The influence of Aramaic and Hebrew on Jewish life around the first-century.
The goal of any information gleaned from this inquiry is to find a possible connection with Hebrew being a part of the first-century Corinthian liturgy. A subsequent purpose is to confirm or deny an assertion by the fourth-century Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, that the mystery tongues of Corinth had its roots in the Hebrew language.
We cannot assume any synagogue outside of Israel, let alone Corinth, used the Hebrew language as part of their religious service. So, it requires digging deeper into the relationship between Hebrew and Aramaic to find answers.
The following is a journey into identifying speaking in tongues through Hebrew and Greek Jewish traditions.
This is an introduction to a series of articles devoted to this subject.
Researching Jewish traditions about speakers and interpreters has uncovered two very important customs that are so close to Paul’s narrative that it would be hard to call them accidental parallels. The first solution relates to the reading out loud of Scripture in Hebrew with an immediate translation in the local vernacular. The second one is the custom of instructing in Hebrew and providing a translation into the local language.
There is also a third alternative: the use of Aramaic as the principal language of conflict in Corinth. This could be a solution if more information comes forward. For the time being it will be relegated a distant third option and only small snippets of this subject will be addressed. The majority of this series will be devoted to the first two concepts.
These first two options have existed all along but few have paid attention to them in the Christian community. This Jewish-centric approach has been minimized for two reasons: antisemitism and ignorance of Jewish literature in both Catholic and Protestant communities, and the hyper-emphasis on the Greek and Latin cultures to exclusivity by rationalist scholars in the 1800s.
The option of instructing in Hebrew with a translation into the local language best fits the Corinthian narrative. However, the rite of public reading in Hebrew with an immediate translation into the local language does have some strengths that cannot be discounted. The solution could even be a mixture of the two.
A seven point historic portrait on the christian doctrine of speaking in tongues. The conclusions have been derived from the Gift of Tongues Project. A research work that has a fourfold aim of locating, digitizing, translating source texts and tracing perceptions from inception to modern times.
These seven points may change if any new documents arise with important new clues.
Click on any of the conclusions for more documentation.
The goal of tracing the perceptions of tongues through the centuries may not necessarily align with the actual realities that surrounds the events. The realities are up to the reader to decide. Go to the The Gift of Tongues Project for the source information.
This is only a general summation. There are many more details and movements at the above link.
*7 does not have a clickable link because no documented study has been found.
Pentecostal solutions to the missionary tongues and gibberish crisis.
This is part-three of a four-part series covering how the traditional definition of tongues all but died and was replaced by the pentecostal practice of glossolalia — an umbrella term for the language of adoration, singing and writing in tongues, and/or a private act of devotion between a person and God.
The first article contained introductory comments. The second gave a detailed account on the twofold problems of pentecostal tongues that needed to be addressed immediately. The first was the failure of the miraculous missionary tongues and the second was the conclusion of outside observers believing the participants were simply practising gibberish.
This work delves into how the early Pentecostals solved the doctrinal tongues crisis.
This research draws from the early pentecostal newspapers and authors. Special notes will be made where there are references to publications and authors who are from the higher criticism perspective. This is important because, as will be shown, the early pentecostal leaders were heavily influenced by a number of these authors and works.
Early Pentecostal Tongues builds on a previous series that focused on the origins of glossolalia doctrine in the early 1800s called The History of Glossolalia. The emphasis of the original series was how the concept of glossolalia overtook the traditional definition and became the only option in most primary, secondary and tertiary source materials produced after 1879. As will be shown, the dominance of higher criticism in the publication realm helped shape the framework for pentecostal tongues as well.
For those new to the Gift of Tongues Project or to the subject of speaking in tongues, The History of Glossolalia, is a good place to star in order to understand the following.
Table of Contents
Looking for a Solution
Ignore the Problem
Utterance vs. Gift of Tongues
Writing and Singing in Tongues
Tongues as an expression of praise and adoration
Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
Tongues as Glossolalia
Looking for a Solution
The redefinition process started almost simultaneously after speaking in tongues became fashionable in 1906.
The solutions are various. A few adhere to the traditional definition, while most looked to the popular religious encyclopedias, dictionaries and commentaries for answers.
Ignore the Problem
A prevalent theme in Pentecostal histories was to ignore that any problem existed about the nature and practice of speaking in tongues. There is no mention in any materials of any controversy, contradiction, or problem requiring a solution. A shift in thought are seen in their historical narratives, but lack internal critical assessment or any acknowledgement.
This especially can be found with the early pentecostal editor, writer and pioneer, Stanley Frodsham. His book“With Signs Following: the Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century,” was once the definitive book on anything Pentecostal by a Pentecostal. First published in 1926, and revised many times, even after 1946, it is a very good, well documented book. Likely the best of any early Pentecostal histories. The first 17 chapters of the book documents people miraculously speaking in foreign languages, and then an unexplained shift occurs in the last portion of his writing. He concludes at the end of the book that christian tongues is a secret speech, something between man and God.1 He never delved on what necessitated or caused this change.
Stanley Frodsham first encountered the pentecostal movement while a young man in England. His first personal encounter with speaking in tongues happened at A. A. Boddy’s church in Sunderland, England. Frodsham then started a religious periodical out his hometown, Bournemouth, called Victory. He later moved to the United States and was the editor for the Assemblies of God magazine called the Pentecostal Evangel. His involvement with Pentecostalism along with his editing and writing numerous compositions over the decades gave him a quasi-official status for creating an early biography of the movement.
This has been a very popular approach.
Utterance vs. Gift of tongues
One would naturally look at the Azusa Street based Apostolic Faith newspaper to see how they resolved the tongues problem. Unfortunately, the Mission was mired in personal conflict that took away all the momentum they had accrued. By 1909, Azusa was becoming a figurehead and a symbol, not a source of authority. The initial thrust and evangelistic zeal was composed of people from the east-coast and mid-west that converged upon Azusa. The power quickly shifted to these centres soon after the pentecostal outburst occurred.
Clara Lum and Florence Crawford were the longtime editors of the Apostolic Faith Newspaper which originated at Azusa Street and later moved their publishing office to Portland, Oregon, in 1909. The reasons are unclear about the move but historians believe it was a personal rift between Seymour and Crawford. Rumour has it they took the mailing list with them which severely crippled the Azusa Street Mission.
Perusing their Portland articles, the sense of awe is gone. The editorial reported little about what was happening internally within Los Angeles or Portland and focused on reprinting snippets from other like religious periodicals.
The Apostolic Faith (Portland) Newspaper engaged with another similar newspaper Bridegroom’s Messenger on an important theological distinction about speaking in tongues. The Bridgegroom’s Messenger divided the church tongues practice into two categories: one an uncontrolled utterance, and the other, a volunarily controlled foreign language. The Bridgegroom’s Messenger text seems to indicate that utterance is not necessarily a human language. Their meaning is left ambiguous. Perhaps this is on purpose.
This speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance is not the gift of tongues. Those who speak in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance have not the power to control it at will, it seems that it comes at such times as they are in close touch with God, the Spirit takes their tongues and speaks through them, gives them utterance. Those who have the gift of tongues, seem to be able to speak different kinds of tongues, and seem to be able to speak at will.2
The original editor of the Bridegroom’s Messenger, G. B. Cashwell, found his Pentecost at Azusa Street and brought this energy back to Atlanta. The impact of Cashwell and his newspaper was considerable within the holiness hotbeds of the southeastern United States.
Clara Lum and Florence Crawford, not wanting to be excluded from the discussion, and having almost 18 months to percolate on the subject, replied:
We have no Scripture for speaking in tongues except as the Spirit gives utterance. It is not you that speaks, but the Holy Ghost, and He will speak when he chooses. Don’t ever try to speak at will. “It is not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.” What is not of the spirit is of the flesh or the devil. We know that some, by getting out of the Word, have been led off into fanaticism and have become a prey for the devil. If we go beyond the Word in any demonstration, it leads into wild fire and fanaticism. Up to date, we know of no one that has received the real gift of tongues, for if they had, we believe they could go out and preach to any nation in their own tongue.3
They concluded the person who miraculously utters does not know what foreign language they were speaking in, and even if they did, it was not a controlled condition, and therefore not suitable for missionary purposes. The gift of tongues was for those who had the miraculous ability to speak a foreign language at will and consequently a powerful tool for missionary and evangelistic purposes. These people theoretically had the miraculous ability to choose a language on the fly. Unfortunately, Lum or Crawford never witnessed this willful and controlled state where the gift of tongues was exercised. Only the uncontrolled powerings of an utterance–a hypothetical state where the speaker did not perceive what language or languages they were speaking.
The Apostolic Faith Newspaper in 1906 was full of miraculous accounts of speaking in foreign languages. Their comments of never witnessing the actual gift of tongues from Azusa Street and onward is startling. The reply may be the closest thing to an apology.
Secondly, the one who uttered in a language was an escape clause. Few, if any, knew exactly what the person was speaking. The expression was the result of a personal divine encounter that could not be immediately explained. Lum and Crawford were released from making any judgements or critical evaluations of the occurrences because of this.
Regardless, the discussion between the editors of the Apostolic Faith and the Bridegroom’s Messenger was one of the first signs of the definition broadening from its original Pentecostal understanding.
The Apostolic Faith editions after 1911 are much more subdued on the miracles of tongues with far fewer testimonies. By 1918, the only reference is general and appears as a narrative of the movement’s former days.
Writing and Singing in Tongues
The missionary tongues emphasis is dominant but the idea of writing in tongues also has some influence. The Irvingites had a demonstration of this writing in tongues doctrine in the 1830s and in the early 1900s, one of Charles Parham’s students, Agnes Ozman, was credited with writing in tongues, and another account described shortly by a Lillian Garr also strengthens that this was a frequent practice.4
The appearance of writing in tongues shows that missionary tongues wasn’t entirely absolute and there was a subculture that had other traditions developing.
