Tag Archives: Corinthian

Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

A look at the problem tongues of Corinth being an internal linguistic struggle between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This is part 2 of an 7 part series on the mystery tongues of Corinth. Part 1, The Role of Hebrew in the Jewish Aramaic World, covered how Hebrew became the language of religion and worship in Aramaic Judaism. The precedence about Hebrew established here transferred over to Jews living in a Greek world.

When you add that Hebrew was the language of instruction in the Corinthian assembly (Part 6) then we are getting close to finding a good answer to the question of Corinthian tongues.

However, Epiphanius didn’t stop at explaining the tongues of Corinth as being a problem of Hebrew instruction. He further added it was a linguistic conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This article is an investigation into the ancient Greek world to see if these language conflicts were a problem.

This necessitates a critical journey into the ancient Greek world, Jewish Hellenism, Paul, and references from the New Testament to find answers.

Continue reading Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

Conyers Middleton's Essay on Tongues

Conyers Middleton, a controversial church historian from the 18th century, became famous for his work Divine Inquiry but also wrote a small work dedicated to the topic on the Gift of Tongues.

It is an essay found in The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Reverend and Learned Conyers Middleton Vol. II, published in 1752, Pg. 79, properly entitled, An Essay on the Gift of Tongues.

It is one of the better works on the topic, and surpasses the level of arguments written by George H. Williams and Edith Waldvogel, A History of Speaking in Tongues and Related Gifts, published in Michael Hamilton’s 1975 work, The Charismatic Movement, which is ubiquitous in charismatic and pentecostal circles, or John Macarthur’s 1993 cessationist publication, Charismatic Chaos. (I haven’t read Macarthur’s new work, Strange Fire to comment on it.)

Middleton quotes a larger than usual number of Church Fathers when he covers the tongues of Pentecost, painting a portrait that it was the spontaneous speaking in a foreign language that the speaker previously did not know. He was not aware of any doctrine of a private prayer or heavenly language.

He makes the mistake of lumping both the tongues of Pentecost and the problem tongues of Corinth as the same entity, which is very problematic. He certainly leans upon Greek and Latin authors and excludes almost completely Hebrew and Jewish sources. By doing so he is working with a restricted set of tools.

His citing of Church literature is more extensive than most, but still falls considerably short. He does not grapple with the difficult texts offered by Gregory Nazianzus, which set the pace and discussion on the subject for centuries, nor of Augustine, who may have been the most prolific writer on tongues, which is a great oversight.

His work is plain quotation and there is no attempt to perform any textual criticism. He does delve into the Delphic oracles in a brief fashion, explaining that Christians were being accused by others of being of similar nature, but does not syncretize these two camps.

Notes about the Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Translation notes regarding the Epiphanius text on the problem tongues of Corinth.

Unlike many of his counterparts, the Epiphanius’ Corinthian account is a historical retelling and not allegorical. The position is unique among the majority of the Church fathers, so a significant amount of time was spent translating, and analyzing the text.

The actual translation can be found at The Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth in English.

However, the complete work itself from a literary perspective is not considered a masterpiece. The style of writing is often vitriolic and paternalistic. It lacks focus and quickly jumps from one thought to another, assuming much on the readers ability to follow.

The text includes a homophobic attack against Marcion’s character. This was completely unnecessary. Unfortunately history cannot be rewritten and this portion be excised from the text. The purpose of this translation was entirely focused on unlocking the secrets to the Corinthian tongues controversy, and it is hoped that readers will ignore this spiteful nature.

There are also manuscript and authorship questions. The transmission of Patristic manuscripts down through the centuries is hardly ever a straight path. The Epiphanius text, popularly known today as Against Heresies but historically titled, The Panarion, is no exception. The original was done by Epiphanius but the Greek texts available today contain emendations, language modernizations, and editorial insertions. Karl Holl did extensive research on this subject in the early 1900s. He found that the base manuscript can be traced back to the ninth century work known as Vaticanus gr. 503. Roger Pearse outlined Holl’s thoughts on the history of this manuscript: “Holl believes that the text of its ancestor first became corrupt, then suffered atticizing corrections, and then was corrected using two other old, atticizing, manuscripts.”1

This does not come as a surprise. Transmission corruption in the Epiphanius text was an issue in a different article posted on this blog: The Geneology of Christ and Other Problems which concluded that the Epiphanius Panarion text in Migne Patrologia Graeca was not very old, may have had portions translated from a Latin text, and had some additions not found in the original.

The Epiphanius text almost appears to be catenae stitched together into a composite form. Reading it is choppy, as if some parts are missing text.

If one looks carefully at all the Greek, Latin, and English texts on the subject, it will be apparent that there are a variety of differences. This is due to the fact that the original was lost and all that exists now are disparate manuscripts. Each person attempting to read the text is forced to piece together clues from all the sources.

The Panarion is a large work and only Schol. 13 and 21 to Refut. 14 and 22 have been translated for this blog. The Greek of this section has been critically analyzed but the rest of the book has not been examined in the same detail. Schol. 13 and 21ff was selected because of his coverage on I Corinthians 14.

