s major critical omission is that of dating. The Jewish sources he cited are approximately 400 or more years later than the Corinthian saga. The Jewish sources on the subject may have been more fluid during the first century AD. The initial arguments that spawned the later Rabbinic opinion may have been different. Lightfoot never looked into this. Neither does Lightfoot seriously delve into ecclesiastical literature using his comparative method. This too weakens his position.

Even with these weaknesses, the comparative work itself between Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth is outstanding, and must be considered in developing a historical context for understanding this Pauline text.

You can decide if this is an accurate statement. Below is Lightfoot’s coverage of I Corinthian’s 14. The work was originally written in Latin, but has been translated into English. The translation provided here is from Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ(2)See Horæ et Talmudicæ: Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations Upon the Gospels, the Acts, Some Chapters of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians. New Edition by Robert Gandell. Volume IV. Oxford: At the University Press. 1859. Pg. 257ff by Robert Gandell. The footnotes do not always follow his copy. They include some additional thoughts and background by me on the text.

On problem points the English was compared against the original Latin version, Joannis Lightfoot: Opera Omnia. Tomus. II.(3)See Joannis Lightfoot: Opera Omnia. Tomus. II. Rotterdami. Regneri Leers. 1686. Pg. 917ff . These are noted in the footnotes.

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CHAP. XIV

[Pg. 257] VER. 2: Ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ· He that speaketh in a tongue. Speaking in a tongue ? In what tongue ? You will find this to be no idle question when you have well weighed these things :

  • I. There is none with reason will deny that this whole church of Corinth understood one and the same Corinthian or Greek language : as also, that the apostle here speaks of the ministers of the church, and not of strangers. But now it seems a thing not to be believed, that any minister of that church would Arabic, Egyptian, Armenian, or any other unknown language publicly in the church ; from whence not the least benefit could accrue to the church, or to the minister himself. For although these ministers had their faults, and those no light ones neither, yet we would not willingly accuse them of mere foolishness as speaking in an unknown language for no reason ; nor of ostentation as speaking only for vainglory. And although we deny not that it was necessary that those wonderful gifts of the Holy Ghost should be manifested before all the people, for the honour of him that gave them ; yet we hardly believe that they were to be shown vainly and for no benefit.

  • II. The apostle saith, ver. 4, ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ, ἐαυτὸν οίκοδομεῖ, he that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself : which how [pg. 258] could he do from those tongues, when he could have uttered those very things in his mother-tongue, and have reaped the same fruit of edification?

  • III. The apostle tolerates an unknown tongue if an interpreter were present. But I scarce believe he would tolerate that one should prate in Scythian, Parthian, or Arabic, &c., when he could utter the same things in the Corinthian language, and without the trouble of the church and an interpreter.

We are of opinion, therefore, nor without reason that unknown language which they used, or abused rather, in the church, was the Hebrew ; which now of a long time past was not the common and mother tongue, but was gone into disuse ; but now by the gift of the Holy Ghost it was restored to the ministers of the church,(4)”at jam donante Spiritu Sancto reddita est Ministris Ecclesiæ” — but now by the Holy Spirit equipping, it [Hebrew} has been restored to the Ministers of the Church and that necessarily and for the profit of the church. We inquire not in how many unknown languages they could speak, but how many they spake in the church and we believe that they spake Hebrew only.

How necessary that language was to ministers there is none that doubts. And hence it is that the apostle permits to speak in this (as we suppose) unknown language, if an interpreter were present, because it wanted not its usefulness. The usefulness appeared thence as well to the speaker, while he now skilled [calluit] and more deeply understood the original language ;(5)”Utilitas inde emersit tum loquenti, dum linguam jam calleret, & profundiùs intelligeret originalem ;” The usefulness emerged from that moment for the person who speaks, and during that time he developed practical knowledge and profoundly understood the original language. as also to the hearers while those things were rendered truly, which that mystical and sacred language contained in it.