Singing in tongues is unique to the pentecostal movement. The Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Portland) described it in this way: “. . .One of the manifestations that followed Pentecost was the heavenly singing by a chorus of voices in supernatural sweetness and harmony. It was melting—wonderful. Praise God, many missions have had it since then. The song is inspired, it is an anointing of the Spirit. God gave new voices to old men and women and to people who had never been able to sing, and to those that had lost their voices.”5
Frank Bartleman described his Azusa experience as a new song and described the environment in musical terms. He first described the event as a linguistic miracle and then described a parallel experience as a personal emboldening to sing. “I felt after the experience of speaking in “tongues” that languages would could come easy to me. And so it has proven. And also I have learned to sing, in the Spirit. I never was a singer, and do not know music.”6
Writing and singing in tongues is symbolic for Pentecostals to channel feelings of an inexpressible joy. A 1916 edition of the Weekly Evangel described it as such: “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God.”–(I Cor. 14:2) The language of which the apostle is here speaking seems to have been of a very peculiar sort–an unintelligible vocal utterance, that which is often manifested at this present day, in great spiritual revivals. We are constituted that when there rises up in our souls a strong rush of tender emotions we feel utterly incapable to put them into words. If expressed at all they can only be in the quivering lip, the gleaming of the eye and the convulsive chest. The groans, the sighs, the rapturous shouts cannot be interpreted.”7
There may be much more to this speaking in tongues genre but there is very little historical literature to go by. It may have been passed down through oral rather than literary traditions.
Tongues as an expression of praise and adoration
Out of all the solutions, this is the major one.
The Apostolic Faith Newspaper slowly crept out of being at the forefront of the pentecostal voice. They were victims of their own success. New voices edged out the old ones, and a general sense of structure was beginning to develop.
Pentecostal authorities began to look critically at the speaking in tongues issue. The experiential factor that A. G. Garr pronounced God ordained and needed no defence or explanation was not sufficient for a growing and increasingly fractured movement.
The early Pentecostal search for an answer was a difficult one as they had not developed any analytical form of analysis. The highly respected pentecostal scholar, Gary B. McGee, described the early pioneers as high on personal experience and low on academic study or reflection. If they did reflect, they would not draw from their own distinct intellectual thoughts. The movement, having no history before the late 1800s, borrowed from scholars of other protestant traditions, assuming that “Pentecostal teachings could be easily integrated with some of these formulations without undermining the credibility of Pentecostal beliefs.”8
The conservative religious nature of the pentecostal movement, largely due to the influence by its holiness parent, also added to the complexity of the problem. They were totally opposed to any form of biblical interpretation that represented the German school of higher criticism. This strong position was featured in a 1919 edition of the Pentecostal Evangel — the voice of the Assemblies of God. They wrote;
These Assemblies are opposed to all radical Higher Criticism of the Bible and against all modernism or infidelity in the church, against people unsaved and full of sin and worldliness belonging to the church. They believe in all the real Bible truths held by all real Evangelical churches.”9
This established the pentecostal community identity with the fundamentalists on biblical authority. The polemic was limited to this threat and did not extend to the writings on higher criticism related to speaking in tongues. Furthermore, it will be demonstrated the conclusion supplied by higher criticism became the framework for the various pentecostal practices on tongues.
As previously stated in the introduction, lacking in-depth theological training, biblical or ecclesiastical language skills, missing a comprehensive view of church history, and a dislike for anything that represented an institutional christian position, they turned to the English Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and writers that they felt were non-dogmatic in order to solve the tongues dilemma. They especially had a great love for the German turned American historian and theologian, Philip Schaff; the Anglican writer, theologian and Dean of Canterbury, Frederick Farrar; the Anglican theologians Conybeare and Howson, and a very short list of other authors and publications. The early Pentecostals felt safe that Schaff’s American identity and the Anglican writers were reliable sources, free from modern bias.
This examination will show how much Pentecostals depended on the above authors for their new definitions and how much influence these authors accidentally had with this movement.
None of the following authors being examined or quoted would admit such an association, but the data is clearly evident.
V. P. Simmons was the first one to attempt to reconcile the pentecostal experience of the 1900s with the German glossolalia timeline.
Simmons was a regular contributor to a pentecostal periodical called, The Bridegroom’s Messenger which was started by the G. B. Cashwell. Many pentecostal denominations today such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland) can trace their history to G. B. Cashwell in some form.
It only took the third publication of the Bridegroom’s Messenger to attempt this connection. An article titled, “A History of Tongues” by V. P. Simmons (Frostproof, Fla.) was the first and foremost work on the subject. Simmons was a temperance worker, emphatic about the second coming of Christ, and had been involved with tongues speaking movements since the late 1850s. He was highly respected by the Bridegroom’s Messenger.
This same work was repeated two more times in the Bridegroom’s Messenger throughout the years.10 The article was converted into tract form by the same newspaper and advertised for sale in the March 1, 1908 edition.
The article had a direct influence for over two-decades. The last reprint found was in a denominational newspaper called the White Wing Messenger (March, 1928) – which represented the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).11 The Church of God is one the oldest and largest pentecostal denominations in the world.
The structure from 1 to 8, with the exception of Cyprian, is similar to what is found in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church15 and the Religious Encyclopedia16 which was edited by Schaff. Simmons does not break Schaff’s structure. Instead, he adds the Irvingites, which happened before the Quaker’s and Methodists, after Schaff’s list ends.
Simmons was hesitant about including Quakers and Methodists to the history of tongues because there was no primary information that connected them. However, since Schaff included them in his analysis, he left it in the list. The Second Adventists (a movement distinct from the present Second Day Adventists) is his own contribution because he personally knew the leaders.
The reference to the Camisards by consulting the Library of Universal Knowledge was to show that he wasn’t completely dependent on one author.17
He desperately wanted to connect Pentecostalism with Montanism; “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.” However, he failed to cite it properly and attributed it to Schaff even though it was written by W. Möller in editor Schaff’s A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology entry on Montanism.
Secondly, he asserted that the early church leader Irenaeous, Tertullian, and Cyprian endorsed and defended the Montanists speaking in tongues. This is historically incorrect. There is no literature from any of these writers substantiating such a fact. The only connection can be made is that Tertullian supported the Montanist overall cause, but did not specifically cover Montanist tongues.
Neither did Simmons realize that the key word for tongues, γλῶσσα glossa, does not exist in the critical text related to Montanism. This, along with a number of other problems, makes the case for speaking in tongues by the Montanists a weak one, if at all.
Simmons would have been better off to side with the Donatists. This was a group described by Augustine. They would have been a better faith movement to identify with because they were proponents of tongues-speaking and were opponents of the institutional catholic church.
After Cyprian, he recognized that almost 1600 years of history had been omitted. He believed this was because most academics concealed the practice. “ They evidently consider tongue talking a fanaticism, a weakness, to be kept out of sight.”18 He felt that Schaff, along with a person named Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of encyclopedia of universal knowledge, as two historians that did not suppress the subject.19
Simmons did not provide an alternative 1600 year history of tongues that would inevitably draw from Catholic sources or review pertinent christian literature in the original texts. — a significantly large corpus hardly translated into English. He felt content the concealment by the establishment for over this period as a sufficient conclusion. This interpretation fit nicely in with the Pentecostal narrative.
A 1931 edition of the Bridesgroom’s Messenger updated Simmon’s timetable and added a few additions from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Francis Xavier was referenced where it was written: it “is said to have made himself understood by the Hindus without knowing their language.”20 This is a slight improvement over Simmon’s original. However, the Bridesgroom’s Messenger failed to comprehensively examine Xavier. The Sainthood process for Xavier was partly decided on the basis of speaking in tongues. However, the reality was otherwise. Xavier had linguistic difficulties. The successful political pedalling for his Sainthood, which had serious economic benefits for many parties involved, had been a source of embarrassment for the Catholic Church. It led to Pope Benedict the XIV issuing a treatise on the subject that set forth clear investigative rules for determining whether a person divinely spoke in tongues or not.
In 1909, William Manley, another participant directly blessed at the Azusa Street church, and well known as an evangelist, published a detailed article in his Household of God periodical titled “Tongues: Their Nature and Use According to the Commentators”. The article compiled a list of books and commentaries to prove that speaking in tongues was a language of praise and thanksgiving; purposely shifting the emphasis away from foreign languages. Who was the author and when was this published? We know Manley was the editor and possibly the author. The article cannot be located in the incomplete Household of God archive. However, a reprint can be found in the Bridesgroom’s Messenger in the January 15th, 1909 edition.21
The work cited a number of critical commentaries: (Clicking on the names will take you directly to their books and pertinent pages cited on tongues):
A closer look at the commentators selected gives some detailed clues on how editor Manley and Pentecostals in general were inclined to reach a conclusion of speaking in tongues being a language of prayer and adoration.
Adam Clarke, was one of the leading theologians in the Methodist movement. He promoted the idea of it being a tongue for the expansion of the Gospel.
Matthew Henry was a presbyterian minister in the early 1700s whose written works greatly impacted later protestant leaders. Manley quoted from him to assert that speaking in tongues is a manifestation of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Henry Alford “The great work of his life, however, was his Greek Testament (4 vole., London, 1849-61; thoroughly revised in subsequent editions), which introduced German New Testament scholarship to English readers. . .”23 He was a disciple of August Neander — the foremost writer and promoter of tongues as glossolalia.
Philip Smith admittedly followed Schaff’s guidance along with another influence, canon Robertson. He admits he shares their defects.24
Gotthard Lechler studied in Germany and was a disciple of August Neander.25
Cunningham Geikie was a prolific presbyterian theologian and writer with strong ties both in Canada and England. He doesn’t appear to fit in any equation. His books contain a high number of references to German sources and in one of his publications thanks a certain Professor G. Ebers of Leipsic, Germany for his contributions.26 Charles Spurgeon and Franz Delitzsch highly recommended his works.27 His quotation by Manley gives the sense that there is a comprehensive community of theologians from different christian movements that are all in agreement with speaking in tongues.
Frédéric Godet, a Swiss-Protestant theologian, studied in Germany and was especially influenced by Neander.28
David Brown, the author of the commentary on the Book of Acts for Jameson, Faucett, and Brown’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible was one of the few who had no connection with Germany, but was an assistant to Edward Irving.29 Mr. Irving and his movement was the precedent setting event in protestant history that awoke the tongues debate out of a slumber and into a hotly debated subject.30
John Fulton was the editor of Ten Epochs of Church History that the Household of God lifted the citation from. Many authors contributed to the Ten Epochs. The quote in this case was from James Vernon Bartlett. There is little biographical information on either one.
Philip Schaff was left for the end of the article and was given slightly more space than the rest of the quotations. One of the more important Schaff quotations emphasized praise, adoration and a personal religious language.
“It was an act of self devotion, an act of thanksgiving, praying, singing within the Christian congregation by individuals who were wholly absorbed in communion with God, and gave utterance to their rapturous feelings in broken, abrupt, rhapsodic, unintelligible words. It was emotional rather than intellectual. * * * * the language of the spirit or of ecstasy as distinct from language of the understanding.”31
More about Schaff will be explained in Part 4.
The reader can clearly see a pattern developing here where the Pentecostal framework for speaking in tongues was based on higher criticism. The combination of pentecostal experience plus the higher criticism approach of it being a language of adoration was a natural fit.
It is noteworthy to see three who were left off the list that would have appealed to the pentecostal protestant sense. The great seventeenth-century churchman and Hebraist John Lightfoot, whose commentary on I Corinthians, especially his coverage on tongues, published in English in 1859, was a masterpiece. John Gill, whose commentary follows that of Lightfoot, or Jean Calvin’s Commentary on Corinthians. None of these would easily agree with the above observations.
A. B. Cox
A. B. Cox wrote for the Bridal Call: Western Edition in 1919 on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit where he devoted some thought to the history of speaking in tongues. The magazine was started by popular pentecostal media icon Aimee Semple Mcpherson. She is noted as one of the major influences in the rise of Pentecostalism. Not much can be obtained about Mr. Cox except for his contribution to the Bridal Call.
A look at his historical timeframe on tongues is similar to that of Simmons. He went into a few more details but there are some flaws.
Cox asserted that Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, most of the church fathers believed the disciples of Pentecost were miraculously and permanently endowed with the power of foreign languages. This statement, with maybe the exception of Augustine, cannot be substantiated from these early church writers themselves.
The following quotation; “Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “We still do what the apostles did when they laid hands on the Samaritans and called down the Holy Ghost on them, in the laying of hands. It is expected that converts should speak with new tongues,” cannot be substantiated in any of Augustine’s works.
This citation has become part of the pentecostal myth. It is found in the Church of God Evangel in 1933,32 and was also repeated by the well known pentecostal theologian and radio speaker, Carl Brumback in his 1947 work, What Meaneth this? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question.33
Cox cites Gregory of Nazianzus to make a connection with the tongues of Babel, but makes no mention of Gregory’s miracle of tongues paradox—a central aspect of Gregory’s coverage on tongues. It makes the researcher ask if Mr. Cox actually looked at the text itself or simply lifted his quote from a third party source.
He goes on to claim further sources Oshausen, Baumgarten, Thiersch, Lechler, Hackett, Glaag, Plumptre, Schaff, Schmiedl and Zeller. Most of these are German higher criticism authors with an exception of Edward Hayes Plumptre. Plumptre was entirely familiar with the German position on tongues. His analysis was hesitant, but still followed their framework.34 A further look at sources by Cox demonstrates that this was an edited copy from Schaff’s History of the Christian Church35
Paul H. Walker
Mr. Walker was an important leader in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) denomination between the 1920s and 1960s. His article, “The Baptism with the Holy Ghost and the Evidence” written 1933, goes into historical detail to assert his position. It is one of the more lengthy works that follows the typical pentecostal historical framework. There are a few problems:
He cited Frederick Farrar’s book, Darkness to Dawn as a primary source, though it is only a work of fiction.
He too cites the same spurious reference to Augustine about converts being expected to speaking in tongues.
It must be noted that he too references Schaff’s History of the Christian Church in his reference to speaking in tongues through the ages.36
Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
The shift from missionary tongues to language and adoration allowed the definition to move into a new direction. One of the effects of this transition allowed the concept tongues as a heavenly devotional language—a language of men and angels. Most mixed this concept with the traditional one of foreign languages believing that the definition allowed for either to happen.
The first one was posted on April 22nd, 1916 for the “interest of the Assembly of God” on the nature of speaking in tongues.
This is not a gift of different languages as some have believed, but is an emotional or heavenly language, in which the speaker speaks only to God.37
The author then supports his claim from the Pulpit Commentary that it was “an unintelligible vocal utterance,” and that it was sometimes a human language, others heavenly or angelic ones. 38
Two months later, another article was posted that credited its teaching from A. A. Boddy and the pentecostal movement in England. There was a heavy emphasis on Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul,” and Philip Schaff’s “Apostolic Church”. With these evidences the author included a double answer that integrated both the old and new definitions:
We see that the belief that the gift was for the preaching of the Gospel to foreigner, is unfounded. Foreign people did certainly hear their own languages on the day of Pentecost (the disciples were not, however, on that occasion, preaching the Gospel but magnifying God–the common use of the gift) therefore the Spirit must have sometimes given a known language.39
A 1920 edition of their publication acknowledged the ability to divinely speak a foreign language but moreso encouraged the personal aspect; “With an understanding of the private use of the gift of tongues as a medium of expressing the heart’s deepest emotions, a greater field of usefulness opens before us, and Christian believers should have a greater interest in being filled with the Spirit and power for the accomplishing of divine work in the world than they have in merely—for their own comfort and satisfaction–getting rid of a troublesome inward disposition.”40
A writer by the name of Herman L. Harvey weighed in on the subject for Aimee Semple McPherson’s, Bridal Call: Western Edition and he too vacillated on the definition. He gave more emphasis on the personal expression as a human, angelic or prayer language and did not believe speaking in tongues was for missionary activity. He cautioned about an unspecified group in California (clearly referring to the Azusa Street revival) who had made a “sad mistake,”41 for promoting such a doctrine.
Tongues as Glossolalia
Even though the early pentecostal followers were fond of historical criticism as it related to speaking in tongues, they hardly embraced the word glossolalia as a term that described their experience. There are some brief moments that surprise such as the Bridegroom’s Messenger (1909) that first quotes Schaff and then adds that the glossolalia at Pentecost was an act of worship and adoration, not a miraculous speech for the conversion and instruction of the masses.42 The writer understood the word close to its original intention, but this was not always the case. A writer named B. F. Wallace wrote in a 1916 periodical and defined glossolalia as speaking miraculously in a foreign language.43 Another account in 1920 states it can be declaring the works of God or uttering real languages on earth.44
In 1947, Donald Gee who is considered one of the fathers of the pentecostal movement went so far as to call tongues ecstatic speech, but he did not go so far as to call it glossolalia. However, it appears to be the same thing to him. Gee taught that the view of early pentecostals on missionary tongues was “mistaken and unscriptural”45 He then clarified the current pentecostal definition on tongues: “From the data presented to us in the Scriptures, it seems clear that the gift of tongues consisted of a power of more or less ecstatic speech, in languages with which the speaker was not naturally familiar.”46
Glossolalia does not appear to take any serious usage in the pentecostal realm until about the 1960s. The Pentecostal Evangel Magazine starts to use it as an abbreviation for speaking in tongues. In a 1962 issue it related about a Lutheran outbreak and described it as a “. . .“spiritual speaking,” known among theologians as “glossolalia” goes back to Christ’s Apostles. . .”47 The Magazine produced a special edition in 1964 with an article promoting glossolalia,48 and in the same year one more article and formation of a glossolalia archive occurred. The first one was a sort of clarification which avoids defining the very nature of tongues:
You may wonder, “what is meant by the word ‘Glossolalia’? It is a theological term applied to the practice of speaking with other tongues. . . it is as old as the Bible. Back in the days of the apostles (over 19 centuries ago) the followers of Jesus experienced glossolalia.49
The second one was the Assemblies of God announcement that they were setting up a “depository of writings on glossolalia (speaking in tongues)” at their main headquarters.50
A current popular pentecostal leader, Rev. Heidi Baker, wrote a thesis entitled Pentecostal Experience: Towards a Reconstructive Theology of Glossolalia in 1995. She branded speaking in tongues as glossolalic prayer. An idiom which she described as an “embodiment and manifestation of God’s real presence to the Pentecostal community and the Church in our world. . . Pentecostal glossolalic prayer may be seen as God’s supernatural union with a person in a pre-conceptual, contemplative way and as an “incarnation” of this in a certain person’s life.”51 I have never heard this being used by a lay pentecostal follower, preached from the pulpit, nor in any other pentecostal literature. Baker was attempting to wrap a comprehensive philosophical framework around tongues and wanted to retain the pentecostal distinctive while doing so. She failed to see the earlier connection between higher criticism or the early development of the word glossolalia when she built her argument. By ignoring or unaware of the antecedents, she demonstrates how thoroughly integrated the higher criticism influence has become. It is part of the DNA of pentecostal experience and no longer questioned.
Next: Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 4 The connection between early pentecostalism and the writings of Schaff, Farrar, Conybeare and Howson and a few select others.
As per the Gift of Tongues Project one out of the four aims is being fulfilled here: to provide the source texts in a digital format.
In the case of Pentecostal literature, there is an abundance of information that could take months or years to digitize. However, many of those works only have a small footprint on speaking in tongues that fits the criteria for further research. For the purpose of brevity and avoiding digitization of complete newsletters, important quotes from the early Pentecostal based newsletters have been identified and provided below.
A catholic history of speaking in tongues from the first Pentecost until the rule of Pope Benedict the XIV, 1748 A.D.
This summary is the first portion of a three-part series on the christian doctrine of tongues from inception until the 1920s. For a general overview about the christian doctrine of tongues and the framework that governs the following research, see Summary of the Gift of Tongues: Introduction.
The following are the results of a detailed study of early church, medieval and later medieval catholic writers through seventeen-centuries of church life. The results are drawn from the Gift of Tongues Project which had a fourfold purpose to:
uncover new or forgotten ancient literature on the subject
provide the original source texts in digital format
translate the texts into English and add some commentary
to trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.