There are some clues to this text being part of the original Epiphanius manuscript.

  • The first clue is the writing style. The text conveys a historical rather than an allegorical truth — Church writers, and especially later ones, shied away from historical narratives.

  • The second relates to a linguistic one. The problem tongues of Corinth was a problem of languages. The idea of Hebrew being a sacerdotal language, and the reference to Attic, Aeolic, and Doric are very old themes. Attic was already the dominant language during and after Epiphanius time; literary conflicts between its Doric and Aeolic counterparts had long been settled. Hebrew had no place in any Christian liturgy at the time of Epiphanius or later. These would not be issues that later copyists or editors would see important to insert as an emendation. It had no theological significance.

The text attributed by Epiphanius on Corinth could be a later emendation. However, authorship is not so important in the Gift of Tongues Project, but the transmission of the doctrine is. This concept of Hebrew as a sacerdotal tongue in the earliest Church along with a conflict between Greek rhetorics on the proper content and delivery of a speech, could be traced to the fourth century and geniunely Epiphanius, or it could have been edited somewhere between the original or anytime until the 9th century. Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century lightly alludes to the fact that the Corinth conflict was between Jewish believers and Greek converts. The Ambrosiaster text also follows a similar trajectory to that of Epiphanius, claiming that it was a problem of Syriac speech in the congregation. However, the Ambrosiater manuscript is hard to date, as it was emendated and changed throughout the medieval ages. So it cannot be used as reference for when any thought was first introduced into the Christian discussion. The evidence so far suggests that the transmission was early, but could have been edited in later, 9th century at the latest.

Whether Epiphanius or not, 4th century or later, this concept was transmitted and understood by some Church communities or individuals. It was not common or popular, but was a held belief by some.

A few notes on the actual translation work is in order. The English translation provided on this blog was completed by me, Charles Sullivan. The following structure was in place to complete this translation.

The locating or building of the best Greek source text possible was of utmost importance. Dr. Karl Holl already completed this task. His work was compared against the versions found in Migne Patrologia Graeca and the one published by Franciscus Oehler. The results are a digitized Greek text found at The Greek Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Another important but not so critical as the Greek was to look at a later Latin translation. Comparisons were made from the Latin parallel text found in both Migne Patrologia Graeca and Franciscus Oehler’s Haereseologici. It was carefully observed for three reasons: assistance in understanding a Greek word or phrase not readily found in Greek dictionaries or grammars, accuracy of my English translation, and if the Latin translator had a different interpretation himself than what the Greek actually meant. Holl’s version only has a Greek edition. The Latin translation available in both Migne Patrologia Graeca and Franciscus Oehler’s editions were done by the same person, Janus Cornarius — a person who was extremely gifted in this field whom I trust very well for a consistent and accurate translation. The Latin translation can be found at The Latin Epiphanius Text on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

However, Cornarius stitched together his own idea of a source text and amplified in parts. I liked his narrative, but it doesn’t always follow the literal Greek, it was lightly regarded.

After this translation was completed, it was compared against Frank Williams’ translation as found in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1.2 My translation is not always consistent with his because Williams tended to throw all the manuscripts in, including the Latin, to produce his English translation, which appears choppy and confusing.

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 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 Montanist correlation that was made from the Panarion XLVIII:4 is a weak one3 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

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

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:

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion

Final thoughts on the texts attributed to Cyril of Alexandria about the doctrine of tongues.

A significant amount of time and labour has been spent on works attributed to Cyril of Alexandria on the Christian doctrine of tongues and for good reason. The Cyrillian coverage offers critical insights into the ancient practice of the gift of tongues within the earlier Church.

These works originate under the influence of the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt, which gives these works particular significance. The language of the New Testament is Alexandrian Greek with a Semitic influence which means the influence of Alexandria on early Christianity is centrally important. Without Alexandria, there may no Gospel, or at least many of the principal theological traditions passed down through the generations.

It has been learned from this study that the writings credited to Cyril of Alexandria are not exactly correct. Portions are from Didymus of Alexandria. Which parts are Cyril’s and others Didymus’, we do not know, though for the most part it is Cyril. There also may be medieval editorial emendations too. Even though there remain unanswered questions of authorship, it accurately portrays a fifth-century account on the doctrine of tongues as understood and practiced in Alexandria, Egypt.

The results gleaned from these Alexandrian texts do not align with the contemporary Christian practice or liberal interpretations on the Christian doctrine of tongues. They offer different outcomes. Here are the findings.

The Commentary on Zephaniah clearly indicates that the Alexandrian author(s) believed it be speaking a foreign language. There was an emphasis in this commentary about the “changing of tongues,” that defined the speech as a miraculous endowment. Furthermore, those that received this blessing continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation. For more information and the actual copy of the Commentary on Zephaniah see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Zephaniah.

