How ecclesiastical literature has been woefully neglected by the sourcebooks in drawing conclusions on the christian doctrine of tongues and reasons why this happened.
There is a considerable amount of literature devoted by many christian writers over the first thousand years since the inception of the church on this topic. However, many are not popularly available in English. They remain in their Greek, Latin, Syriac and likely many more original forms, waiting to be rediscovered.
Had the last few generations had access to this literature in their modern language, then the tongues argument would be significantly different. The Gift of Tongues Project demonstrates that the arguments from both the pro and con camps are based on ignorance of ecclesiastical literature.
The selective and inaccurate use of Church writings make the topic appear historically obscure. The lack of comprehensiveness naturally produces an outcome of glossolalia.
Glossolalia may not necessarily be the wrong the conclusion but it has omitted very important ecclesiastical writings in the process.
The deficiency of ecclesiastical usage is clearly found throughout:
Moulton and Milligan’s, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, alluded to the fact that the tongues in Acts were ecstatic. Not a single reference was made from the Church Fathers.
Walter Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tried to develop a connection between Hellenistic ecstasy and christian tongues. The author or the revisionist of this dictionary used only one patristic writing to emphasize the concept, and it is a weak one – Origen’s writing, Against Celsus.
Thayer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Nove Testamenti declared the Corinthian problem was people in ecstasy and made no reference to early Church writings.
Johannes Behm’s article, γλῶσσα, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, also failed to give a comprehensive account of tongues in the early Church. The author does quote Origen from the book, Against Celsus, and Irenaeous, Against Heresies, to support his view that the Christian gift of tongues parallels similar phenomena in different religious systems and various time periods. However, Behm failed to point out that in both his examples, the word γλῶσσα does not even occur. He neglected the use of γλῶσσα employed by Origen and Irenaeous elsewhere.
Behm is an interesting and controversial figure within theological circles and is debated whether his contributions should be blotted out of the historical records. He was ignominiously deposed from his position at the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin after World War II in 1945 because of his Nazi affiliation. It is unclear what happened to him after he was dismissed.
The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament used only one Patristic reference, Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata to substantiate their connection of tongues with Hellenism.
Lampe’s, 1978 version of the Patristic Greek Lexicon does touch on some relevant passages but fails to be comprehensive. It does refer to nine distinct writers but does not offer anything new outside of the standard modern interpretations.
Hans Conzelmann’s well received, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians used only Origen to support his claim that “speaking with tongues is unintelligible to a normal man, even a Christian.” However, if one examines the source text quoted more closely, there is little about tongues and more about prophecy. It is a weak correlation.
The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, which claims to be an authority of Patristic interpretation on Scripture, quotes nine church fathers, including a weak reference to Augustine, neglecting his larger and more important works on the subject. The Ancient Christian Commentary has a strong emphasis on Chrysostom’s commentary on Corinthians – a book far from being definitive. Their coverage makes it appear that there is little Patristic literature on the subject.
The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible in Five Volumes, defined the New Testament doctrine of Tongues as “ecstatic spirititual utterances not consciously or rationally controlled by the speaker,” without one reference to ancient Church literature.
The New International Bible Encyclopedia gave scant reference to the ancient Church sages on the subject, quoting Irenaeous, Tertullian, and Chrysostom as found in the source-books. He does use Origen’s commentary on Romans to demonstrate briefly the view of tongues as a foreign language. He also believed tongues as an ecstatic utterance needs to be tempered but fails to give a clear alternative.
Many discussions on the historical definition from a Pentecostal perspective can be traced to George H. Williams and Edith Waldvogel’s analysis which is found in The Charismatic Movement, Michael P. Hamilton ed. The authors surveyed the glossolalic movement from the early Church onwards. It is well-written and one of the better researched publications but it has a number of important flaws as it relates to the ecclesiastical writings:
It follows the same pattern and almost identically cites the same Church Fathers found in the source-books. One can see a heavy influence here; especially the focus on Montanism.. It does add Pope Leo I, Pachomius, Bede and Thomas Aquinas to the historical record but fails to clearly show the reader that all these examples specifically demonstrate the miracle being speaking or hearing in a foreign language.
Williams and Waldvogel limited their analysis of Church literature to those already translated into English. As noted above, most of the critical literature on the subject is not popularly available in English. They made a critical mistake to assume already existent English translations are fairly representative of the historic Christian doctrine.
Neither do they alert the reader to different historic movements, perceptions or doctrines that existed during early centuries of the Church that differed from their own. Consequently, they made no effort to resolve any historical tensions.