The foundations of churches were now laying, and the foundations of religion in those churches and it was not the least part of the ministerial task at that time, to prove the doctrine of the gospel, and the person, and the actions, and the sufferings of Christ out of the Old Testament. Now the original text was unknown to the common people ; the version of the Seventy interpreters(6) The Greek Septuagint was faulty in infinite places ; the Targum(7)The Aramaic translations of the Bible upon the prophets was inconstant and Judaized ; the Targum upon the law was as yet none at all : so that it was impossible to discover the mind of God in the holy text without the immediate gift of the Spirit imparting perfect and [pg. 259] full skill both of the language and of the sense ‘ that so the foundations of faith might be laid from the Scriptures, and the true sense of the Scriptures might be propagated without either error or the comments of men.

The apostle saith, “Let him pray that he may interpret,” ver. 13. And ‘interpretation’ is numbered among the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Now let it be supposed that he spake Latin, Arabic, Persian : either he understood what he spake, or he did not ; if he did not, then how far was he from edifying himself! And yet the apostle saith, he that speak in a tongue edifies himself. If he understood what he spake, how easy was it for him to render it in the Corinthian language ! There are many now learned by the study who are able to translate those tongues into the Corinthian or the Greek, without that extraordinary gift of interpretation immediately poured out by the Holy Ghost. But let it be supposed, which we do suppose, that he spake in the Hebrew tongue, that he either read or quoted the holy text in the original language ; and that he either preached or prayed in the phrases of the prophets ; it sufficed not to the interpretation to render the bare words into bare words, but to understand the sense and marrow of the prophet’s language, and plainly and fully to unfold their mysteries in apt and lively and choice words, according to the mind of God : which the evangelists and apostles by a divine skill do in their writings.

Hear the judgment of the Jews concerning a just interpretation of the holy text. They are treating of the manner of espousing a woman. Among other things these passages occur ; תר” על מנת שאני קריינא “The Rabbins deliver. If he saith, ‘Be thou my espouser if I read : if he read three verses in the synagogue, behold she is espoused. R. Judah saith, ‘Not until he read and interpret.’ יתרגם מדעתיה May he interpret according to his own sense? But the tradition is this : R. Judah saith, המתרגם פסוק כצורתי He that interprets according to his own form behold he is a liar. If he add any thing to it, behold he is a reproacher and blasphemer. What therefore is the Targum ? [Or what intepretation is to be used ?] Our Targum.”(8) Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 49a קידושין מטא

The Gloss there writes thus : “He that interprets a verse [pg. 260] according to his own form, that is, according to the literal sound : for example, לֹא-תַעֲנֶה עַל רִיב Exod. xxiii. 2 ; he that interprets that thus, לא תסהיד על דינה Thou shalt not testify against a judgement, is a liar : for he commands that judgement be brought forth into light. But let him so interpret it, Thou shalt not restrain thyself from teaching any that inquire of thee in judgement. So Onkelos renders it.”

If he add any thing to it : — If he say, ‘Because liberty is given to add somewhat, I will add wheresoever it lists me; he sets God at nought and changeth his words. For wheresoever Onkelos added, he added not of his own sense. For the Targum was given in mount Sinai, and when they forgot it, he came and restored it. And Rab. Chananeel explains these words, ‘He that interprets a verse according to his own form,’ by this example וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל Exod. xxiv. 10. He that shall render it thus, וחזר ית אלהא דישראל and they saw the God of Israel, is a liar ; for no man hath seen God and shall live: and he will add to it who should render it, וחזר ית מלאכא דאלהא and they saw the angle of God. For he attributes the glory of God to an angel. But let him interpret it thus, וחזר ית יקרא דאלהא and they saw the glory of God of Israel. So Onkelos again.”

So great a work do they reckon it to interpret the sacred text. And these things which have bee said perhaps will afford some light about the gift of interpretation.