The Fragment on Acts has some more clues. The work emphasizes that those who spoke at Pentecost did not know the languages beforehand. It was a spontaneous event. Experienced interpreters, according to the text, were not accustomed to such a display. The purpose of Pentectost was to speak in every language to every nation. The Gospel was not to be a local religion for Jews only, but a universal one. The work goes on to describe a negative aspect of this event. People used it to promote their own extravagance and self-promotion. The actual text can be found at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Acts.

The Catena on I Corinthians had the most information, and the following was discovered.

  • The Corinthian problem of languages was viewed as a consequence of Pentecost. The Corinthian situation is not considered a separate entity. In making the Corinthian situation connected to Pentecost, it creates ethnic rivalries. If a disciple comes speaking in tongues for the purpose of rejuvenating the Jewish faith, then it leaves out the Gentile participants. This would be an untenable position.

  • When the disciples spoke at Pentecost, each one spoke a different language.

  • The Cyrillian text associated I Corinthians 14 with their itinerant preachers whose duty was to visit routinely Churches throughout the Alexandrian Church empire. This was a vast region that had a number of ethnic and language groups. The ability to speak in the various languages was a requirement for these preachers to teach and pray.1

  • Prayers and language held a central part of the Church life. Prayers required mastery and comprehension of more than one written language. Literacy was very low in this period. Some think as low as 5%. The congregation then was entirely dependent on trained leadership to teach through readings, memorization and instruction. The prayers in the Church were led by leaders called prefects — a ruler over monks, clergy, and bishops (ὁ ἡγουμένος).2

    If someone would speak or pray in the Church, whether priest, prefect, or the itinerant preacher, it would be in a high-priestly voice, similar to preachers who speak in King James English, old style Catholics who perform the liturgy in Latin, or the use of High-German in Mennonite Churches. What exactly was high-priestly language to them — was it liturgical Greek, or regular Coptic? It is not known.

    The important requirement of any Church leader speaking to an audience or any layperson was that the Skopos (σκοπὸς) had to understand what they were saying, or someone available that “sits near and interprets for the beginners.”3

    The Skopos played an important position within the Church. The Skopos was an overseer who was to test, examine, and approve everything that was spoken, or done. He was also to translate, but that was likely a later attribute.4

    There was a function in the Church that assisted the lay-people in understanding what the priests were saying, singing, or doing. A type of translator, but more of an intermediary. In the Corinthian text it is the anaplérôn ( ἀναπληρῶν), but in Alexandria it is the keimenos (κείμενος).

    The keimenos is a critical keyword and potentially unlocks the mystery tongues of Corinth. A complete article on this can be found by reading The Mysterious Anapleron of I Corinthians 14:16

    All messages that the keimonos explained to the people were to be concluded with an Amen.

    If the keimonos did not understand the language, or message being spoken, he would not be able to translate or explain on behalf of the laypeople, and therefore would not be able to say Amen.

    All of the references to Alexandrian Church structure; the itinerant preacher, the high priestly language and need for a mediary for the laypeople to understand, the Skopos, the Keimenos, the use of multiple languages, and the amen construct, have a connection with Paul’s coverage of I Corinthians 14. Granted this is 500 years later, and there was likely much evolution in this structure, but the shadows do exist.

  • The Catena on I Corinthians gives a different idea of prophecy and its relationship with languages. 14:2 and 5 covers the office of prophecy. It is more comprehensive than what most practicing Charismatics or Pentecostals offer today. The Alexandrian idea of prophecy was the ability to collate disparate data such as thoughts, words, ideas, dreams, language etc., and make sense out of them. It goes beyond the mechanics of translating or interpreting. Prophecy looks for the meaning behind the words, not just the words themselves. Therefore, prophecy was considered one of the highest forms of Christian practice.

The Cyrillian texts are totally oblivious to any Montanist influence on the tongues doctrine. Nor were there any attempt to write about the need for a subsequent spirit baptism or counter any movements teaching such a proposition. Nor were the Alexandrians aware of a private prayer language.

The Catena on I Corinthians borrows many Greek keywords from the ancient Greek prophetic realm. Some of them new to the tongues debate. However, they are not used in a classical way. They have become Christianized by this period. For more information, see Notes on the Cyrillian catena on I Corinthians 14:10.

This conclusion may seem subtle and boring, but it took a laborious amount of work to achieve. The discovery of the actual texts themselves was a challenge. They were found only in the original Greek, and the publications they were found in posed difficulties. Comparative work between different texts was required. The Alexandrian Greek requires a slow translation process as this vernacular has some peculiarities and unique vocabulary. Then there is the challenge to make cohesive sense out of all of them. Anyone who has visited this site over the years will see the narration of the doctrine of tongues is the one that has taken the longest to achieve. It is not an easy task for such a big project.

The reader does not have to take these conclusions at face value either. The original Greek Cyrillian texts can be found at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: The Original Texts. Or one can read the English translations and come up with a personal conclusion by going to the Gift of Tongues Project and scrolling down to the Cyril of Alexandria Category and clicking on the translation links.