Williams’ and Waldvogel’s historical record regarded three forms of tongues as equally authentic: ecstatic, foreign languages and as a psychological phenomenon. They aggregated all three together as one comprehensive unit without first establishing a historical precedent for doing such. These three streams could be independent of each other, each one introduced at different time periods, or simply one or more could be a wrong assumption.
They do briefly recognize Augustine and Gregory Nazianzus’ contribution but fail to recognize how powerful their opinions, and the ensuing controversies surrounding especially Nazianzus, influenced the Church for over a thousand years.
An analysis of the Patristic literature cited in the sourcebooks.
There are numerous references from the ecclesiastical writers on the Christian doctrine of tongues. From personally looking at and indexing approximately 135 volumes of Migne Patrologia Graeca, there are at least 34 passages that clearly define the gift of tongues, 51 more references that are strong indicators, 109 indirect references or parallels and Biblical citations about the tongues phenomena. There are 360 occurrences of keywords that can be analyzed for grammar, syntax and comparative work and 35 references to early Church liturgy that helps understand the context of tongues. This is a conservative tally, there are more that are coming to light as this study proceeds.
Out of the 34 or more passages covered by Ecclesiastical writers spanning over a one thousand year period, only seven have been popularly used in the primary sourcebooks. These seven are not the best choices regarding the topic at hand, but better fit in with the ideology that the Christian rite of tongues is a syncretization of Greek pagan practices — an effort to transform the Christian message into an international one.
Many of the other 34 can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project Intro page. Not all are available because they have yet to be analyzed, digitized, or translated.
The seven typically used to affirm tongues as an ecstatic utterance will be analyzed and compared to the historical corpus of literature available on the subject. They are going to be listed along with the relevant quote, and some commentary.
Against Haeresies I, 13, 3
It appears probable enough that this man possesses a demon as his familiar spirit, by means of whom he seems able to prophesy, and also enables as many as he counts worthy to be partakers of his Charis themselves to prophesy. He devotes himself especially to women, and those such as are well-bred, and elegantly attired, and of great wealth, whom he frequently seeks to draw after him, by addressing them in such seductive words as these: “I am eager to make you a partaker of my Charis, since the Father of all does continually behold your angel before His face. Now the place of your angel is among us: it behooves us to become one. Receive first from me and by me [the gift of] Charis. Adorn yourself as a bride who is expecting her bridegroom, that you may be what I am, and I what you are. Establish the germ of light in your nuptial chamber. Receive from me a spouse, and become receptive of him, while you are received by him. Behold Charis has descended upon you; open your mouth and prophesy.” On the woman replying, “I have never at any time prophesied, nor do I know how to prophesy;” then engaging, for the second time, in certain invocations, so as to astound his deluded victim, he says to her, “Open your mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to you, and you shall prophesy.” She then, vainly puffed up and elated by these words, and greatly excited in soul by the expectation that it is herself who is to prophesy, her heart beating violently [from emotion], reaches the requisite pitch of audacity, and idly as well as impudently utters some nonsense as it happens to occur to her, such as might be expected from one heated by an empty spirit. (Referring to this, one superior to me has observed, that the soul is both audacious and impudent when heated with empty air.) Henceforth she reckons herself a prophetess, and expresses her thanks to Marcus for having imparted to her of his own Charis. She then makes the effort to reward him, not only by the gift of her possessions (in which way he has collected a very large fortune), but also by yielding up to him her person, desiring in every way to be united to him, that she may become altogether one with him.
This passage is weak in establishing the nature and definition of tongues. It would make a stronger case for defining the office of prophecy. The Greek word for tongues, γλῶσσα, does not appear in the text.
The more relevant passage that ought to have been quoted is from Irenaeous’ Against Heresies text, Book V, Chapter 6:1:
For this reason does the apostle declare, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” [1 Corinthians 2:6] terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual.
There are others too, not so strong as the above that allude to foreign languages such as Against Heresies Book 3, Chapter 12:1, and Book 3, Chapter 17:2. None of these are mentioned or wrestled with in the source-books when drawing up their conclusion of tongues as an ecstatic utterance.
This third century writer is the most quoted. Why he was chosen as the leading Church writer on the subject is questionable. It may be that he was one of the earlier writers on the subject, along with the fact that his works have such a high standard of both piety and intellectual foresight that many other writers shortly after him lacked. As demonstrated in my previous article, Origen on the Gift of Tongues, his contribution to the subject is very small compared to other writers such as Gregory Nazianzus or Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
Against Celsius VII:8-9
” Then he goes on to say: “To these promises are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning: for so dark are they, as to have no meaning at all; but they give occasion to every fool or impostor to apply them to suit his own purposes.”
A number of authors use this passaged to correlate the historical gift of tongues with ecstasy. However, it does not have the word for tongues γλῶσσα in it. Nor does Origen even propose or intend this to be a didactic on tongues.