Table of Contents
A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues.
A short observation on pentecostal tongues
The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
The connection between Babel and Pentecost
Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues
A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues
The graphic below is to assist the reader in quickly understanding the passing tradition of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries in the Catholic Church. The rest of the document will describe these findings. Click on the links throughout this document for more details, or go directly to the Gift of Tongues Project for actual source texts.
A short observation on pentecostal tongues
The large corpus of material studied and compared demonstrate that the christian doctrine of tongues was related to human languages for almost 1800 years. The mechanics of how this happened differed. There were perceptions of it being a miracle of speech, hearing or both. There were no references to angelic speech, prayer language, glossolalia, or ecstatic utterances until the nineteenth-century. The glossolalia aspect is covered in Part 2 of this series.
The Pentecost event as described by the writer Luke in the first part of the Book of Acts has far more coverage than Paul’s address to speaking in tongues throughout ecclesiastical literature. The ancient christian authors were split on the theological symbolism of Pentecost. Pentecost was either understood as a symbol of the Gospel becoming a universal message beyond the bounds of the Jewish community or a theological symbol for the Jewish nation to repent.
The focus of this summary is the nature and mechanics behind speaking in tongues. The exploration of tongues as a theological symbol can be found throughout the source texts documented in the Gift of Tongues Project.
The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
The first Pentecost happened somewhere between 29 and 33 A.D., depending on which tradition one chooses to date the crucifixion. The event was listed close to the start of an account written by the physician turned writer, Luke. A work which is universally addressed today as the Book of Acts. The Pentecost narrative is very brief. As already mentioned in the Introduction, the English version of this text describing the Pentecost miracle contains approximately 206 words. Perhaps 800 if one includes Peter’s sermon. 206 words that have echoed throughout history and has inspired hundreds of millions to ponder and often replicate in their own lives.
The readership of this summary is assumed to have thorough knowledge of this passage and have come here for more information. The following is the histories of tongues after the first Pentecost.
The earlier church writers who lived between the first and third centuries, did mention the christian doctrine of tongues such as Irenaeous, who stated it was speaking in a foreign language. There was also Tertullian who recognized the continued rite in his church but fails to explain anything more than this. Neither of these writers contain sufficient coverage in their text to make a strong case for anything other than its existence.
The debate inevitably leads to Origen – one of the most controversial figures on speaking in tongues. Modern theologians, commentators, and writers all over the broad spectrum of christian studies believe Origen supports their perspective. This has created an Origen full of contradictions. Origen was a third-century theologian that can be viewed as either one of the greatest early christian writers ever because of combining an active and humble faith with a deep intellectual inquiry into matters of faith. On the other hand, he was mistakenly labeled a heretic after his death for his limited view of the Trinity. He lived at a time the Trinity doctrine was in its infancy and wasn’t fully developed. His views didn’t correlate with the later formulation and he was posthumously condemned for this. After careful investigation about his coverage on speaking in tongues, Origen hardly commented on it. If one is to draw a conclusion with the limited coverage by him is this: he didn’t think there was anyone pious enough during his time for this task, and if they were, it would be for cross-cultural preaching.
The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
Due to the devastating effects of the persecutions by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third-century, there is hardly any christian literature to choose from the first to third-centuries. This dramatically changes in the fourth-century when Christianity becomes a recognized religion, and later the foremost one within the Roman Empire. This is where things get really interesting.
The fourth-century began to unfold greater details on speaking in tongues. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that Peter and Andrew spoke miraculously in Persian or Median at Pentecost and the other Apostles were imbued with the knowledge of all languages. The founder of the Egyptian Cenobite movement, Pachomius, a native Coptic speaker, was miraculously granted the ability to speak in Latin.
The doctrine of tongues divided into five streams in the fourth-century. The first interpretation was the speaking in Hebrew and the audience heard in their own language. The second was Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon. The third was the one voice many sounds theory formulated by Gregory of Nyssa. Fourth, the transition of a personal to a corporate practice represented by Augustine, and last of all the tongues paradox proposed by Gregory Nazianzus. Some may reckon that two more belong here – the cessation of miracles and the Montanists. Both Cessationism and Montanism are perceptions developed during the eighteenth-century. These theories will unfold further down in the summary chronology.
Before winding down the path of these five options, it is necessary to take a quick look at the confusion of tongues found in the Book of Genesis. This story has an important relationship with the discussions to follow.
The connection between Babel and Pentecost
One would assume that the reversal of Babel would be one of the early streams of thinking about Pentecost. This proposition is surprisingly not the case. The idea that the ancient christian writers would connect the confusion of languages symbolized by the city Babel in the book of Genesis with Pentecost because both are narratives revolving around languages seems logical. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, has a brief narrative that described how mankind originally had one language. This oneness changed with their determination to build a tower to reach into the heavens which was stopped by the introduction of a plurality of languages. Although the text is minimal and lacking details, the text suggests some form of arrogance and self-determination apart from God. The tower also represented mankind’s ability to collectively do great evil. In response, God chose to divide the one language into many languages and scatter mankind throughout the earth in order to curb this amassing of power. The overall traditional record does not associate Pentecost as a reversal of Babel.
The connection between God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai would appear to be the better correlation. The old covenant, that is the law of the ancient Israelites, was spoken by God and heard by Moses, then later given in a written form. The Talmud states that God spoke this to Moses in 72 languages – a number understood to symbolically mean in all the languages of the world. The new covenant, the law of grace, was given by the apostles in fiery tongues on the Mount of Olives at Pentecost – these apostles and 120 more miraculously spoke in a whole host of languages. The Jewish community today annually celebrates the giving of the law of Moses and call this day Shevuot which calculates the same days after Passover as Pentecost does. However, this holiday is not an ancient one and does not trace back to the first-century when the first Pentecost occurred. Luke does not mention a direct connection to Shevuot and neither do any of the ancient christian writers.
The Babel allusion prevailed discreetly in later dialogues, especially two concepts. The first one related to which language was the first language of mankind, and how that fit into the Pentecost narrative. The second relating to the one voice spoken many languages heard theory.
Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
There is a substantial corpus about Hebrew being the first language of mankind within ancient christian literature and a tiny allusion to Pentecost being the speaking of Hebrew sounds while the audience heard in their own language. This position about Pentecost does not clearly flow throughout the seas of christian thought, only in the shadows.
The idea of Hebrew as the first language of mankind starts with the early Christians such as first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome, fourth-century Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, for at least part of his life (He changed his position later). The concept of Hebrew being the original language of mankind was repudiated by fourth-century Gregory of Nyssa and then endorsed again by the eighth-century historian and theologian, the Venerable Bede. In the tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka believed that Hebrew was a divine language, because when the Lord spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Hebrew.
The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He alluded that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. This was a reflection of a possibility in his mind, not a position he endorsed. Thomas Aquinas too mentioned this explanation, but quickly moved onto better, more rational theories.
The speaking of Hebrew sounds and the audience hearing in their own language was a small theory that never gained widespread attention. It was played about, but never became a standard doctrine with a vibrant local or international appeal.
A writing loosely attributed to the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, described Pentecost as the “changing of tongues.” Pentecost was the use of foreign languages at Pentecost as a sign for the Jews. This event was a miraculous endowment and those that received this blessing in @31 AD continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.
Cyril represented the city of Alexandria at the height of its influence and power throughout Christendom. His biography concludes that he was deposed because of quarrelsomeness and violence. There are unsubstantiated claims that he was responsible for the death of the revered mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and scholar Hypatia. Although his history comes to a sad demise, his earlier stature and his near-universal influence requires careful attention on the subject of Pentecost. His ideas of Pentecost may have been an older tradition passed down and reinforced by him. The theory of a temporary miracle restricted to the first generation of christian leadership is hard to tell because there is little information about this theory before or after his time.
However, the theory arose again in the thirteenth-century with no references inbetween. The celebrated scholastic writer and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on the temporary question. Whenever a theological subject has been addressed by Aquinas, it is worth the time to stop and consider. There is no person in christian history that had assembled such a broad array of the various christian traditions, writers, texts, and Scripture into a systematic form of thought. Not only was Aquinas systematic, but also a mystic. The combination of these qualities gives him a high score in covering the doctrine of tongues.
He held a similar position on Pentecost to that of Cyril of Alexandria, though he does not mention him by name. He believed the apostles were equipped with the gift of tongues to bring all people back into unity. It was only a temporary activity that later generations would not need. Later leaders would have access to interpreters which the first generation did not.
Aquinas’ argument is a good and logical one, but the christian history of tongues does not align with this conclusion. After Aquinas’ time, there are numerous perceived cases of the miraculous endowments that contradict such a sentiment. Neither can Cyril’s thought be traced down through the centuries to numerous writers and be claimed as a universal or near-universal teaching.
The temporary idea of Pentecost was restricted to this miracle alone. There is no implied idea that this temporality extended to miracles of healing, exorcisms, or other divine interventions.
Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
The christian rite of speaking in tongues transferring from a personal to a corporate expression was espoused by Augustine Bishop of Hippo. This was created over his lengthy and difficult battle with the dominant tongues-speaking Donatist movement.
The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons relating to the persecutions against Christians by edict of emperor Diocletian in the third-century. After the persecutions abated, a controversy erupted in the region over how to handle church leaders who assisted with the secular authorities in the persecutions. This became a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of church leadership, faith, piety, discipline, and politics. One of the outcomes was a separate church movement called the Donatists. At the height of their popularity, the Donatists statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the North Africa region. At the height, it had over 400 bishops.
The Catholic Church was in a contest against the Donatist claims of being the true church. One of the assertions the Donatist’s provided for their superior claim was their ability to speak in tongues. This forced Augustine to take the Donatists and their tongues doctrine seriously and build a vigorous offense against them.
Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists has generated more data on the christian doctrine of tongues than any other ancient writer and gives a good lock into perceptions of this rite in the fourth-century.
Augustine attacked the Donatist claim of being the true church in a number of ways.