But although the use of the Hebrew tongue among these ministers was so profitable and necessary, yet there was some abuse with the apostle chastiseth ; namely, that they used it not to edification and without an interpreter. And further, while I behold the thing more closely, I suspect them to Judaize in this matter, which we have before observed them to have done in other things ; and that they retained the use of the Hebrew language in the church, although unknown to the common people, and followed the custom of the synagogue. Where,

Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis

The Epiphanius text on the tongues problem in the first century Corinthian Church.

This fourth century or later writing is one of the most important texts in trying to rebuild a historical model for explaining the tongues problem at Corinth.

The text is customarily credited to Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in the fourth century. This text may have been heavily edited, redacted and even added over the centuries since its original release. We are not sure whether it is a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-century opinion. Even with this problem of textual criticism and dating, the work still reflects an ancient one.

However, the nature of Epiphanius assertion that there was a direct Jewish correlation to the problem tongues of Corinth suggests that this was part of the original text. Later editors or writers would not have added such a connection.

The Epiphanius text on the Corinthian conflict.

Here is the central part of the text found in Epiphanius’ Panarion Book I, Section III, Heresy 42 starting at Scholion XIII and XXI:

. . . Therefore languages are from a grace of the Spirit. Of what kind does the Apostle speak? He knew how not only the different Hebrew sounds, and manifold expressions in every single word with skills adorned with eloquence, but also the proud language of the Greeks; some who boast the ability to speak Attic, Aeolic, and being able to utter the language of the Dorics, of whom had caused the disturbances, and factions within the Corinthians, to which the Epistle was dispatched. . . . And he confessed the gift which is having the ability to proclaim [the oracles] with the Hebrew words and also teaching the Law to be a spiritual endowment. And he agreed that it is a spiritual grace to proclaim and to teach the Law in the Hebrew words.

The complete English text can be found here: The Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth in English, or, the translation completed by Frank Williams .

What did Epiphanius mean by this?

The Epiphanius text states two things about the Corinthian conflict: it was a clash between different Greek ethnic groups and the Hebrew language had some type of role in the Corinthian assembly. There was no reference to an out-of-this-world mystical experience, or something supernatural.

Hebrew, Greek, teaching the Law — these indicators combined suggest it to be a liturgical or didactic problem within the Corinthian gathering. This necessitates to find more information on early Church liturgy for answers.

The answer to the Corinthian tongues conflict may be found in understanding the contemporary Jewish structure during that time and how much the early Christian Church in Corinth adopted this custom. There are two ways to understand the background to this Epiphanius passage from the historical records:

  • It was the reading of the Law in Hebrew and an interpreter(s) translating it into the local vernacular that caused the problem. Jewish tradition had a specific liturgy concerning Jews worshiping together outside of Israel; the Law was to be read in Hebrew and an interpreter was to stand beside the reader and translate it into the local tongue. It could be inferred, though not conclusively from this, that the Corinthian Church had adopted this form of Jewish liturgy but ran into problems concerning which Greek language the interpreter was to use.

    This may be stretching the text more than what the writer intended and such a relationship cannot be concretely established.

  • Or, it could be that Hebrew was the language of instruction and religious devotion within the earliest Corinthian assembly. This tradition was continued from the Jewish synagogue. Those masters who were instructing/lecturing on the principles of the Christian faith did so in Hebrew, while an interpreter was required to translate it into the local vernacular. The conflict was in which Greek vernacular was most suited for the Corinthian congregation.

    This may be a more acceptable interpretation.

The Epiphanius’ text is a base element for a series of articles intending to prove either one of these hypotheses. The goal of this series is trace the role of the reader, speaker, and interpreter starting from the rites found in the Jewish diaspora, specifically Corinth, to its transition into Church office, if there is such a relationship, and mapping this evolving rite until the thirteenth century.

The text itself is one of the clearest and logical found so far written by a Church Father. However, this work, along with Jewish writings on public reading, are four centuries removed from the actual Corinthian tongues saga. It could be a later interpretation. This problem needs to be addressed.

Why has this text never been popular in describing the Corinthian tongues debate?

It is a mystery why this passage has never come up in any critical discussions on the problems tongues of Corinth. Frank Williams’ work, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35)(1)Martin Krause ed. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35). Translated by Frank Williams. New York: EJ Brill. 1987. Pg. 234ff or see it online, The Panarion of Epiphanius Scholion 13 and 21 contains an already available English translation, though he, nor anyone else makes no correlation to I Corinthians in the translation of the text found at the header scholion 13 and 21.

The only critical look into the position of Epiphanius on the gift of tongues is the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. The writing would lead the person to believe that Epiphanius wrote it to be an ecstatic utterance relative to the Montanist movement.(2)The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Samuel Macauley Jackson ed. Volume 11. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. The Tongues entry written by PKE Feine. Pg. 37. The Montanist correlation that was made from the Panarion XLVIII:4 is a weak one(3)The author, PKE Feine, quoted Epiphanius in Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses XLVIII:4) to support his view on Montanism. This text is in the process of being translated and will be posted later. and the writer, PKE Feine, ignored this Corinthian tongues passage altogether.

Epiphanius was attacking a person named Marcion for allegedly altering the text in I Corinthians 14:19 to suit his own needs. It is known that Marcion was the son of a Bishop, and perhaps was a Bishop himself, but at some point there was a clear break between himself and the institutional Church.

A translation problem with the key text.

The Epiphanius author(s) defined Marcion a heretic because Marcion had revised the I Corinthians 14:19 text. There is some confusion as to how Marcion revised it. There are two alternative Greek texts that give slightly different nuances:

The source-text Greek edition translated into English reads:

“Marcion mistakenly added: “according to the Law,” with, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”.(4) Πεπλανημένως ὁ Μαρκίων [μετὰ τὸ] «ἀλλὰ ἐν Ὲκκλησιᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι», προσέθετο «διὰ τὸν νὸμον». The English Bible translation is taken from I Corinthians 14:19 KJV

This would render I Corinthians 14:19 to read, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind according to the Law.”

This version fits nicely in with Epiphanius’ argument that Marcion is adding to the Bible and creating a heretical version. The Epiphanius text shortly afterwards uses this as a springboard to call Marcion many harsh names.

Whereas an alternative Greek text has:

“Marcion mistakes:“But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”, on the other hand differently “according to the Law.”(5) Πεπλανημένως ὁ Μαρκίων· Ἀλλὰ ἐν Ὲκκλησιᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι· ἑτέρως δὲ διὰ τὸν νὸμον.. Migne Patrologia Graeca, Volume 41, Column 791

This would render I Corinthians 14:19 to alternatively be read as, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church according to the Law.”

The fourth century and later Ambrosiaster text would agree more with the second argument:

“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.”

The Ambrosiaster text demonstrates that there was some type of tradition connecting I Corinthians 14:19 with the Jewish Law. How widespread this tradition was throughout Christendom in the early centuries is not known.

There is a third potential problem and that has to do with the similarity in the Greek between the word mind — νόος and Law — νόμος. They are very close in spelling with only a one letter difference. It could potentially be easy for a manuscript writer to confuse these and cause a transmission error. This may be a remote problem because the Greek grammar in this situation has them distinguished by case. Mind is in the dative case – νοΐ and Law is in the accusative — νὸμον. It would be hard to get them mixed up. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a play on words was happening here.

The writer(s) went on a tirade against Marcion and slandered him with homophobic references against having made such a change. However, the author(s) failed to realize that this change is not unique to Marcion and was present in some legitimate Christian communities as noted in the Ambrosiaster text above.

The text indicates that there was no certain correlation between the tongues of Pentecost and that of Corinth. They were two separate entities.■

For further reading see:

References   [ + ]

Antisemitism in the Ancient Church

Trying to make sense out of the antisemitism found in a large corpus of Christian literature.

If anyone begins to read ecclesiastical writings with keen interest, it will be inevitable that one has to struggle with the anti-semitic remarks in ancient Christian literature. Anti-semitism is an over-simplification. This was a small part of a much larger problem. The church viewed anyone outside of the christian community as less-than-human especially Scythians (Russian type of peoples). The political and military aspirations of Christianity in some epochs sought to annihilate any person or communities that that did not embrace its message. Jews were lucky, due to their theological history, and were often spared. Although they got to live, they were second class citizens. At least they could tell their story of oppression. The many other pagans and whole unclassified communities who refused to convert have stories that will never be told.

Many familiar with Patristics will normally go first to the thoughts of John Chrysostom and will surprisingly find that he held the Jewish people with contempt. If he spoke today and wrote contemporary pieces on the Church and Jews, he would be charged with a hate crime under Canadian law.

It may be fairer to treat him in a little better light, but not much more. His intentions were defensive more than offensive because Judaism was a competing religion for his adherents. There existed at that time a warm relationship between Christianity and Judaism that allowed both parties to freely intermingle on many points, and there was a strong attraction by many of his adherents to Judaism. This proved to be a great challenge to Chrysostom to address. It was not a case of the stereotyped lowly Jew versus the Goliath of the Graeco-Roman Christian religion. It was a match of equals.

Antioch had a history of good community and Jewish relations, which undermined Chrysostom’s and the Church’s influence.

The following is a demonstration of how he reacted, and it is ugly:

“But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. Jeremiah said: “Your house has become for me the den of a hyena”. He does not simply say “of wild beast”, but “of a filthy wild beast”, and again: “ have abandoned my house, I have cast off my inheritance”. But when God forsakes a people, what hope of salvation is left? When God forsakes a place, that place becomes the dwelling of demons.”(1)Chrysostom. Against the Jews. Homily 1, 3:1. http://www.todayscatholicworld.com/homily-i.htm

Chrysostom vehemently wanted to break the relationship for his own political purposes:

“Many, I know, respect the Jews and think that their present way of life is a venerable one. This is why I hasten to uproot and tear out this deadly opinion. I said that the synagogue is no better than a theater and I bring forward a prophet as my witness. Surely the Jews are not more deserving of belief than their prophets. “You had a harlot’s brow; you became shameless before all”. Where a harlot has set herself up, that place is a brothel.”(2)IBID. Chrysostom. Against the Jews. Homily 1, 3:1.

Another clue that motivated Chrysostom’s posture was a third group called the Anomoeans:

“And so it is that I hasten to anticipate this danger and prevent it. This is what physicians do. They first check the diseases which are most urgent and acute. But the danger from this sickness is very closely related to the danger from the other; since the Anomoeans’ impiety is akin to that of the Jews, my present conflict is akin to my former one. And there is a kinship because the Jews and the Anomoeans make the same accusation. And what charges do the Jews make? That He called God His own Father and so made Himself equal to God. The Anomoeans also make this charge—I should not say they make this a charge; they even blot out the phrase “equal to God” and what it connotes, by their resolve to reject it even if they do not physically erase it.”(3)IBID Chrysostom. Against the Jews. Homily1, 1:6

This group appears to be a popular quasi-Christian group that integrated both Christian and Jewish elements together and re-defined the Trinity.

One must understand also that Chrysostom had no patience or mercy for anyone or any faith outside of the Christian message.(4)Chrysostom. Homilies Against the Jews. Homily 1, 4:9 http://www.todayscatholicworld.com/homily-i.htm

Chrysostom’s message against the Jews contradicts the positive and warm relationship with the Jewish community espoused by Origen – a Church leader whom he respected.(5)The Jews in the Writings of Origen

Chrysostom was also known to have a brazen tongue and little tolerance for those even within the Church. He was banished for virulent language against a benefactor and leader, the Empress Eudoxia. He took contest against her because she erected a lavish statue of herself. He made some scathing remarks in regards to this(6)“Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.” Schaff, Philip ed. NPNF2-02. Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories by Salaminius Hermias Sozomen and Socrates of Constaninople. Pg. 150 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.ix.xix.html and was banished to Armenia for this protestation.(7)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Chrysostom

The over-zealousness of his rhetoric inside and outside the Church and his subsequent banishment labeled him an extremist by his own peers. This person cannot be held as the definitive example of Jewish-Christian, or any other Church relation. Neither can he be held as a representative of the official Church position during his time or any other.

The Jewish based The Encyclopedia Judaica also believes there were both negative and favourable relations between the Jewish and Christian communities in the third and fourth centuries. It wasn’t a scene that can be pictured as black and white antisemitism.

This did change over time. The complete separation of Greek Christianity from its Jewish foundation can be traced back to the emperor Constantine, who issued a decree over the celebration of Easter:

“under the 79th header, which is the first Council of Antioch itself, this is expressed with these words, “If anyone would be bold enough to change the definition of the holy and great council which was by the Nicean gathering, in the present devout and reverenced leader Constantine, regarding the solemn healing of the passover, we assess those to be excommunicated and banished of the Church, if then they should remain unmoved, obstinately against that which they have decreed as good. And this also was decried to the laity. If then those who are presiding over the Church,either episcopates, presbyters, deacons, should attempt to alter this definition, through the subversion of people and disturbance of the Church, to separately gather, and to celebrate the Passover with the Jews, this holy synod declares this (person) a stranger from the Church. Not only himself but any who should proceed to cause with manifold corruption and agitation. Not only are such kind removed by a minister, but also those who should attempt to communicate afterwards with the damned, they are damned.”(8)My own translation taken from http://hermes.ulaval.ca/~sitrau/calgreg/denys.html, Liber de Paschate: Praefatio

This was the official beginning of legal ostracization of the Jews from the Christian realm and the loss of any Jewish identity within the movement — a movement originally founded by them.

Why such a strong statement? If the Jewish people were recognized as the people of God and holders of the oracles of God, then two possibilities could occur:

  • The power of religion, which was the base of any governmental authority in ancient times, would shift from Rome to Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders would be the ones establishing law, spiritual piety and directing the national social conscience. This would undermine the Roman governmental system.

  • The Romans and the Greek populace with such pride in their own identity could not be forced to adapt to a foreign religion belonging to a minor territory. They would naturally overthrow any monarchy or leadership that proposed such a thing.

The only option the Roman leadership had to retain their own power and integrate the originating Jewish faith into their own system was to scrub out the Jewish element and make it into a Greek identity.

And that is what Constantine started with the decree.

Neither Chrysostom nor Constantine can be declared official icons of fourth century Jewish-Christian dialogue. There were other powerful voices within the Church which promoted a different position.

Epiphanius, the fourth century Bishop of Salamis, wrote a book called the Panarion which was a polemic against certain groups that contested or challenged the institutional Church teachings. This writing is at times written in a condemning tone, almost a street-level vernacular. There are numerous references to Jews and movements within Judaism, but Epiphanius refrains from any serious attack on standard Judaism.

This isn’t always the case.

For example the Ambrosiaster document, first written in the fourth century and emendated up to the 13th illustrated Jews as antithetical to the Christian message. The Ambrosiaster writer(s) used the Jews as an abstract illustration of what one must not be.

Some go as far to say that the New Testament has an anti-semitic bias to it, especially from the book of John onwards. This may be taking it too far. Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler, a professor at the Hebrew University, directed another approach. He specifically addressed our Introductory Talmud class on the subject of antisemitism in the Bible, “You have to realize this was in-house fight.” The discussions in the New Testament are for the most part hostile tensions between various Jewish groups and individuals who were shooting fiery barbs at each other over Jewish legal issues. Third parties who are not Jewish that read these accounts can easily take it out of context.

This may be too simplistic, as the Book of John does appear in places to be written from a non-Jewish perspective and for a non-Jewish audience. It could easily be interpreted as critical of the Jewish race. One passage in particular, John 8:44 where Jesus stated, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire,” has given special license to many ignorant Christian leaders, movements and peoples over the centuries to treat Jewish people maliciously. Prof. Van der Horst, a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences cites this as one of the most destructive passages:

“In later Christian literature, that expression is picked up. This fatal short remark has had lethal consequences over two millennia. It cost tens of thousands of Jewish lives in later history, especially in the Middle Ages. This verse was taken by Christian Jew-haters as a license to murder Jews. These murderers thought: ‘If Jesus says that Jews have the devil as their father, we should eradicate them as best as we can.’

…I once argued before an audience of Christian ministers that if we were to confront John with the consequences of what he wrote, he would deeply apologize and say, ‘Please, delete it from my Gospel.’ Until the present day these words have their influence, because the average Bible reader cannot contextualize them in the first century when they were written.”(9)http://writingtw.blogspot.com/2009/05/origins-of-christian-antisemitism.html

It is not the actual problem of the Johanine writing, but the selective interpretation of it.

The great eighth century European ruler, Charlemagne, forced conversions on all his defeated territories. If they refused, they would be killed, regardless if they were Jews or otherwise. This brought on the ire of Alcuin of York who entreated Charlemagne that “that faith is a free act which cannot be enforced; that instruction, persuasion, love and self-denial are the only proper means for converting the heathen.”(10)History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.

Some would also want to single out the Jews as the object of Church oppression. This too is an overgeneralization. The Church had no respect for anyone who was not converted, whether it was a Barbarian German, Gaul, Spaniard, or a pagan. This was also extended to those within the Church realm too – Donatists, Montantists, Arianists, Marcionists, and the list goes on, were not treated much better. Those who were unconverted were considered less-than-human and did not have the same rights as those who were.

Chrysostom also reflected the spirit of the times. In this period the problem was not of antisemitism, but an issue of accepting a religion that did not have Greek or Roman origins, especially something as obscure as the Hebrew religion.

The Romans and Greeks considered the Hebrew religion unknown, foreign and non-Greek — everybody knew that the Greeks or to a lesser extent Romans were superior in every way. Nothing could originate outside of Greece or Rome that could be the center of their religion. The only way to make it universal within their world was to strip it of its Jewish identity, or any other nationality, and make it Graeco-Roman.

One must realize as well the writing style of the New Testament, which utilizes ‘the Jews’ in manifold ways within the texts was not written to mean from a non-Jewish standpoint. All the authors of the New Testament, with perhaps the exception of Luke, are Jewish. But then why is it written in such a third-party form? The Jewish historian Josephus utilized the same term, ‘the Jews’ in a similar context, as if he himself appeared to be a historian above Jewish bias, though his whole intention was to defend the Jewish people against antisemitism. This writing style is also found in the Talmud, though the frequency of usage is unknown,(11)Talmud Yerushalmi, Berakhot ix:1 as found in Ephraim E. Urbach. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs. Trans. by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1979. Pg. 81. Note here that R. Tanhuma was attempting to demonstrate the superiority of the Jewish religion over the Greek one. He recognized these two influences were in conflict. The New Testament writers were simply following the writing conventions of that time and it was not meant as a slight against the Jewish people.

What is one to make out of this? It is a human trait to want to lord over the vulnerable, the minorities, the poor, the widow, the orphan and rival groups. History is full of such examples of human nature. The Church has not been exempt. It is not simply a case against the Jews, but the Church’s stance against any group different than them. Other ethnic groups could also make a historical claim that they were discriminated against, but they were annihilated. The Jews escaping this pogrom because of their historic religious identity, still endured discrimination and were treated with lesser rights, but unlike the others, have lived to tell the story.

This is a dark part of our Christian heritage that many don’t know, or don’t want to know about. It is antithetic to the message Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:38). Unfortunately the historic Church writings on the subject cannot be erased or rewritten. The only option is to use these as examples in the past as lessons in what not to do in building a better world.

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