The following have used this to support their position: Frederick Farrar, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Johannes Behm: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Bauer: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
Origen’s Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans is closer to what he believed, though it is seldom found or discussed in the major works.
Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans 1:13
Now one must ask how the Apostle is under obligation to the Greeks and the non-Greeks with the teachers of wisdom and the foolish ones. How is it then he heard from these very ones from which he was bound under obligation? I indeed believe thereupon him to have accomplished the obligation within the diverse nations that he received through the grace of the Holy Spirit [the ability] to speak in the languages of all the nations, even as he himself says, “I speak in tongues more than you all,” because then the knowledge of languages is not according to anything within himself, but he received on behalf of those which were about to be preached. The obligation is being brought forth in all those which he receives from God the knowledge of language.
C.M. Robeck Jr. in The New International Bible Encyclopedia wrote about Origen’s Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans 1:13 as an affirmation that he “viewed it as a bridge to cross-cultural preaching.” Romans 1:13, is a good argument, but he then cited 7:6 which is very vague. It is difficult to find the correlation with 7:6 and he may be stretching his argument here. This discussion once again can be found in more detail inside the previous article, Origen on the Gift of Tongues.
The most important Origen contribution has been overlooked by most authors. His position is defined in Against Celsus 8:37: “if I may so say, but one voice, expressing itself in different dialects.” This is the first time the concept of one voice — many dialects occurs in any Patristic writing. This tongues doctrine may be the earliest definition found by any writer on the subject. Gregory Nazianzus covered this one voice — many dialects position and caused more tension than resolution. This is a very serious oversight.
Ecclesiastical History V:16
There is said to be a certain village called Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.
Almost all authors who trace tongues as an ecstatic utterance ultimately arrive at this passage for validation. The problem with this passage is twofold. Number one, the greek word for tongues, γλῶσσα, does not appear, and secondly Eusebius does not make any correlation between the Montanist ecstasy and the gift of tongues. It is extrapolated by modern researchers.
If the higher criticists were more familiar with ancient church writings, they would have been able to build a stronger case around the Donatists than the Montanists (see An Analysis of Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists for details). However, the Donatists were not even mentioned in any source work.
This whole controversy is an important one. It is covered in more detail here: A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism.
Against Marcionem V: 8
Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer – only let it be by the Spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him; let him show to me also, that any woman of boastful tongue in his community has ever prophesied from among those specially holy sisters of his.
This is the first time the Greek word γλῶσσα is used in the primary proof-texts of tongues as ecstasy. It is an obscure passage though. It does not give enough information to build an argument.
Irenaeous, Origen, Eusebius and Tertullian, these four are the most referenced and earliest citations on the gift of tongues. These Church writers are all first cited together in August Neander’s 1832 publication Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel later translated into English as History of the Planting and training of the Christian Church by the Apostles. As outlined earlier in A History of Glossolalia: Origins Neander is one of the leading founders of the modern definition. The Patristic construct that he promoted has not been analyzed or changed much since his publishing in the mid 1800s.
5. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis
PKE Feine’s account found in the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge is the only modern author found to use Epiphanius’ account as validation for tongues as ecstasy.
Against Haeresies XlVIII: 4 (MPG: Vol. 41. Col. 861ff)
There is no translation given because the subject matter does not make a compelling argument and it is a waste of resources and time to translate from the Greek into English.
It is difficult to pin-point exactly why this passage was referenced in relation to the gift of tongues. Tongues is not directly referenced and it is a problem to even find the inference. The greek key-word γλῶσσα is not used in this passage, nor any noun of the equivalent meaning. The word ecstasy is located but only in relation to prophecy.
He described the Montanist practice of ecstatic utterance from Epiphanius’ book, Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses XLVIII:4) to strengthen his argument but then neglected to mention Epiphanius’ direct discourse on Pentecost (Adversus Haereses XXXIX) and incredible description of the Corinthian tongues (Adversus Haereses XLII) — a place where Epiphanius argued that the conflict in Corinth was about ethnic problems between Attic, Aeolic and Doric Greeks. Both of these passages, which the writer ignored, seriously erodes his argument of tongues as an ecstatic utterance relative to the Greek culture of the time. Feine also quoted the Montanist practice from Eusebius’ book, Ecclesiastical History, where the term γλῶσσα does not occur.
The discussion of Epiphanius on the tongues of Corinth, Adversus Haereses XLII, omitted by all the source-books, can be found here: Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth.
6. John Chrysostom
Homily 29 on I First Corinthians
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles, you were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.
This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity has produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?