One was through mocking, asking when they laid hands on infants whether they spoke in languages or not.
Or he simply stated that the gift had passed. The cessation statement was one of many volleys that he made.
This cessation needs further clarification. Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. Augustine was exclusively referring to the individual speaking in tongues. Nothing more.
In other words, the individual expression of speaking in tongues changed into a corporate one – the church took over the function of speaking in every language to all the nations.
He described Pentecost as each man speaking in every language.
This transformation from individual to corporate identity was referenced by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century in his work, Summa Theologica, but built little strength around this theme. He left it as is in one sentence.
There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.
The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied” — the individual expression has been satisfied. He then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “Why then does the holy Spirit not appear now in all languages? On the contrary, He does appear in all the languages. For at that time the Church was not yet spread out through the circle of lands, that the organs of Christ were speaking in all the nations. Then it was filled-up into one, with respect to which it was being proclaimed in every one of them. Now the entire body of Christ is speaking in all the languages.”1
One has to be very cautious with Augustine on this topic. He was pitting the Catholic Church as the true one because of its universality and inferring that the Donatists were not so ordained because of their regionalism. His answers were polemic than theological in nature.
Augustine’s polemical diatribes against the tongues-speaking Donatists never became a universal doctrine. The individual to the corporate idea has indirect allusions in John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria’s works, but nothing concrete. The concept faded out within a generation and references to him on the subject by later writers is not very frequent.
Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
Gregory of Nyssa represents the beginning of the evolution of the christian doctrine of tongues that has echoes even today.
Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.
This church father, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.
Gregory sees parallels between Babel and Pentecost on the nature of language but produces different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.
Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy one which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound multiplying into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a Christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.” Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in the writings examined so far, so it is hard to make a direct connection. There is an influence here.
What was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed mankind would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he understand it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.
This theory did not solely rest with Gregory of Nyssa. He may be the first to clearly document this position, but the idea was older. There are remnants of this thought in Origen’s writing (Against Celsus 8:37) – though it is only one unclear but sort of relevant sentence and hard to build a case over
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, pokes at this too, but is unclear. He mentions on many occasions “one man was speaking in every language” or similar.2 What does this mean? How can one man speak simultaneously in all the languages at the same time? Even if a person sequentially went through 72 languages speaking one short sentence, it would take over ten minutes and wouldn’t be considered a miracle – only a simple mnemonic recitation. Augustine didn’t make any attempt to clarify this statement. He was playing with the one voice many sounds theory in a polemical sense and altered the nuance. The idea shifted to the connection between oneness and unity, which in Latin, are similar in spelling. He wanted to emphasize that those who spoke in tongues do it for the sake of unity. He was arguing anyone who promoted speaking in tongues as a device to divide the church is a fleshly and evil endeavor.
The concept takes us to the fifth-century where Basil of Seleucia, a bishop of Seleucia in a region historically named Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. Basil of Seleucia followed the literary trail of John Chrysostom and copied many of his traits, but in the case of Pentecost, he adds the one voice many sounds description.
Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.3 This has little bearing with the topic at hand, but builds a small portrait surrounding the key figures of the fourth-century who discuss the doctrine of tongues.
Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and compared against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.
Who is Gregory Nazianzus? Most people have not heard of him before but his contributions to the christian faith are many. This fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople’s mastery of the Greek language and culture is exquisite and hard to translate into English. Much of the wonder and power of his writing is so deeply connected with these two elements it feels like an injustice to translate. His works come across as dry and esoteric in an English translation whereas in the Greek he is a well-spring of deep thought. Many church leaders during his period preached and then published the homily. Nazianzus likely wrote first and preached later. His works do not come across as great sermons, but great works of writing. All these factors have contributed to him being relatively obscure in the annals of christian history – even though in the fourth-century he was on the same level of prestige as Augustine or John Chrysostom.
The description of Pentecost as either a miracle of speaking or hearing became the focal point of Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century when he wrote in one of his Orations that these both were potential possibilities, though he clearly believed Pentecost as a miracle of speech. Unfortunately, a Latin translator, Tyrannius Rufinus, misunderstood some finer points of Greek grammar when translating and removed Gregory’s preference of it being a miracle of speech and left both as equal possibilities. The majority of Western church leaders were unfamiliar with Greek and relied on Tyrannius’ Latin text. Tyrannius’ mistake created a thousand-year debate of the miracle being one of either speaking or hearing.
The speech versus hearing argument was brought up again the seventh-century by the Venerable Bede, who wrote two commentaries on Acts. The Venerable Bede lived in the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northern England. South-East Scotland). He was brilliant in so many areas. Astronomy, mathematics, poetry, music and a literature were some of his many passions. His writing is very engaging and fluid – a good read. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People makes him the earliest authority of English history.
His first commentary delved deeply in the debate, and studying only the Latin texts, concluded it was a miracle of hearing. In his second commentary, he was not so convincing. He changed his mind, alluding Pentecost was a miracle of speech and conjectures it could have been both a miracle of speaking and hearing. The outcome didn’t really matter to him. Perhaps he took this conclusion to avoid saying he was initially wrong.
Another noteworthy discussion about the Nazianzus paradox was presented by Michael Psellos in the eleventh-century. His own biography is not one of the religious cloth, but civic politics. His highest position was that of Secretary of State in the highly influential Byzantine City of Constantinople. He was a Christian who had a love-hate relationship with the church. One of the lower moments in that relationship was his choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-christian writings of Aristotle, but frowned on Plato. Psellos studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.
It is surprising that his complex weave of Greek philosophy and christian faith in a very conservative christian environment did not get him into more serious trouble than he encountered. He was way ahead of his time. His approach to faith, Scripture, and intellect took western society five hundred or so more years to catch-up.
Michael Psellos was caught between two very distinct periods. He lived in the eleventh-century and still was connected to the ancient traditions of the church, but also at the beginning shift of intellectual and scholarly thought that modern readers come to rely on. He bridged both worlds. This is why his work is so important.
He thought highly of his opinions and liked to show-off his intellectual genius. After reading his text, it is not clear whether he was trying to solve the riddle of Nazianzus’ miracle of hearing or speech, or it was an opportunity to show his intellectual mastery. Regardless of his motives, he leaves us with a rich wealth of historic literature on speaking in tongues.
What did Psellos write that was so important? Two things. He first clears up the Nazianzus paradox stating that it was a miracle of speaking. Secondly, he particularly clarifies the similarities and differences between the ancient Greek prophetesses going into a frenzy and spontaneously speaking in foreign languages they did not know beforehand, and with the disciples of Christ who also spontaneously spoke in foreign languages.
Psellos had a detailed knowledge of the pagan Greek prophets and explains that the ancient female prophets of Phoebe would go in a form of frenzy and speak in foreign languages. This is a very early and important contribution to the modern tongues debate because there is a serious scholarly connection given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech with that of Pentecost. The christian miracle is named a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech in order to make the christian faith a universal one.
Psellos may be the oldest commentator on the subject and must be given significant weight. His knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy and religion is unparalleled even by modern standards. It is also seven hundred years older than most works that address the relationship between the christian event and the pagan Greek rite.
He described the Pentecostal speakers spoke with total comprehension and detailed how it exactly worked. The thought process remained untouched but when attempting to speak, their lips were divinely inspired. The speaker could change the language at any given moment, depending on what language group the surrounding audience belonged to. He thought this action a miracle of speech, and sided with Nazianzus.
The total control of one’s mind while under divine influence was what differentiated the christian event from the pagan one. The Greek prophetesses, as he went on to describe, did not have any control over what they were saying. There was a complete cognitive disassociation between their mind and their speech while the Apostles had complete mastery over theirs.
Last of all Psellos introduces a concept of tongues-speaking practised in the Hellenic world that has to do with the use of plants to arrive in a state of divine ecstasy. He also quickly described pharmacology too in this context, but it seems the text infers it was used in the art of healing. His writing is somewhat unclear at this point, but there was a relationship between the two. Perhaps tongues speaking practised by the ancient Greeks was part of the ancient rite of healing. It is hard to be definitive with this because his writing style here is so obscure. He warns to stay away from the use of exotic things that assist in going into a state of divine ecstasy.
Thomas Aquinas tried to conclude the tongues as speech or hearing debate. Aquinas proceeded to use his argument and objection method for examining the Nazianzus paradox. In the end, he clearly stated it was a miracle of speech. His coverage was well done. However, this attempt was not successful in quelling the controversy.
Another aspect that Aquinas introduced was the relationship between the office of tongues and prophecy. The topic has lurked as early as the fourth-century but never in the forefront. Aquinas put the topic as a priority. Given that he was a mystic and lived in the world that heavily emphasized the supernatural, this comes as no surprise. He believed that the gift of tongues was simply a systematic procedure of speaking and translating one language into another. The process required no critical thinking, spiritual illumination, or comprehension of the overall narrative. He believed the agency of prophecy possessed the means for translating and interpreting but added another important asset – critical thinking. One must be cognisant of the fact that his idea of critical thinking is slightly different from ours. He includes spiritual illumination along with intellectual acuity as a formula for critical thinking. The prophetic person had the ability to understand the meaning behind the speech and how it applied to one’s daily life. Therefore, he felt prophecy was a much better and superior office than simply speaking and translating.
The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to eighteenth-centuries
The tenth to sixteenth-centuries could be held as the golden age of tongues speaking in the Catholic Church, and arguably the biggest era for the christian doctrine of tongues. The next two-hundred years that reached into the eighteenth-century was the civil war that raged between protestants and catholics that put miracles, including speaking in tongues, in the epicenter. These eight-centuries were the era of super -supernaturalism in almost every area of human life. Speaking in tongues was common and attached to a variety of celebrity saints – from Andrew the Fool in the tenth to Francis Xavier in the sixteenth. This period had established the doctrine of tongues as either a miracle of hearing, speaking or a combination of both.
Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
For example, the later legend of thirteenth-century had Anthony of Padua, a popular speaker in his time, spoke in the language of the Spirit to a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of catholic authorities who heard him in their own language. What was the language of the Spirit? This was never clarified in the text or by any other author and remains a mystery.
Vincent Ferrer in the fourteenth-century was a well-known evangelist, perhaps in the top 50 in the history of the church. He visited many ethnic and linguistic communities while only knowing his native Valencian language. His orations were so great and powerful that it was alleged people miraculously heard him speak in their own language.
There were also revisions by later writers to earlier lives of saints such as Matthew the Apostle, Patiens of Metz in the third, and the sixth-century Welsh saints, David, Padarn and Teilo. They were claimed to have spoken miraculously in foreign languages.
Speaking in tongues was also wielded as a political tool. The French religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément proposed their order to be the foremost because their lineage traced back to a highly esteemed and ancient founder. L’abbaye Saint-Arnould countered with St. Patiens who had the miraculous ability to speak in tongues.
The account of Andrew the Fool has an interesting twist in the annals of speaking in tongues. Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a tenth-century christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature who feigned insanity as a form of a prophetic and teaching device. The story of Andrew the Fool’s miraculous endowment of tongues was used to facilitate a private conversation between Andrew and a slave while attending a party. This allowed them to talk freely without the patron of the party becoming privy to the conversation and becoming angry about the matter being discussed.
The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues
The sainthood of Francis Xavier in the sixteenth-century, and the incredulous notion that he miraculously spoke in foreign languages brought the gift of tongues to the forefront of theological controversy. Protestants used his example of how Catholics had become corrupt, to the point of making fictitious accounts that contradict the evidence. A closer look demonstrated that the sainthood investigation process was flawed on the accounts of him speaking in tongues. On the contrary, a proper examination showed Francis struggled with language acquisition. His sainthood with partial grounds based on speaking in tongues was a later embarrassment to the Society of Jesus to whom Francis belonged to. The Society of Jesus is an educational, missionary and charitable organization within the Catholic church that was ambitiously counter-reformation in its early beginnings. The Society of Jesus still exists today and is the largest single order in the Catholic Church.
The mistaken tongues miracle in Francis’ life also was a headache for the Catholic Church leadership itself. This led to Pope Benedict XIV to write a treatise on the gift of tongues around 1748 and describe what it is, isn’t and what criteria should be used to investigate such a claim. He concluded that the gift of tongues can be speaking in foreign languages or a miracle of hearing.
This treatise was a well-written and researched document. No other church leader or religious organization, even the Renewalist movement, have superseded his work in validating a claim for speaking in tongues. After his publication, the investigation of claims for tongues-speaking in the Catholic Church had significantly declined.
Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, on the problem tongues of Corinth, as translated by Frank Williams.
Epiphanius has one of the most clearest and definitive accounts on the Corinthian tongues conflict than any other author. It is critical that his translation be critically analyzed and looked from a number of sources. An original Greek source text has been built, The Latin, which has its own nuances and may be based on an unknown manuscript, and my own translation is provided on this site, along with this one, done by Frank Williams.
Not much is known about Frank Williams outside of his massive and widely accepted modern translation of Epiphanius’ Panarion. He received his Phd from Oxford, and is now retired from the University of Texas.
Scholion 13 and 21. Marcion has erroneously added the words, “on the Law’s account,’’ < after > “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding.”
(a) Elenchus 13 and 21. Thus the languages too are by the gift of the Spirit. But what sort of languages does the apostle mean? < He says, “languages in the church,” > to show < those who > preened themselves on the sounds of Hebrew, which are well and wisely diversified in every expression, in various complex ways—on the pretentious kind of Greek, moreover, the speaking of Attic, Aeolic and Doric—< that God does not permit just one language in church, as some of the people < supposed > who had stirred up the alarms and factions among the Corinthians, to whom the Epistle was being sent.
(b) And yet Paul agreed that both using the Hebrew expressions and teaching the Law is < a gift > of the Spirit. Moreover, to condemn the other, pretentious forms of Greek, he said he spoke with “tongues” rather (than those) because he was an Hebrew of Hebrews and had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; and he sets great store by the scriptures of these Hebrews , and < makes it clear > that they are gifts of the Spirit. Thus, in writing to Timothy about the same scriptures, he said, “For from thy youth thou hast learned the sacred scriptures.”
(c) And further, he said the same sort of thing < to > the people who had been trained by the Greek poets and orators, and added in the same way, “I speak with tongues more than ye all,” to show that he was more fully versed in the Greek education as well.
(d) Even his style shows that he was educated, since Epicureans and Stoics could not withstand him < when he preached the Gospel with wisdom at Athens >, but were defeated by the inscription on the altar, “To the unknown God,” which he read learnedly—which was read literally by him, and immediately paraphrased as “Whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”
(e) And (they were defeated) again when he said, “A prophet of their own hath said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies,” meaning Epimenides, who was an ancient philosopher and erected the idol in Crete. Callimachus the Libyan also extended his testimony to himself by quoting Callimachus and saying falsely of Zeus:
The men of Crete are liars alway, Lord;
’Twas men of Crete that built thy tomb, though thou
Hast never died; thy being is eternal
(f ) And yet you see how the holy apostle explains of languages, “Yet in church I had rather utter five words with my understanding,” that is, “in translation.” As a prophet benefits his hearers with prophecy in the Holy Spirit by bringing things to light which have already been furnished to his understanding, I too, says Paul, < want > to speak so that the church may hear and be edified—not edify myself with the boast of Greek and Hebrew which I know, instead of edifying the church with the language which it understands.
(g) But you have added, “on the Law’s account,” Marcion, as though the apostle meant, “I want < to speak > (no more than) five words in church on the Law’s account.” Shame on you, you second Babylon and new rabble of Sodom! How long are you going to confuse the tongues? How long will you venture against beings you cannot harm? For you are attempting to violate angelic powers by expelling the words of the truth from the church and telling the holy Lot, “Bring the men out!”
(h) And yet your attempt is an attempt on yourself. You will not expel the words of the truth, but you will strike yourself blind and pass your life in utter darkness—fumbling for the door and not finding it, till the sun rises and you see the day of judgment, on which the fire will confront your falsehood also. For this is waiting for you, when you see. (i) “On the Law’s account” is not in the apostle, and you have made it up yourself. But even if the apostle were to say, “on the Law’s account,” he would be saying it, in harmony with his own Lord, not in order to destroy the Law but to fulfil it.
Scholion 14 and 22. “In the Law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people.”
(a) Elenchus 14 and 22. “If the Lord did not fulfill the things that had previously been said in the Law, why would the apostle need to mention things from the Law which are fulfilled in the New Testament? Thus the Savior showed that it was he himself who had spoken in the Law even then, and threateningly declared to them, “Therefore was I grieved with this generation and said, They do always err in their hearts, and I sware that they shall not enter into my rest.” For the same reason he promised to speak to them through men of other tongues—as indeed he did, and they did not enter.
(b) For we find him saying this to his disciples: “Unto you are given the mysteries of the kingdom, but unto them in parables, that seeing they may not see,”and so on. Hence (if ) the Old Testament sayings (are) fulfilled everywhere in the New, it is plain to everyone that the two Testaments are not Testaments of two different Gods, but of the same God.
As taken from: Nag Hammadi & Manichaean Studies. Vol. 63. Einar Thomassen and Johannes van Oort. Ed. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Book I (Sects 1-46). Translated by Frank Williams. Brill: Leiden. 2009. Pg. 349-351
How to properly translate and understand Origen when he uses knowledge words.
Origen, a third century Church Father considered by many historians to be a great writer and thinker, was very much steeped in Greek literature, structure and thought. This was very much reflected in his writings.
This is especially found in the catena ascribed to him on I Corinthians.1 One is hard-pressed to comprehend the semantics of his knowledge words. This applies to the majority of his other works as well.
Understanding these three words: γνώσις–gnôsis, εἲδησις–eidêsis, and επιστήμη–epistêmê are critical. These words all pertain to different nuances of the word knowledge. First of all, the English vocabulary does not distinguish between different forms of knowledge as the Greeks did. It is a problem of the limitations of the English language. The demand is then to do some dynamic translating which requires personal interpretation. So the the culture, background, and time-frame must be understood to properly reflect Origen’s intent.
The second problem is understanding what Origen meant specifically by these words. The concepts of gnôsis, eidenai and epistêmê have not been static and it depends on which era, culture and religion it is being used in. He was one of the first Christian authors attempting to integrate such terms and may not reflect medieval usage or what we modernly understand these terms to be.
There have been many attempts to distinguish these words with mixed results. Here are a number of examples:
Ellen Pagels attempted to do this in her book The Gnostic Gospels:
…gnosis is not primarily rational knowledge. The Greek language distinguishes between scientific or reflective knowledge (‘He knows mathematics’) and knowing through observation or experience (‘He knows me’). As the gnostics use the term, we could translate it as ‘insight’, for gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself… Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level is to know God; this is the secret of gnosis.”(The Gnostic Gospels, p xviii-xix) Bentley Layton provides a similar definition in The Gnostic Scriptures: “The ancient Greek language could easily differentiate between two kinds of knowledge… One kind is propositional knowing – the knowledge that something is the case (‘I know Athens is in Greece’). Greek has several words for this kind of knowing-for example, eidenai. The other kind of knowing is personal aquaintance with an object, often a person. (‘I know Athens well’; ‘I have known Susan for many years’). In Greek the word for this is gignoskein…The corresponding Greek noun is gnosis. If for example two people have been introduced to one another, each can claim to have gnosis or aquaintance of one another. If one is introduced to God, one has gnosis of God. The ancient gnostics described salvation as a kind of gnosis or aquaintance, and the ultimate object of that aquaintance was nothing less than God” (The Gnostic Scriptures, p 9).”2
The influential modern German Philosopher Martin Heidegger added his own thoughts to this:
To know a person is sometimes eidenai, sometimes gignoskein, which, with the noun gnosis, often has the flavour of knowledge by acquaintance. Epistasthai, ‘to know, etc.’, is, for Heidegger, ‘to be on top of [vorstehen, lit. ‘stand before’] something, know one’s way around it’ – he associates it (controversially) with histanai, histathai, ‘to place, set (up)’, ‘to stand’. The derived noun episteme, ‘knowledge’, means approaching something, knowing one’s way around it, mastering it, penetrating its substantial content (XXIX, 49). Aristotle gave it the meaning of ‘science’, but in a sense distinct from modern scientific ‘research [Forschung]’ and ‘experiment’ (AWP. 74/121. Cf. XIX. 31ff., 91ff.)3
Science can be one of the common terms used for epistêmê, but it conjures up the wrong images in the English reader’s mind. The translator should emphasize skill or expertise within this context.
The above solutions do not easily work with Origen’s Commentary on Corinthians. A more religious framework is needed. This can be found at Wikipedia:
Gnosis (from one of the Greek words for knowledge, gnôsis is the spiritual knowledge of a saint or mystically enlightened human being. In the cultures of the term (Byzantine and Hellenic) gnosis was a special knowledge or insight into the infinite, divine and uncreated in all and above all, rather than knowledge strictly into the finite, natural or material world which is called Epistemological knowledge.  Gnosis is a transcendential as well as mature understanding. It indicates direct spiritual experiential knowledge and intuitive knowledge, mystic rather than that from rational or reasoned thinking. Gnosis itself is obtained through understanding at which one can arrive via inner experience or contemplation such as an internal epiphany of intuition and external epiphany such as the Theophany.4
At first reading, one may conclude that this Wikipedia text was a result of medieval Christian writings, so more inquiry has to be done. Stanford University’s webpage on philosophy is a good starting point. They outline the usage by the neo-Platonic position of Plotinus, whom Origen studied with, “In the first place, epistêmê refers to the particular cognitive state of the first hypostasis from the One, Nous, in which there is an identity between knowledge and what is known (VI. 6. 15). Our souls gain true knowledge by the presence of Nous, although Nous knows non-discursively while our souls characteristically know in a discursive way (V. 9. 7; IV. 3.18). It does all these things with certain knowledge (epistêmê) and not by opinion (I. 3. 4).”5 Here Plotinus defines epistêmê as a “certain knowledge.”The translator has to be careful about the Christian definition of gnosis, as the early Church fathers such as Clement used the term but made it distinct from the actual term used by the gnostic movement itself. “To be sure, he constantly opposes the concept of gnosis as defined by the Gnostics.”6
Another Wikipedia articles describes the problem also can be found in a number of contemporary languages: “In 1865, philosopher John Grote distinguished between what he described as “knowledge of acquaintance” and “knowledge-about”. Grote noted that these distinctions were made in many languages. He cited Greek (gnônai and eidenai), Latin (noscere and scire), German (kennen and wissen), and French (connaître and savoir) as examples.”7
Arthur Versluis, in his book, Magic and Mysticism: an Introduction to Western Esotericism, is one of the best sources for defining the early Church understanding of these words. He documents their use by Origen and other Christian leaders in this same time-frame:
If heretical Gnosticism in its various forms died out relatively early, the concept of gnosis did not disappear from the Christian world. While heresiarchs like Valentinus and Basilides were remembered in the context of diatribes against them, still the concept of an orthodox Christian gnosis did continue into the medieval period through the work of those we might call “orthodox gnostics:” chiefly Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and most of all, Dionysius the Areopagite. These figures, and particularly the latter two, were imensely influential in later Christianity, and they insisted on the possibility, indeed, the necessity for direct experiential spiritual knowledge. Of these three seminal Christian writers, Origen discusses gnosis the least and largely by implication. For instance, in his Commentary on John, Origen distinguishes between “The Somatic [Bodily] and the Spiritual Gospel” and insists on the importance of both. He affirms the bodily coming of Christ but also affirms the immense importance of John’s “eternal Gospel,” properly called the “spiritual Gospel,” which concerns the “mysteries” and “enigma” of Christ’s life and words. We must, Origen concludes, be Christians “both somatically and spiritually” and partake in the Word (Christ) (I.9). And in his De Principiis. Origen alludes to the celestial “ordering and arrangement of the world,” to the “holy and blessed orders” through which humanity can ascend back to the condition of happiness from which many have fallen (VI.2). Here Origen is referring to the hierarchic orders of thrones, principalities, and dominions, of angelic hierarchies that, by implication, are realms through which humans can ascend to return to their divine condition. But whereas Origen is somewhat oblique about gnosis-it exists as a concept implicit in his work-Clement of Alexandria is much more implicit. In his Stromata, or Miscellanies, Clement writes at length about how “the gnostic alone is truly pious” (VII.1) and affirms that gnostic souls “surpass in the grandeur of contemplation” even the “holy ranks,” for the gnostic who is perfect in virtue and contemplation attains to the “nearest likeness possible to God and his son.” Clement is not at all endorsing heretical Gnosticism but rather is insisting on how gnosis is “a perfecting of man as man, [which is] consummated by acquaintance with divine things,” for by gnosis is faith perfected” (VII.10) In brief, the “gnostic soul, adorned with perfect virtue, is the earthly image of the divine power” (VII.11). The “life of the gnostic,” in Clement’s own view, is “nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord” (VII.16).8
Perhaps too much is being emphasized out of these words. Origen quotes I Corinthians 12:8-10 in the Header 48 “ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως” and it simply means gnôsis as knowledge with no hidden, secret or divine meaning. The Septuagint also reflects this with epistêmê meaning only knowledge, ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ σοφία, ἐν δὲ πολλῷ βίῳ ἐπιστήμη.”“In length of time is wisdom, and in long life knowledge.”9
The modern Pentecostal movement may provide a clue. They make this distinction. There is an intellectual knowing, which is the result of using ones deductive reasoning and then there is knowing — a type of knowledge that changes ones perceptions and decision making processes, resulting in transformation, personal growth and changed behaviour. It is the prime impulse that motivates the Christian life and witness. It is not necessarily possessed by those with intellectual ability. They also believe that the intellect on occasion can impede the real knowing.
One also has to factor in two more important things: Origen was firstly a Christian religious zealot, and he not only was influenced by Greek philosophy, but by Jewish writings as well. He cannot be interpreted solely from classical Greek influences but all three. There isn’t strong enough evidence to demonstrate that Origen departed substantially from the Biblical use, but it is fair to assume a slight shift had occurred based on his play of gnôsis against eidenai, but not to the degree many of the above authors have suggested. With these above in mind Origen means gnôsis to be simply knowledge, the type that changes ones world-view and thought processes, ultimately being expressed in action. This is why Clement could write, “the gnostic alone is truly pious”.10 So it is best to be left as ‘knowledge’. Eidenai is simply a factual knowing. ‘Grasping’ or ‘comprehending’ may be the most suitable English words as it refers the attempt to understand something from an intellectual perspective. Epistêmê is the skill, art or expertise in acquiring facts.
One must understand as well that Origen wasn’t trying to use mysterious philosophical words in his time to illustrate some esoteric christian life. He was attempting to be very practical. His concern in his coverage of I Corinthians was not in the literalness of the text but a personal application; how a person can be transformed and make positive decisions for daily living.■
Understanding the tongues of Corinth from linguistic, ethnic and liturgical perspectives along with an inquiry into whether Hebrew was part of their liturgy.
The Gift of Tongues Project has uncovered two ancient Christian writers who correlated the problem tongues of Corinth as ethnic or linguistic conflicts. The Ambrosiaster text emphasized the want of the Jewish adherents to speak in Aramaic during the liturgy, which few understood in Corinth, and the Epiphanius text believed the problem of Corinth was a dispute between three distinct Greek speaking groups; Attic, Aeolic, and Doric along with the use of Hebrew in the Church liturgy.
The Epiphanius text is the most direct on the subject. Although the reference to the use of Hebrew is found here, the text itself failed to directly connect the primary use of Hebrew with the Greek conflict. Nevertheless, it is inferred by its close grammatical relationship. This connection can be understood in two ways:
It was the traditional reading of the Hebrew text and the delivery of it into the local vernacular. In the context of the Epiphanius text, the Corinthians couldn’t agree what was to be the standardized Greek language for translation/explanation/preaching in the Church liturgy.
Or, it could be that Epiphanius did not want to correlate the Hebrew liturgical reading of Scripture at all, but that this language was the language of instruction and religious devotion. 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.
The Corinthian tongues conflict explained by Epiphanius is unique and no thorough investigation has been done to qualify or discard this claim.
There is a definite need for finding a positive solution to the mystery tongues of Corinth since a thorough investigation completed in the Gift of Tongues Project has ruled out the Corinthian tongues as a mystical experience resulting in those speaking ecstatic utterances. As previously written and documented, tongues as an ecstatic utterance was a theory first introduced in the 1800s.1
This series of articles are devoted to finding whether this historical context was correct through investigating Jewish literature, archaeology, and ecclesiastical writings.
The problem of insufficient first-hand data on the Corinthian assembly liturgy.
The ecclesiastical literature cited above, along with a number of pieces demonstrated in Rabbinical writings later on in this series, are mostly all fourth century or later works. Unfortunately, this is the only material a researcher can work from. No matter which way one approaches this problem, the person is forced to look at later texts to rebuild an earlier scenario.
Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism looked into this problem and agrees:
Yet, the use of Jewish liturgical practices to reconstruct early Christian worship is not without difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that many Christian historians, to some extent following older Jewish scholarship, have operated with the assumption that Jewish liturgy was essentially fixed and uniform in the first century ad. This assumption, however, cannot be reconciled with the available evidence. Recent scholarship on the history of Jewish worship has painted a more complex picture of Jewish liturgical development, thus forcing scholars of Christian liturgy to rethink the potential relationships between early Jewish and Christian forms of worship. Out of this new research has arisen greater awareness of the diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of development, and also a more skeptical stance toward the use of later documents to reconstruct the customs of earlier times. Of course, total skepticism toward rabbinic reports is unwarranted, and one cannot dismiss older historical and philological studies as having nothing to offer. But when the sources present a picture of diversity, or when no evidence exists for a given practice at a certain time and place, one must avoid simply harmonizing one tradition with another or an earlier time period with a later one.2
Mr. Graves statement has to be seriously considered. Harmonizing is a good start, but not a good end point. The following analysis agrees with Graves statement that there was diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of diasporan Jewish liturgy. The Corinth Paul lived in was complex. A whole host of Jewish, Roman, Greek, and Latin influences are found mixed together in a curious blend that cannot easily be untangled. This shouldn’t stop the researcher from trying. This lack of early source material makes it difficult, but not impossible.
There are a number of assumptions that can be made about the Church of Corinth and Paul’s reference to tongues in I Corinthians 14:
Paul was an orthodox Jew whose pedigree was confirmed by his learning under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first century, Gamaliel.3 Paul had no ambition to overthrow or abandon Jewish culture. He wanted to complete it. His initial strategy was to preach in the synagogues of any town, village or city that he visited. It later expanded to the non-Jewish community.4 Therefore his writing style, life and practice was steeped in Jewish influences. The founding of any Church associated with him would reflect this.
The initial Corinthian Church had two names attached to it — Titius Justus and Crispus. Crispus was a leader of a synagogue; Titius Justus was described as a worshiper of God, suggesting that he was not Jewish and his name infers a Roman lineage.5 These two accounts demonstrated that the Corinthian Church was of mixed ethnic origin.
The mentioning of a converted synagogue leader, who must have exercised some internal authority in the development of the Corinthian Church, would have had a serious influence on the liturgy.
Paul’s address on the tongues of Corinth are reminiscent of Jewish tradition. Speaking, interpretation, the office of an interpreter, and the Amen are all found in Jewish liturgical traditions.6
The Hebrew language is a central part of the Jewish religious identity. The Jewish sages had numerous discussions on the role of Hebrew in religious life and affixed when, where, and why Hebrew or an alternative language was to be used. Although the final discussions are the only available corpus today, this must have been an issue in the first century.
Was Hebrew used in the Synagogue liturgy outside of Israel, especially in lands dominated by the Greek language and culture?
The role of Hebrew in the ancient Greek communities of the Jewish diaspora is a disputed subject. Gedaliah Alon, a Jewish historian, noted the interweaving of Hebrew and Greek in the Synagogue before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.7 Some, like Harry Gamble, have argued a complete abandonment of Hebrew “In the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Diaspora, however, the scriptures were apparently always read in Greek, and no translation was required.”8 Gamble goes on to conclude within the earliest Christian Church, “no explicit evidence attests the liturgical reading of either the Torah or the prophets in Christian assemblies in the first century, …In addition, when it arrives on the field of historical vision Christianity is already fully wedded to the Septuagint.”9 Obviously he was unaware of Epiphanius’ account of Hebrew being read as part of the liturgy in the earliest Corinthian Church or felt that Epiphanius’ text was too removed from the primitive Church to be of value. Gamble’s assumption about exclusive Greek reading in the churches is questionable. Alon believed that at least in one synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, whose principal language was Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were used for “literary purposes, for worship and even other needs.”10 This small reference demonstrates that Hebrew still existed as a religious vernacular in some or all of the diaspora which would have had an effect on the structure of the earliest Christian Churches.
The tension between Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic as the lingua franca in Jewish life.
Aramaic was granted a high standing and was the native tongue of most Rabbinic sages. The Aramaic version of the Bible, known as Targum Onkelos has been a prime source of Jewish exegesis for almost two millennia. Yet the public reading was still retained in Hebrew according to Stephen Wylen, who further added:
It became a custom among Jews to read the weekly lectionary portion of the Torah three time through, once in Hebrew and twice in Aramaic. This custom was retained even into the Middle Ages when Jews no longer spoke Aramaic.11
However, not everything was to be done in Hebrew. This was especially noted with the language of prayer. Whatever language the prayer was originally produced in, was allowed to remain in that language. For example, Talmud Babli Megillah established that whatever prayers were originally written in Aramaic, were to remain in Aramaic throughout the diaspora.12
This was a disputed point and considerably argued. Aramaic was internally contested in reference to Jewish identity. God’s speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai was used as a polemic against Aramaic. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”13 There was a concerted effort to resist the inclusion of foreign languages in their liturgy and prayers. “For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.”14
There was a movement against Aramaic and Greek in the land of Israel and an assertion that only Hebrew should be used. As reflected in this passage found in the Talmud Babli, Sotah 49b:
and that nobody should teach his son Greek. …At that time they declared,-`Cursed be a man who rears pigs and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!` Concerning that year we learnt that it happened that the `omer had to be supplied from the gardens of Zarifim and the two loaves from the valley of En-Soker. But it is not so! For Rabbi said: Why use the Syrian language in the land of Israel? Either use the holy tongue or Greek! And R. Joseph said: Why use the Syrian language in Babylon? Either use the holy tongue or Persian! The Greek language and Greek wisdom are distinct. But is Greek philosophy forbidden? Behold Rab Judah declared that Samuel said in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel , What means that which is written: Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city? There were a thousand pupils in my father`s house; five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek wisdom, and of these there remained only I here and the son of my father`s brother in Assia! It was different with the household of Rabban Gamaliel because they had close associations with the Government; for it has been taught: To trim the hair in front is of the ways of the Amorites; but they permitted Abtilus b. Reuben to trim his hair in front because he had close associations with the Government. Similarly they permitted the household of Rabban Gamaliel to study Greek wisdom because they had close associations with the Government.15
The duration, strength, or popularity of this opinion which existed in the land of Israel is not known. These examples are two to four centuries removed from the time of St. Paul, and may have even been stronger during the Corinthian conflict.
The Greek influence and encroachment on traditional Jewish life and practice.
On the other hand there was a problem of Greek perception towards the Jews. The Greeks believed their language and culture to be superior to anything else. For example the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian, rejected what was then known to be the sect of the Galileans (Christianity) because it was not of Greek origin, nor wrought from the Greek language, and worse yet, it came from something obscure and unimportant as Hebrew. This can be gleaned from Cyril’s refutation against Julian;
For you esteem very lightly the distinguished men with the one subsequent Hebrew language that went a different way from the Greek , and I reckon that your Italian which was made for everyone, that you arranged it a certain number? Furthermore has it not been truly said to us that if we wish to understand the straight and narrow, the Greek language is not about to be held as the author of religious devotion… And so we are taught that the greatest place of moral virtue is through the sacred writings of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Nevertheless, we use such things for the preparation of sound teachings with Greek thoughts since we are not familiar with the Hebrew language.16
The Greeks extended the idea of their language being the heavenly one and this had a universal influence, even in the Latin world. One of the greatest Roman leaders and Orators, Cicero, so highly valued the writings of the Greek Philosopher Plato that the god Jupiter “were it his nature to use human speech, would thus discourse.”17
The Greek Septuagint was introduced to the Graeco-Roman world over three hundred years before the advent of Paul and his address to the Corinthian Church. The Septuagint was the standard in many Jewish circles, especially the diaspora. Paul himself made substantial usage of the Septuagint; when 93 Biblical quotes from Paul are examined 51 are in absolute or virtual agreement with the LXX, while only 4 agree with the Hebrew text.18 The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.19. Philo believed that the Greek text was necessary for the Jewish faith to become a universal standard:
But this is not the case with our laws which Moses has given to us; for they lead after them and influence all nations, barbarians, and Greeks, the inhabitants of continents and islands, the eastern nations and the western, Europe and Asia; in short, the whole habitable world from one extremity to the other.20 . . .Some persons, thinking it a scandalous thing that these laws should only be known among one half portion of the human race, namely, among the barbarians, and that the Greek nation should be wholly and entirely ignorant of them, turned their attention to their translation.21
The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that this Greek translation may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.22
God dictated to Moses the importance of literacy for the perpetuation of the faith, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”23 though this was not ever completely established, because 700 years later at the time of Ezra, as mentioned by the great thirteenth century AD Jewish thinker, Maimonides, Hebrew was switched to a liturgical language and required an interpreter for any local reading.24 The first century Jewish writer, Josephus, related that Hebrew literacy was up again in the first century, “and it is ordered to bring the children up (in) the letters concerning the Laws and to place upon (them) the works of the ancestors.”25 This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.
An objection can be raised that Hebrew had this level of prominence through the study of tomb epitaphs. Jewish tombs have been uncovered in Rome with dates beginning from 63 BC and ending at 300 AD. Out of the 534 names, 76% had a Greek name, 23% a Latin, and only five contained Hebrew, Aramaic, or hybrid names.26 There are a number of problems with this conclusion. First of all, it reflects a long period of time, over 400 years. The Jews who had lived there during the time of Paul may have still kept their original mother tongue and the results are a later calculation. Secondly, Corinth was an international city that was a major intersection for the Jewish diaspora. There would always be an influx of Jews from Israel that would maintain the language. Thirdly, Hebrew may have been retained strictly as a liturgical language which would hardly have been reflected on burial inscriptions.
A relatively unknown group of Hellenized Jews later evolved a system called minhag-romania, whereby they performed “traditional Jewish prayers that were recited and chanted in Greek, but were written with Hebrew letters.”27 This unusual rite was based upon the fact that they understood that the Rabbis dictated all readings must be from Assyrian Script. It is not known how large this movement was, or when it began. The website article contains little substantiation.
The composition of the earliest Corinthian assembly.
Paul’s strong background in Judaism, the appointment of a synagogue leader to lead the original Corinthian assembly, and the liturgical problems outlined by Paul in I Corinthians demonstrate that this was a highly influenced Jewish organisation. A second century writing dubiously claimed to be by Clement claimed that the Greek adherents quickly outgrew the Jewish ones in a short manner of time, “Seeing that our people who were given to be abandoned from God, have become more numerous than of the righteous who have God.”28 This suggests the abandonment of directly connected Jewish traditions and liturgies probably before the end of the first century.
What does this all mean?
Although the majority of these authors were of a later age, the majority of takes give a good outline demonstrating what kind of ethnic and linguistic tensions confronted Paul in the initial Corinthian Church. Epiphanius’ statement about Greek ethnic infighting and Hebrew being part of the original Corinthian liturgy is a very plausible explanation. The best one that has come forward.■