This passage has been utilized and interpreted many ways. It is not used by the majority of the source books, but does exist in the more conservative religious publications. Some have used it to mean the gift had died in the earliest ages of Christianity. Others have interpreted it to mean that the institutional Church quelched it, and later it was re-introduced by the Montanist movement.
The utilization of Chrysostom’s statement makes it appear as a final event that already happened in history and is not bound to be repeated again.
Unfortunately, the majority of publications are being too selective here. He wrote more on this subject that gives some insights.
It is clear from reading Chrysostom’s Homilies on I Corinthians, especially 29-36 that he believed it was speaking in foreign languages. There is no doubt. For example he wrote in Homily 35:
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification:” i.e., so many tongues, so many voices of Scythians, Thracians, Romans, Persians, Moors, Indians, Egyptians, innumerable other nations.
One of the most important contributions that Chrysostom wrote which reflected the mood and theological position of his era has been left out in any publication. It is found in Homily 35 in his Homilies on I Corinthians:
At this point he makes a comparison between the gifts, and lowers that of the tongues, showing it to be neither altogether useless, nor very profitable by itself. For in fact they were greatly puffed up on account of this, because the gift was considered to be a great one. And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages.
Here Chrysostom outlined a framework to the miracle of tongues very similar to that of Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Augustine Bishop of Hippo asserted. The idea of tongues as a supernatural endowment of foreign language(s) unknown beforehand by the speaker.
There may be more in Chrysostom’s writings on the subject too. He has not been covered in any detail yet in the Gift of Tongues Project. This is just a preliminary finding.
Whether it continued or ceased in the Church is a different question than the nature and definition of tongues.
7. Clement of Alexandria
Plato attributes a dialect also to the gods, forming this conjecture mainly from dreams and oracles, and especially from demoniacs, who do not speak their own language or dialect, but that of the demons who have taken possession of them. He thinks also that the irrational creatures have dialects, which those that belong to the same genus understand.
This early Church writer is quoted only occasionally to prove that the miracle of tongues was an ecstatic utterance.
The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament used this citation to support the claim of tongues as an ecstatic utterance. It is difficult to find the actual quote due to different numbering and chapter conventions between English translations. The chapter and verse subdivision I:431:1 is not typical and cannot be confirmed. Conjecture postulates that it would likely be 1:2 in the English translation of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and this is the quote given above.
Clement made no allusion or direct correlation between Plato’s discourse and that of the miracle of tongues in the Bible.
The above seven are the main Ecclesiastical citations used by most of the major books on defining the gift of tongues. There are other seldom used citations such as the Testament of Job, Justyn Martyr, Cyprian, Hippolytus, Novatian, a certain Dionysius, and Firmilian, but these have not been repetitively used within scholastic circles such as the ones stated above. They offer no further contribution to the nature and definition of tongues but all, except for the Testament of Job, are more aimed at the continuance or cessation of the miraculous in the Church.
Hilary of Poitiers is referred to but his position is under-appreciated: “And we learn that all this prophecy was fulfilled in the case of the Apostles, when, after the sending of the Holy Spirit, they all spoke with the tongues of the Gentiles.”. He clearly defined the miracle as foreign languages but few have seriously consulted his position.
Patristic citations severely under-reported.
In comparing what works are available and what have been cited in the source-books, it has been found that the majority of church writings available are severely under-utilized, and the ones that are chosen are very selective and weak. Most of the important ones cited in major dictionaries do not even contain the word γλῶσσα in it. This is what has led to the current theological dilemma.
Why have the ancient Church records been neglected on this subject?
There is a number of reasons why patristics and ecclesiastical writings have been ignored within major source-books on this subject. One of the reasons is the rejection of patristics as a valid source of history. There was once a time where Patristic studies had an elevated status, but for various reasons, had to be dethroned. Most of the primary source books come from an era that reflects this. This is outside the scope of this article. More on this can be found at The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy, which documents the rise of the rationalist movement and the de-authorization of Patristics and Ecclesiastical writings.
The second reason is because there are so few that have access to, or knowledge of the Church Fathers in Latin or Greek. Access to ecclesiastical writings have always been very limited until the advent of digital technologies. It would be a very difficult task to sew together the various writers manually. The last ten years have opened up the availability of Church writers in a way unheard of in the vestibules of history. This subject can be reopened under a new light.
Another problem is the lack of Protestant scholars trained in patristics. The contemporary practice and debate of the tongues doctrine is largely restricted to a number of protestant sects — it hardly dints the catholic psyche. There are few, if any, Protestants, especially those of the the gifts of the spirit persuasion that are trained in Latin or Greek. The contemporary catholic scholars on the other hand, many who have the expertise, have had little interest in the subject, because it has little impact on their communities. This has also added to the contemporary tension on the christian doctrine of tongues.
For further reading: