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.
A summary of the Gift of Tongues Project in three parts.
The following are the results of a detailed study of the doctrine of tongues from inception until 1922. 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.
The actual results can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project. Most readers have found the actual Project source texts, principally in Greek and Latin, along with the analysis too complex and desire to read a shortened version. This series of summaries is concerned with the big picture on how the doctrine of tongues was transmitted through the centuries, not the details.
The reader must understand that this doctrine has never been static and has been evolving. This aspect will be amply demonstrated.
People will always be inspired by the pentecostal narrative described in the Book of Acts and the mysterious tongues found later on in the New Testament epistle called I Corinthians. Those accounts have propelled many ardent students of the Bible and the christian faith to reproduce this phenomenon in their lives. The passion for a new Pentecost has cycled for twenty-one-centuries. How communities and persons perceived, practised and passed-on the right throughout these centuries is the goal of this study.
The christian rite of speaking in tongues has been controversial, especially over the last one-hundred years. Speaking in tongues is a practice expressed by Renewalists. Renewalism is the fastest growing christian faith in the world. Many have tried to explain this rite through experiential and psychological terms, but few have attempted an extensive study through historical literature.
This summary fills in the blanks of the historical record that have, up until now, been neglected.
This work is broken up into a three part series. Part 1 traces the evolution of Pentecost from the first to seventeenth-centuries which is inclusive of catholic perceptions. Part 2 focuses on the protestant perceptions which has three distinct doctrinal frameworks. Part 3 is an in-depth look into the Corinthian tongues saga.
Table of Contents
What is speaking in tongues today?
The absence of historical literature in the modern tongues debate
The start and later acceleration of the Gift of Tongues Project
Glôssa better translated as language rather than tongue
A pictorial overview on the catholic history of speaking in 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
Part 2: A protestant history of speaking in tongues (in development)
Part 3: The corinthians tongue saga (in development)
This summary is the result of the Gift of Tongues Project which is designed for the advanced researcher. The Gift of Tongues Project has attempted to identify, collate and digitize the source texts in the original Greek, Latin, with some Syriac, French and a sprinkling of a few other languages. English translations have been provided with almost every text, along with my own analysis. The Gift of Tongues Project differentiates itself from others because the source texts available on the website allow for you to research and draw your own conclusions. All the legwork is already done. All one has to do now is read instead of the time consuming and never ending task of finding the source files. Better yet, the majority is digitally searchable.
Speaking in tongues owes its heritage to a book of the Bible called the Book of Acts. This book was written by a first-century christian follower and a physician named Luke. He only wrote 206 words1 to describe the formative event called Pentecost. Pentecost established the foundations for Messianic Judaism and its universal message. This event was described as the Holy Spirit arriving and causing the apostles and 120 others to instantly preach in diverse foreign languages that they did not previously study or know. This explanation is the standard one to help the reader to get started on the subject. The summary will proceed to demonstrate there are many alternative viewpoints.
Perhaps one could argue 800 words when you throw in the defense of the experience by Peter in Acts chapter 2 and the three other instances throughout the Book of Acts. Perhaps Paul could be credited with writing about Pentecost if his coverage in his first letter to the Corinthians contains a parallel, though Part III will show these are not connected. Why all the fuss over 206 words? If it was so important, why didn’t Luke go into much greater detail? This would have spared the modern day reader such a confusion. The clarification is going to take over 10,000 words and the parsing through a magnitude of documents found throughout the centuries to explain those few written words two thousand years ago.
Luke is vague on the actual mechanics and certainly short on details. This leaves his Pentecost and subsequent tongues narratives with many unanswered questions; did every inspired person speak in a single different language and together they were speaking the languages of all the nations? Was it one sound emanating and changed during transmission so that the hearers heard their own language? If it was a miracle of hearing, what was that sound? Were the people conscious of what they were saying or were they completely overtaken by a divine power and had no comprehension about what they were speaking? Was it a heavenly, non-human or prayer language? Did this miracle continue after the first-century? How did this tongues-event get passed down to the next generation? Did it become part of the church liturgy?
The various source manuscripts on the Book of Acts available today do not have any variance that brings about new clues. This necessitates digging deeper into other records.
The Gift of Tongues Project and this summary believe that Pentecostals and Charismatics have brought positive contributions to the greater society, and have made the world a better place. The purpose of this examination is not to attack or denigrate their character. The goal is simply to find the truth of the matter. Nothing more.
As a person who attends a charismatic church and involved in these type of communities for decades, I wanted the results to parallel their experiences. Unfortunately, the findings did not allow for this. Everyone who approaches the 2000 year narrative on speaking in tongues has to allow history to speak for itself – not to rewrite history to justify contemporary experience.
In comparison to the detailed articles posted within the Gift of Tongues Project, few footnotes will be given here, and some ancient authors and minor movements will be ignored. One can find substantiation at the Gift of Tongues Project webpage. Links to the Gift of Tongues Project pages will be highlighted throughout. The results are subject to change as new information comes forward.
This work traces the perception of tongues speaking through the centuries. Perception is not necessarily reality. On many occasions, the work will reference the perception with no remarks about the integrity of the event or person. This is up to the reader to decide.
What is speaking in tongues today?
Speaking in tongues is an inherent part of the present pentecostal and charismatic identities. This practice is one of the key features that distinguish them apart from other christian movements.
How popular is speaking in tongues? A Pew Forum study has concluded one-quarter of all Christians are Renewalist Christians – a term given for those who emphasize miracles, supernatural occurrences, and oftentimes speaking in tongues within the Christian’s everyday life. Really, it is an umbrella term for Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third-Wavers and those who remain in mainstream denominations influenced by Pentecostals and Charismatics. There are an estimated 584 million Renewalists in the world. Perhaps even more. 2 This does not mean all those defined as Renewalists emphasize this doctrine and practice it. The same Pew study further demonstrates that no more than 53% of Renewalists speak in tongues in any country they examined. In most instances, it is less.3 My conservative estimate tallies about 150 million people consistently practising the christian rite of speaking in tongues throughout the world.
The Renewalist faith, with its emphasis on holiness, mysticism, independence, and easy adaptability to different cultures, is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world. Their christian mystic framework along with its distinctive theology of speaking in tongues makes a historical study imperative.
What do Renewalists presently believe speaking in tongues to be? There is a general agreement that speaking in tongues is a supernatural phenomenon — one that cannot be measured or defined by science. Some Renewalists call it a heavenly language that only the individual, God, and a special interpreter understands. Others say it is a private prayer language or a form of exalted worship. There are those who just shrug their shoulders and say it is simply a God thing that defies explanation. A handful may say speaking in tongues is the spontaneous ability to speak a foreign language. Most Renewalists believe that speaking in tongues is a deliberate outcome of a controlled mind – in other words, they are not crazies or kooks whose erratic behavior is in an uncontrolled hallucinatory state. They are regular people like the helpful neighbor across the street, the taxi driver, teacher, dentist, nurse, plumber, politician, lawyer or construction worker. Renewalists are found in all walks of life.
A good example of a Renewalist speaking in tongues is found in this video clip of the late Kenneth Hagin. He was a highly respected and influential pentecostal preacher in the mid-1900s.
Hagin appears as an elder statesman. He has a father like persona that the people in the audience are attracted to and appreciate. The young lady who is a distance behind Hagin in the video approves his message with an accepting smile. About four minutes into the video, he utters, “Memen hatsu toro menge kanga deging bango ondu konste fre peffe hemo outse,” and then begins to laugh. The laughter implies an overabundance of a spiritual force that overwhelms the senses, forcing the speaker into an uncontrolled fit. The audience cheered Hagin for more.
This is a typical example, though speaking in tongues is not always done in a Sunday service. It is practised more frequently in weekday services, prayer sessions, pastoral settings, and special events.
A more contemporary example is Reinhard Bonnke. Bonnke is a German-born evangelist whose work in Africa, especially Nigeria has earned him the rank of one the top preachers of all time in respect to audience reach. The example here is his public speaking in tongues at a large indoor gathering somewhere in Asia. His Christ for the Nations website claims over 55 million documented decisions for Christ under his ministry.
Bonnke’s demonstration is not as obvious as Hagin’s. He mixes regular language and charismatic, excitable speech between short outbursts of tongues-speech. The audience is energized but not surprised by this presentation. This is quite common in renewalist circles.
The absence of historical literature in the modern tongues debate.
After an exhaustive approach of locating, digitizing, translating and analyzing two-thousand years worth of texts, the results of the Gift of Tongues Project has found one of the main challenges to solving this debate is overcoming the embedded ignorance of history.
This finding was not anticipated at the start. The Project assumed at the beginning there was little christian literature throughout the centuries to build a case. Rather, there is a substantial corpus of ancient christian literature on the subject. The discovery about the abundance on the subject has created two rival stories. The first allows the building of a compelling narrative on the doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries. The second is the narrative about the ignorance of christian literature over the last two centuries and how it has contributed to the modern definition. Both play an important story in the modern definition and I am not sure which one is more important. They share a complex interplay that is difficult to untangle.
The start and later acceleration of the Gift of Tongues Project.
The Project was started in the 1980s, but little was done until the early 2000s. The initial goal was to parse through the collection of church writings found in the massive Migne Patrologia Graeca series and its Latin counterpart, Migne Patrologia Latina. There is no digital version of MPG available, so a page-by-page visual scan was required. This was a very time-consuming process – especially with over 135 volumes averaging 1200 pages each. This was a long process.
Thankfully the internet age came along. Museums and other institutions have posted many manuscripts online. Better manuscripts are now available than the ones found in MPG. The ability to do digital searches with Google’s search engine reveals even more texts. The Gift of Tongues Project is one of the direct benefactors of the digitization of libraries, museums, and institutions.
Glôssa better translated as language rather than tongue
Glôssa (γλῶσσα) is the pivotal key word for the doctrine of tongues in the original Greek text. This word is the central theme found in Paul’s address to the Corinthians and Luke’s description of the first Pentecost. This noun is further used by later Greek ecclesiasts and authors on the subject.
The challenge is how a contemporary researcher is to translate this word without a modern bias.
When the Greek keyword appears, or if it is found in a Latin text, which is lingua, my mind always wants to automatically translate it as tongue.
The word tongues, which is seldom used in our modern language to specifically mean a modern, regular or contemporary language, is usually understood to be something out-of-this-world, unusual or even weird. Sometimes it is used a synonym to language, but rarely in contemporary literature is it a predominant descriptor.
As I have worked over both Greek and Latin Patristic texts, from the likes of Greek writers such as Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John of Damascus etc., to the Latin writers of Augustine, the Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, the Ambrosiaster authors, and many more, they do not contain references to the gift being a strange, mystical or heavenly language that needs a new definition. It simply means a human language to them. To advance such a thought that it was different from a human language, they would have had to take extra steps to make it distinct. They never did.
Secondly, one must keep in mind that the noun language was the dominant English word used to translate glôssa/γλῶσσα before the introduction of the Geneva Bible in 1534.
It would not be fair to translate the church fathers on the subject using tongues instead of languages. It significantly changes the nuance of the text when it is done.
One could argue that I am forcing my own interpretation on the text. However, it is believed that language is more accurate to what the writers meant.
This changes things considerably, instead of Acts 2:4 reading as other tongues the proper reading is other languages. The other tongues creates ambiguities that never existed in the Greek. Other languages immediately starts to clarify a difficult subject.
Now that the introductory remarks have been covered, it is time to get into the narrative itself.
The relationship between Pentecostals and the historians Philip Schaff , F. W. Farrar and others along with their influence on the modern definition.
This is final 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.
Part 1 contained introductory comments. Part 2 gave a detailed account on the twofold problems of pentecostal tongues; the failure of the miraculous missionary tongues and negative image of gibberish promoted by the media. Part 3 focused on the solutions early pentecostals declared in resolving these two tensions.
Before 1906 there were only two definitions of speaking in tongues within the traditional christian practice: a miracle of speaking one or more foreign languages or a sound being transmitted and miraculously converting into a language within the hearers mind. After 1906, the definition expanded to four different types of tongues expressions. The most important and dominant theme was that of tongues as a personal expression of adoration and worship.
As documented in Part 3, the Pentecostals based their new definitions found in commentaries and historical accounts; mainly those of Philip Schaff, the renowned Anglican writer and speaker Frederick Farrar, the Anglican authors Conybeare and Howson, and a small number of other writers who belonged to the same interpretative framework called higher criticism.
This article is an extension of Part 3, but is a specific examination of the higher criticism authors and how they were incorporated into the pentecostal message.
Historians that Pentecostals rely on for their tongues practice.
Philip Schaff (January 1, 1819 – October 20, 1893) was the number one source that the early pentecostals used to trace their tongues-speaking history. This has already been demonstrated in part 3 of this series where Pentecostals built a historical framework for tongues largely through Schaff’s historical framework. Here are a few more additions to his already revealed relationship.
It is hard to go wrong with such a respected and venerated academic. He is one of the first American-based religious scholars to gain such universal admiration and a literary powerhouse. He produced and oversaw a vast library of publications relating to church history. The level of detail reflecting the history of Christendom is unrivaled even by today’s standards. The attempt by Pentecostals to align his scholarly history with their own experience would be more than enough to establish their newfound identity and acceptance into the religious echelons. They partially succeeded by doing so.
Schaff was a Swiss-born, German-educated professor who studied at three of the most prestigious schools of theology; the universities of Tübingen, then Halle, and finally Berlin. He studied under the greatest German names of theology and philosophy ever produced, especially that of August Neander who is considered the father of the modern glossolalia movement.
His qualities of ecumenism along with his disdain for sects and denominations would have been a welcome theme for Pentecostals. 1
This historian moved to the United States in 1843 and became a professor of Church history and Biblical Literature at the German Reformed Theological Seminary of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.2 He later taught at the Union Theological Seminary, New York City, and served there until his death.
Although Schaff himself was not a mystic, he had a keen interest in glossolalia, especially in applying it to the Irvingite movement which was one of the most discussed theological issues during his life. He was critical about the Irvingites and concluded it was nothing more than religious excitement—a practice tracing a lineage to the Montanists in the second century.3
Frank Bartleman, one of the integral proponents of the Azusa Street Revival, cited Schaff for affirmation of the tongues displayed in 1906:
We will quote from well known authors some interesting extracts on the subject of “speaking in tongues.” Dr. Philip Schaff, in his “History of the Christian Church,” Vol. I, page 116, says: “The speaking with tongues is an involuntary psalm – like prayer or song, uttered from a spiritual trance, and in a peculiar language inspired by the Holy Ghost. The soul is almost entirely passive, an instrument on which the Holy Ghost plays His heavenly melodies.4
The Assemblies of God publishing arm, Gospel Publishing House, thought so highly of Schaff that they produced a tract from his works, and put it up for sale through their flagship newspaper.
The tract, called the Person of Christ, showed how deeply ingrained Schaff had become in the pentecostal psyche. The actual advertisement is displayed along with a typed facsimile below:
“The Person of Christ” By Philip Schaff. “The one question pushing its way persistently into the hearts and minds of men is ‘What think ye of Christ?’ A clear, concise and convincing answer is given to the world in the pages of this book. No man can afford to miss from his library or his life the ripened fruit of Dr. Schaff’s mind. He has entered the Holy of Holies and brought back to his fellow men a divine message. For the man who desires to know Christ and desires to be more like Him, and desires to lead others to Him, this book is one of God’s choicest gifts.”5
Frederick William Farrar was a gifted Anglican philologist, historian, writer and speaker. His talents was recognized by Queen Victoria who made him her honorary chaplain.6 He was later called Dean Farrar to reflect his later position as the Dean of Canterbury. His many publications, especially The Life of Christ, was highly successful both in England and the United States. He was a friend of Charles Darwin and a pallbearer at his funeral. There are two books published by him that have special interest to speaking in tongues. One highly regarded by early pentecostals, and the other oddly ignored.
Darkness to Dawn
Farrar rose to prominence in the pentecostal community when A. A. Boddy published in the May, 1914 edition of Confidence an article called “Glossolalia in the Early Church.”7 The author is an anonymous Church of England clergyman but it would have been nice to know his hame. The title is misleading because it is a book review of Darkness to Dawn. The book was written by the late Dean of Canterbury, Frederick Farrar. The reviewer had a high respect for the intellectual and historical genius of this high ranking Anglican leader. Although the book was a well-received story about fictional characters in early Rome, the historical framework was considered historically accurate – especially concerning the mode of worship and the rite of speaking in tongues.
The writer believed that Farrar had accidentally paralleled the early christian history of tongues with the modern day pentecostal movement and captured the sense that no other historian had accomplished:
Once more the Dean rightly dwells on the mystic character of “the tongue;” I also (this is worthy of special note) on the mixture of the different languages in “the tongue,” being, as it were, as he says, “the essence and idea of all languages.” Furthermore, how truly does he sum up the impression of the tongues upon the hearts of the hearers as being a blending of ecstatic worship, wonder, thanksgiving, and intercession, often untranslateable, but entering, and possessing with a like burden of worship, and intercession, the spirits of all who are “in the Spirit.”
THE SAME SPIRIT. As we read this marvellously accurate portrayal or the manifestations accompanying the Glossolalia, it is difficult to realise that Dean Farrar had never been present at one of these latter day Pentecostal gatherings (having died several years, at least, before the present Revival of the “Charismata” in the Church), and the extract we have dealt with not only shows how faithfully and successfully he has delineated, from history, the true Scriptural phenomena of the Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, but the whole passage is, to our minds, a very convincing proof of how, whether we examine the manifestations and operations of the’ Holy Spirit in the Christian assemblies of the days of Nero, or of the Twentieth Century. . .”8
This article started a long-lasting connection between Pentecostals and the late Frederick Farrar. The article itself made its rounds through the Pentecostal community for decades.9 By 1923 the book was converted into a tract. It was advertised and distributed by the Pentecostal Evangel, the official publication of the Assemblies of God. The advertisement in their newspaper reads: “The substance of this tract has been taken from “Darkness and Dawn” by Dean Farrar, and is based on a true account of the manifestations of the Spirit as they were seen in the Church in the days of Nero.”10
The tract advertisement promoted that the book was a true account. It became a seminal reading for all Pentecostals who wanted to know the historical background to speaking in tongues. It was advertised and promoted in every edition of the Christian Evangel for many years.
Comments about his book graced the lips of important pentecostal leaders. For example, Paul H. Walker, a prominent Church of God (Cleveland) minister included the book as part of his timeline for the history of tongues.11 Ernest S. Williams, Superintendant, Assemblies of God, opined about Farrar’s Darkness to Dawn book in a 1939 edition of the Pentecostal Evangel. He was encouraged by the parallels by Farrar’s view of early Christianity and modern Pentecostalism. He felt the lessons learned from the book can be applied to modern Pentecostal living.12
The Life of St. Paul
Farrar’s important theological work, The Life of St. Paul is omitted from any promotion within the pentecostal realm. This book had historical significance because it was one of the gateways of German religious thought into the English religious vocabulary. Oxford Encyclopedia co-credited Farrar as the creator of the English word glossolalia.
Farrar promoted that the tongues of Pentecost had nothing to do with a foreign language. “Pentecost, does not contain the remotest hint of foreign languages. Hence the fancy that this was the immediate result of Pentecost is unknown to the first two centuries, and only sprang up when the true tradition obscured.”13 This comment was almost verbatim from the great German scholar that he so greatly admired, August Neander.
Conybeare, and Howson
The new concept of tongues as a divine language was also found in Britain where a pentecostal newspaper, Confidence was published. This paper began in 1908 under the editorship of A. A. Boddy, an Anglican vicar at All Saints in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, England.
Confidence gave a slightly more critical and intellectual nuance to the movement at a critical juncture in the movement’s infancy.
In the second issue of Confidence, Boddy immediately goes into the intellectual side and quotes from an 1850s publication, the Life and Epistles of St. Paul, by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. Two Anglican scholars whom Boddy relates; “No writers are more trusted in conservative and orthodox circles than these eminent scholars and Anglican Divines. They wrote about the year 1850, and have both passed away. Dr. Howson became Dean of Chester Cathedral. They would have rejoiced if they had been spared to the days of the Latter Rain, and themselves received the Gift of Tongues, in the Lord’s great goodness.”14
What Boddy didn’t realize was the theological background of these two hallowed authors. These leaders had adopted the German higher criticism approach. By doing so they embraced the relatively new theory about tongues. The main component of this theory concerns the persons under the power of the Spirit was in an ecstasy, pouring forth utterances in communication with God that they themselves could not comprehend. They totally excluded the traditional interpretation and failed to resolve the tension between their conclusion and the ancient one. Here is a quote directly from their work:
Besides the power of working miracles other supernatural gifts of a less extraordinary character were bestowed upon the early Church. The most important were the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. With regard to the former there is so much difficulty, for the notices of it in Scripture, in fully comprehending its nature. But from the passages where it is mentioned we may gather thus much concerning it: first, that it was not a knowledge of foreign languages, as is often supposed; we never read of its being exercised for the conversion of foreign nations, nor (except on the day of Pentecost alone) for that occasion the foreigners present were all Jewish proselytes, and most of them understood the Hellenistic dialect. Secondly we learn that this gift was the result of a sudden influx of supernatural inspiration, which came upon the new believer immediately after his baptism, and recurred afterwards at uncertain intervals. Thirdly, we find that while under its influence the exercise of the understanding was suspended while the spirit was rapt into a state of ecstasy by the immediate communication of the Spirit of God. In this ecstatic trance the believer was constrained by an irresistible power to pour forth his feelings of thanksgiving and rapture in words; yet the words which issued from his mouth were not his own; he was even (usually) ignorant of their meaning. St. Paul desired that those who possessed this gift should not be suffered to exercise it in the congregation, unless someone present possessed another gift (subsidiary to this), called the interpretation of tongues, by which the ecstatic utterance of the former might be rendered available for general edification.15
Boddy and the majority of Pentecostals do not interpret Conybeare and Howson as higher criticism scholars, rather they saw two respected academics from an established and respected institution whose views align closely with their experience.
The Assemblies of God newspaper which briefly had the name, Weekly Evangel wrote a detailed piece in 1916 called “ Article VII. — The Gift of Tongues, and the Pentecostal Movement.” A writer named B. F. Lawrence concluded the miraculous endowment of tongues as a missionary aid was unfounded. He cited Schaff, Conybeare and Howson as his authority. Speaking in foreign languages can occur, but this is not the main purpose. The intent is to magnify God in whatever way that happens.16.
This Encyclopedia was cited only on a few rare occasions, and the only one marked for this research was in the Church of God Evangel in 1933.17 This dictionary had little influence.
Frank Bartleman called upon a theologian named James Stalker (1902-1924ish) to support his experience.18 Stalker was a Free Church of Scotland minister and was widely known in the United States where he frequently spoke at seminaries and churches. Stalker didn’t think that the gift of tongues was a rite of speaking a foreign language – it was a tranced utterance and impassioned rhapsody.19 Here is yet another author borrowing from the Higher Criticism cupboard. This author fit in with Bartleman’s belief that the inspiration could express itself in musical forms.
The Pulpit Commentary was a large 23 volume work that approached Biblical exposition from a number of angles. Volumes began appearing in the later 1800s and took over thirty-years to complete. There were over 100 contributors to different sections of the Bible who were from clergyman to dissenting ministers.20 The editors were two Anglican-based clerics; Rev. H. D. M. Spence and Rev. Joseph S. Exell.
The Assemblies of God magazine published on two occasions using the Pulpit Commentary as an explanation for speaking in tongues. The first one was in 1916 by John S. Mercer, and the second time in 1927 by Ernest S. Williams. Ernest S. Williams was a general superintendent of the Assemblies of God and also an original participant at the Azusa Street revival.
The Pulpit Commentary was greatly held in esteem that it was republished by the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), a leading pentecostal denomination.21
The two sections of the Pulpit Commentary cited by Mercer are the Book of Acts by Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells, Rev. Lord A. C. Hervey, and I Corinthians by F. W. Farrar.
Mercer quoted the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells that tongues were the languages of both men and angels.22 which nicely fit into the mechanics behind pentecostal mystical speech. However, this quote does not accurately reflect the Bishop thought. The Bishop thought that there was no doubt that it was a miracle of foreign languages. An alternative could have been a miracle of hearing, but he found that less convincing. He refuted the idea of tongues being for missionary purposes. He covers the positions of Farrar, Neander and other rationalists, and was not convinced by their arguments. The bulk of his exposition covers their positions. Neither did he believe it was gibberish. He concluded with a philosophical conclusion: tongues signified that all converges into the unity of Christ. The first Pentecost was a symbol that there will come a time that everyone and everything will speak and understand the same speech.23
The Pulpit Commentary on I Corinthians was written by none other than F. W. Farrar himself.
Ernest S. Williams wrote a work in defence against the pentecostal practice of tongues being one of indecency and frenzy. He aligned his argument with Farrar’s exposition in the Pulpit Commentary where Farrar stated that it was unhistoric and unwarranted “that ‘the gift of tongues’ was a power to speak in foreign languages.”24 After deconstructing the missionary tongues argument, Williams proceeded to affirm his definition of tongues through Farrar who insisted it was similar to the impassioned soliloquies of inarticulate utterance of the Montanists.25
T. B. Barratt’s defence against Higher Criticism literature
T. B. Barratt, a powerful Norwegian preacher and associate of Boddy, was partially responsible for the expansion of Pentecostalism in Europe. He recognized the encroachment of higher criticism within the ranks and fought against it.
He too provides a historical chart of tongues through the centuries that is very similar to what V. P. Simmons did in 1907 and makes a 1600 year jump from Augustine to the Lutheran Reformation, ignoring any catholic literature.26 He also wanted to emphasize that the gift was not to “usurp the ordinary study of Languages.”27
He does acknowledge that it could be a heavenly or divine language, but he downplays it. He also recognized it can also can be a combination of the person’s intellect and a divine intervention; “The human mind may use expression stored up by previous experiences, but God brings them out and uses them.”28 He later continues in 1909 to instill the idea of speaking in a foreign language as the most common practice.29
In 1909, Barratt produced the book, In the Last Days of the Latter Rain which may be the most comprehensive coverage on speaking in tongues from a pentecostal standpoint. In this book, he ardently struggled against higher criticism and tried to maintain a progressive traditional stance. The book is a reactionary one based on an article he read on tongues that he disagreed with. Unfortunately, he failed to identify the author, but the citations and structure closely parallel the works of Frederick Farrar. Barratt denounced the higher criticist idea that the Pentecost “does not contain the remotest hint of foreign languages,”30 and the real Pentecost was obscure so a later tradition two-centuries made it out as a miracle of speech. The anonymous writer added that Greek was an international language that the known world shared, and it was unnecessary to speak in foreign languages for the expansion of the Gospel.
He also refuted the idea that the tongues of Corinth were sounds instead of languages,31 and disagreed with Frederick Farrar’s assessment of tongues not being a foreign language.
Five years later a lecture by Barratt in 1914 was put into print: The Gift of Tongues. What is it? Delivered in Möllergaten 38, Kristania (Oslo, Norway), Saturday evening, June 20th, 1914 – a little more than a month before World War I began. It was an oration turned into a small book that “was specifically delivered to answer the criticism’s that had been made by the famed American Bible teacher, Dr. A. C. Dixon who had preached against ‘Pentecost’ the day before at The Tent of Meeting, Kristiania, on Friday 19th June, 1914.”32
The oration shows a shift in the pentecostal doctrine of tongues and movement towards the words; ecstasy and utterance. He once again entertains the idea that it is possible that sometimes it can be a non-human or heavenly language, but emphasizes the miracle of foreign language by a wide margin. He defends against the idea that Pentecost was a miracle of language and Corinth ecstatic utterances. “The Bible represents the same kind of tongues in both Jerusalem and Corinth. If they spoke in ecstatic exclamations in Corinth, then they did so in Jerusalem also. Possibly they spoke both in language and in ecstasy in both places.”33 He was aware of Neander’s redefining of tongues as an ecstatic rhapsody and rejected it. He had a strong emphasis in the book on the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. However, he does waffle on the subject. He declares that he has seen both. “We have personal experience of both of these forms of speaking in tongues, and have heard them extensively used by the Spirit at our meetings”[ref[/note]. He believed that when a person spoke, they did not know what they were speaking. It was an undefined sound. Barratt recognized the conflict in theories but he fails to clearly resolve this tension.
T. B. Barratt and the Confidence newspaper follow a similar pattern to that of the Apostolic Faith newspaper after 1910 where the activity of speaking in tongues has less coverage. One major reference happens in a 1913 issue where a woman wrote about speaking in tongues and expressed: “One is lost in God, swept up to heavenly places, and gives utterance in strange sounds, in an unknown tongue, which flow over our lips, now as shouts of joy, then as fervent utterances of love towards our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and then as petitions.”34 Her experience shows a change in attitude in tongues from a missionary to a personal and private one.
Unfortunately, Barratt’s attempt to reconcile the traditional interpretation with modern practice and his proper critique of historical criticism never took hold in the larger collective mind of the pentecostal hive. Both Barratt and Boddy became sidelined from the American corpus. The opening of World War I caused many countries to form isolationist thinking and actions which would have limited both Boddy and Barratt in the American affairs of Pentecostalism at a critical juncture of its emerging structure. Barratt was also mired in theological problems inside his Norwegian church and community that were unique to his situation. One must be cognizant of the fact that he was writing in the language of religious scholarship. This would be offputting for the majority of the collective pentecostal mind who were reactive against such an approach. Neither did Boddy nor Barratt fully endorse the baptism with the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues. This too would have been a factor.
In respect to speaking in tongues being foreign languages, he was in the same boat as the editors of the Apostolic Faith Newspaper, Clara Lum and Florence Crawford. They were old guards in an evolving and changing movement.
This completes the four-part series on why the traditional tongues of Pentecost was relegated mostly to the sidelines and replaced by 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 new definitions arose because of the failure of missionary tongues and the media’s backlash of gibberish. Instead of admitting that their announcement of the miraculous return of speaking in tongues was a mistake, they chose to find a different meaning that explained what was really happening in their midst.
This series clearly shows that Pentecostals looked at certain histories that lined up with their own experience, especially that of Schaff, Farrar, a lesser input from Conybeare and Howson, and a few others. Philip Schaff and F. W. Farrar were so heavily relied upon that it would be fair to say that Pentecostals are followers of these authors tongues framework.
The shift began happening already in 1907 and continued an evolution whereby by 1947 Pentecostals believed solely in tongues as a private means of expression and that missionary tongues was a sad mistake that had been corrected.
This narrative demonstrates how early Pentecostals lacked the fundamental tools of hermeneutics to study the doctrine themselves and the longstanding effects of it. They had to leave it to third-party specialists who were capable of reading, interpreting and translating Greek, Latin and other texts and weaving a historical narrative. They had no sense that the external authors they depended on were solely from a higher criticism framework – who often didn’t even include the traditional interpretation. Even today, Pentecostal scholars have yet to make this connection or reevaluate this doctrine using a critical apparatus.
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.
This four-part series covers 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.
This series was started to settle a mystery – why the doctrine of tongues had changed so dramatically after 1906. Up until the early 1900s the christian doctrine of tongues was a stable doctrine that either was a miraculous ability to speak in one or more foreign languages, or a miracle of one language being adapted in transmission and understood within each listener’s mind.
After 1906, a potpourri of definitions arose. There was the traditional doctrine of a miraculously endowed foreign language by some while others added newer ones, depending on a number of influences: the gift of tongues vs. the utterance of tongues, writing in tongues, singing in tongues, the language of adoration and worship, a private prayer language, and glossolalia. For an unknown reason, the miracle of hearing was entirely dropped from the pentecostal conversation.
This is an investigation into solving this mystery.
Pentecostal Reliance on Higher Criticism for defining Modern Tongues
Conybeare and Howson
T. B. Barratt’s Defence against Higher Criticism
The Gift of Tongues Project has traversed through a variety of challenges: from identifying, translating and digitizing important Greek, Latin and Syriac texts, to understanding ancient Greek philosophy and Jewish liturgy, wading through medieval Catholic mysticism and early Protestant writings, and charting through the German scholars to find answers. The study has centred on places such as Alexandria (Egypt), Constantinople, Rome, London, Kagoshima (Japan), Berlin, and Los Angeles.
However difficult these challenges have been, one of the greatest mysteries has been why the semantic range of christian tongues had been so greatly expanded since the early 1900s. It remains one of the most difficult keys to solving this puzzle.
The late Pentecostal professor, Gary B. McGee lightly touched on this topic believing the shift happened because of the failure of the missionary tongues movement. Unfortunately, he hardly delved into any detail on this. The early Pentecostal biographer, Stanley Frodsham, simply ignored the transition and jumped from the traditional to the new definitions without any explanation. Regardless of any pentecostal author, there is a serious lack in any of their literature detailing this shift.
There definitely was a crisis of tongues in early pentecostalism; largely because of the missionary tongues failure but also because of the public outcry that this movement was bonkers. They were accused of manufacturing gibberish. These two tensions forced early pentecostals to either review their tongues doctrine or admit they made mistakes. History clearly shows they chose to revise their definition.
How did they do this and where did they get license to do such?
There is one theory that has hardly been investigated and that is the correlation between early Pentecostalism and the original doctrine of glossolalia devised by German scholars in the early 1800s. Glossolalia became the standard interpretation in the primary and secondary religious dictionaries, encyclopedias and commentaries before the 1900s. In fact, it was hard to even find the traditional definition of speaking in tongues within any substantive publication by this time.
The Early Pentecostals on Tongues is a continuation of a previous series; History of Glossolalia which covered the origins and early development of the glossolalia doctrine. 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, their dominance in the publication realm helped shape the framework for pentecostal tongues as well.
By the early 1800s the traditional doctrine began to unravel and different streams of understanding began to appear. This began with the London-based Irvingite movement in the 1830s which brought a heightened academic interest and a critical re-analysis. This led to German scholars reclassifying speaking in tongues as glossolalia – that is speaking in tongues was an unintelligible discourse proceeding from an ecstatic state above the ordinary language of communication.1 In short, they defined speaking in tongues as a psychological condition rather than a miraculous state. The leading scholar of this subject was August Neander, whose thoughts made it into the English religious vocabulary largely through the later influence of Philip Schaff and Frederick Farrar.
This is a critical study on Pentecostalism between 1906 and 1930 and how it was deeply influenced by doctrine of glossolalia. The Pentecostal archives, along with the Missionary Alliance archives, and books produced by early pentecostal leaders were resourced to see the connections between early pentecostalism and higher criticism on the topic of tongues. Higher criticism was the name of the scholarly movement whose framework produced the original glossolalia doctrine. This study will show there was a deep connection.
It was an unintentional connection. Early Pentecostals were deficient in any intellectual framework and internal mechanisms to solve this doctrinal dilemma. They lacked the textual skills of Greek, Latin or Aramaic where the majority of tongues texts resided untranslated into English. Instead, they chose to look at the currently available histories and secondary books published in the English language for their solution. Here they found the works of the highly touted historian Philip Schaff, the Anglican church leader and writer, Frederick Farrar, the Anglican writers Conybeare and Howson and a short list of others. Pentecostals found that these writers conclusions matched their experiences. They did not realize that these authors were strong proponents of the higher criticism doctrine of glossolalia that started in the early 1800s – a doctrine that departed substantially from the christian traditional definition.
All of these scholarly writers lived near the time the pentecostal outbreak happened. They were held with high authority and esteem in the religious academic world. None of these authors had connections with Methodism or establishments that American Pentecostalism was railing against. Neither were these authors adhering to the doctrine of cessationism which the pentecostal accounts are always in contest with. These were all great writers who could be understood by someone with an intermediate reading level. All of these authors were appealing to an experience, not a doctrine.
The early pentecostals were looking for a solution that was within the bounds of Biblical interpretation, free from a preconceived bias, inclusive of the variety of tongues experiences that their pentecostal activity had discovered under the perceived and unquestionable direct power of the Holy Spirit.
The historian Schaff and other similar writers were able to fill this void. Their emphasis on a divine encounter that impacts the innermost soul and results in exalted preaching, ecstatic utterances, poetic words, adoration, and sometimes accidentally a foreign language fit nicely in with the early pentecostal experience.
Pentecostals didn’t realize that these authors formulated and promoted an alternative explanation that started in the 1830s. This doctrine did not follow the traditional christian trajectory of tongues. Ironically, the modern pentecostal definitions are the children of German higher criticism.
There are no early or even later Pentecostal writers that seriously pondered their experiences through the primary source literature of Greek, Latin, or Aramaic dictionaries or texts. They steadfastly held to tertiary literature especially English ones.
The baptism of the Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues is a doctrine unique to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement that started in the early 1900s. An editorial decision has been made not to trace this doctrine. The final ambition of The Gift of Tongues Project is to find out why the traditional definition all but died in 1906 and why it was replaced by glossolalia. This is the final piece for the Project to complete.
The major goal of the Gift of Tongues Project is to trace the perceptions of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries. The perceptions need not necessarily align with reality. The realities, whatever they may be, are up to the reader to decide. You don’t even have to agree with my commentary or analysis. As per the Gift of Tongues Project goals, the majority of the important source texts have been digitized and provided on this website. You can look at the sources themselves and draw your own conclusions.
Although this series will demonstrate today’s doctrine of tongues a new phenomenon in the annals of christian history, it should not be viewed as the litmus test for Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wavers credibility (collectively called Renewalists). There is much more to Renewalists than speaking in tongues. They have grown far beyond tongues and have forayed into far more important matters. The Renewalists are positive agents for social change in our world.
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.
Yesterday, October 22nd, this article encouraged readers to wait for the book to come out. Unfortunately, the book idea is stalled again. But that is good news. Too many people have come to this article wanting a summary now. Your request has resulted in a two-part summary being developed. It is nearly complete and will be posted. Part I should be ready by October 30th.
Did the Montanist’s speak in tongues and is this the historical antecedent for tongues in the church today?
The christian doctrine of tongues can be traced backward in two ways. The first one through ecclesiastical literature which chronicles the passing of this rite through the centuries and marks how it has evolved. The second and more popular way is to trace the lineage back to pagan Greek antecedents. Montanism is one of the key steps in this second order. Pentecostals and Charismatics take this second option further and claim Montanism and their alleged speaking in tongues as their historical parallel.
This article is an in-depth investigation to find an answer to the above question. In accordance with the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project, source texts are provided, analyzed and commented on. Such details may seem boorish for the regular reader, but the lack of source literature and analysis is one of the greatest problems that have plagued the modern christian doctrine of tongues debate.
What is Montanism and the source texts for this controversy?
In a simplified form, it was begun by a man named Montanus around 162 AD and aided by two women, Maximilla and Priscilla. Montanism lasted up until the 6th century. For a deeper historical overview of the Montanist movement, an old publication, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 6 covers the movement in the best detail to help the reader get up to speed with the debate at hand.
The movement is revealed through three major sources, Eusebius of Caesarea, Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis, and Tertullian. The first two write about the Montanists in very negative and vitriolic terms while Tertullian defended them. There are a number of works that allude to Epiphanius correlating Montanism with ecstatic utterances but substantiation or a source text similar to these claims has yet to be found.1 There are other citations about Montanists found in the writings of Jerome and Didymus of Alexandria, but these do not refer to the Montanist glossolalia controversy.
The most important source for the Montanists and glossolalia is Eusebius’ account. One must keep in mind that Eusebius’ account is a critical report of the Montanist movement. It contains over-the-top rhetoric which makes the reader wonder why so many resources and time were utilized against them. The strong attack causes one to either pity the Montanists or think there is an ulterior motive by the established church against them. Judging by the voracity of words, the Montanists must have been a populist movement that the institutional church felt threatened by.
Eusebius himself has his own internal doubts about the account provided to him by an unknown author and stated, “They say that these things happened in this manner. But as we did not see them, O friend, we do not pretend to know.”2 For that reason, Eusebius’ history should be taken with a degree of skepticism.
Eusebius’ source was trying to demonize the Montanists in almost every way. The wording and semantics are purposely kept distant from anything familiar to the christian faith.
The actual text used to link Montanist with Pentecostal speaking in tongues
The alleged Montanist experience is a brief account by Eusebius in his Historiae Ecclesiasticae who narrated about two Montanist followers who went into a state of ecstasy and uttered strange sounds. What exactly were the sounds? Were they foreign languages, ecstatic speech, or something else? Is this one of the earliest christian expressions of tongues after the first Pentecost? This is the crux of the discussion.
Here is the actual text :
There is said to be a certain village called Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.
8. Some of those who heard his spurious utterances at that time were indignant, and they rebuked him as one that was possessed, and that was under the control of a demon, and was led by a deceitful spirit, and was distracting the multitude; and they forbade him to talk, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord and his warning to guard watchfully against the coming of false prophets. But others imagining themselves possessed of the Holy Spirit and of a prophetic gift, were elated and not a little puffed up; and forgetting the distinction of the Lord, they challenged the mad and insidious and seducing spirit, and were cheated and deceived by him. In consequence of this, he could no longer be held in check, so as to keep silence.
9. Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises. But sometimes he rebuked them openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover. But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number.3
The important sequences are:
. . . and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy. . . — πνευματοφορηθῆναί τε καὶ αἰφνιδίως ἐν κατοχῇ τινι καὶ παρεκστάσει γενόμενον, ἐνθουσιᾶν.
I don’t know how the English translator worked it out that way. An alterntive would be: “that he was inspired by a spirit and suddenly became elated in some type of catatonic stupor and spurious ecstasy.”
. . .began to babble and utter strange things. . . — ἄρξασθαί τε λαλεῖν καὶ ξενοφωνεῖν
. . .spurious utterances. . . —
The glossolalia connection
The interpretation of this text centres around the word glossolalia. If the Montanists were glossalists, then there is a potential connection to the ancient christian rite of speaking in tongues. If not, then there is no connection with the christian community and the discussion is irrelevant.
Anyone who tries to make this association assumes that glossolalia was a special rite of speech practised by the ancient christian community. This assumption ignores that glossolalia is a new definition added to the christian doctrine of tongues that started in the early 1800s.4 This term should not be used to describe antecedents to the christian doctrine of tongues any earlier than this, but since the term glossolalia is so popular in the minds of contemporary scholars and readers alike, it will be permitted so that this discussion can run its course.
The importance of Montanism in the christian doctrine of tongues
Pentecostal scholars such as Rev. Heidi Baker parallel their tongues-speaking experience with the Montanists.5 She also holds a widely held belief in pentecostal circles that the primitivist virtues of the earliest church were lost when the church was institutionalized, regained by the Montanists, then forgotten again, until finally revived by the pentecostal movement 1800 years later.6 The acclaimed Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements edited primarily by Stanley Burgess, a “distinguished professor of christian history at Regent University and Professor Emeritus, Missouri State University”7 claims that that gift of speaking in tongues flourished with the Montanists and later influenced the glossolalic speaking eighteenth-century Camisards in south-central France. The Camisards then left a legacy for modern Pentecostals to follow.8
The Presbyterian minded Biblical scholar who has closely studied the pentecostal movement, F. Dale Bruner, believes there is a connection between the two; “Montanism interests us as the prototype of almost everything Pentecostalism seeks to represent.”9
Indeed looking at the Montanist movement, especially the coverage given by the renowned nineteenth-century scholar, August Neander, as found in his book, The History of the Christian Religion and Church during the First Three Centuries (Page 327), demonstrates many parallels between the two parties. However, this commonality does not mean an automatic connection with speaking in tongues which some suggest or want to happen. The pentecostal affinity to the Montanist experience makes it necessary to see if the Montanist story is a serious contributor to the history of christians speaking in tongues.
An essential keyword missing.
If one looks closely into the details, the actual historic evidence that equates Montanism with the gift of tongues is very weak. The critical Greek keyword which is used throughout the New Testament writings in reference to tongues speaking, γλῶσσα — glôssa does not appear in the text. This is required to definitively connect Montanist glossolalia with the church rite. This word connection does not exist.
This omission is a very crucial point. In order to reinforce this fact, the Greek, Latin and an English translation can be found at the following link: Eusebius on Montanism. The source work reinforces the skeptical reader that the critical Greek keyword is not there.
Two scholars, two different outcomes
Christopher Forbes and Rex D. Butler try to answer the question about the Montanists and glossolalia but come up with different results.
Christopher Forbes, who “is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, and Deputy Chairman of the Society for the Study of Early Christianity”10 at Macquarie University, argued that there is no conclusive evidence the Montanists used glossolalia.
If Montanist prophecy was in any sense analogous to glossolalia it is quite remarkable that no ancient writer ever noticed or commented on this fact. Though it is certainly true that Montanist prophecy was characterised by ecstasy (in the modern sense), and occasionally by oracular obscurity, there is no unambiguous evidence whatsoever that it took glossolalic form.11
Rex D. Butler, Associate Professor of Church History and Patristics, at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary goes in the opposite direction.12 He reported that the elements of the Montanist text all correlate with glossolalia and directly counters Forbe’s claims.
His first argument rests on the role of the interpreter. If the prophecy was given in intelligible speech why would the service of the prophetess Maximillia, an interpreter ἑρμηνεύτην, be required?13
Secondly, he charged that Forbes failed to recognize that the prophets utilized both intelligible and unintelligible speech. Third, he argued against Forbes definition of ξενοφωνεῖν. Forbes believed it to mean to speak as a foreigner while Butler believed it to mean to speak strangely. Butler further adds if it is combined with λαλεῖν, which is found in the Eusebius text as λαλεῖν καὶ ξενοφωνεῖν, then the phrase should be translated as chatter or babble. Finally, Butler concluded, “Forbes arguments are not sufficient to overturn the historic understanding that Montanists engaged in glossolalia.”14
Many scholars believe the late 2nd century Montanist movement to be the first cited corporate tongues phenomena outside of the New Testament writers. Some propose that it was the last vestige of the gift before the institutional Church dismissed such an activity.
Are these assumptions correct?
The Montanist accounts, along with Origen, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria are key Patristic texts used by scholars who parallel Christian tongues with Hellenistic origins. Therefore it is important to examine these texts very closely. Origen has been covered already in Origen on the Gift of Tongues. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria have been addressed slightly in this section A History of Tongues as an Ecstatic Utterance. Only a small amount of time spent on these last two because the texts really don’t say much. The Montanists, on the other hand, are more controversial.
For details on the Montanism, the Wikipedia website is a good place to start. In a simplified form, it was begun by a man named Montanus around 162 AD and aided by two women, Maximilla and Priscilla. Montanism lasted up until the 6th century.
The movement is revealed through three major sources, Eusebius of Caesarea, Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis, and Tertullian. The first two write about the Montanists in very negative and vitriolic terms while Tertullian defended them. There are other accounts too, such as Jerome and Didymus of Alexandria, but these give less substantial offerings than the ones above.
The most important source for the Montanists and glossolalia is Eusebius’ account. One must keep in mind his critical report of the Montanist movement is over-the-top rhetoric and makes the reader wonder why so much resources and time were utilized against them. The strong attack causes one to either pity the Montanists or think there is an ulterior motive by the established Church against them. Judging by the voracity of words, the Montanists must have been a populist movement that the institutional Church felt threatened by.
Eusebius himself has his own internal doubts about the account provided to him by an unknown author and stated, “They say that these things happened in this manner. But as we did not see them, O friend, we do not pretend to know.” Ancient Christian writers typically do not directly confront matters of opinion that differ from official Church positions. Disagreement of Church polity is usually subtly suggested in a brief, generalized statement. This is what happened here. Therefore, Eusebuis’ history should be taken with a degree of skepticism.
If one looks closely into the details, the actual historic evidence that equates Montanism with the gift of tongues is very weak. It is not directly found in the Eusebius document. The greek keyword glôssa/γλῶσσα does not appear in the text.
Eusebius’ source was trying to demonize the Montanists in almost every way. The wording and semantics are purposely kept distant from anything familiar to the Christian faith. Yet the history of glossolalia counts them as the last corporate movement until at least the 1700s to practice it.
This weakness regarding the Montanists and glossolalia was also echoed by Christopher Forbes in his book, Prophecy and Inspired Speech, “If Montanist prophecy was in any sense analogous to glossolalia it is quite remarkable that no ancient writer ever noticed or commented on this fact. Though it is certainly true that Montanist prophecy was characterised by ecstasy (in the modern sense), and occasionally by oracular obscurity, there is no unambiguous evidence whatsoever that it took glossolalic form.”1
However, this view goes against the majority of modern historians. For example Rex D. Butler retorted that the elements of the Montanist text all correlate with glossolalia. He gave numerous arguments against Forbes’ position. First of all he contends there is a contradiction. If the prophecy was given in intelligible speech why was the prophetess Maximillia an interpreter ἑρμηνεύτην?2 Secondly, he charged that Forbes failed to recognize that the prophets utilized both intelligible and unintelligible speech. Third, he argued against Forbes definition of ξενοφωνεῖν. Forbes believed it to mean to speak as a foreigner while Baxter believed it to mean to speak strangely. Baxter further adds if it is combined with λαλεῖν, which is found in the Eusebius text as λαλεῖν καὶ ξενοφωνεῖν, then it should be translated as chatter or babble. Finally Baxter concluded, “Forbes arguments are not suffficient to overturn the historic understanding that Montanists engaged in glossolalia.”3
Butler failed to fully address Forbes argument. First, he neglected to cite Forbes complete comment which included, “If Montanist prophecy was in any sense analogous to glossolalia it is quite remarkable that no ancient writer ever noticed or commented on this fact.” Forbes is right. There are no Ecclesiastical writings that affirms the Montanist correlation with Christian ‘glossolalia’. Neither are there any pro-glossolalia interpretations of this text or any other until after at least 1825.
This whole argument goes into a number specific areas that goes beyond the differences between Baxter and Forbes. To fully resolve the issue of how to properly understand this text there are three aspects that need to be understood.
How to correctly translate the following Greek words as they appear in the text: παρεκστὰσει(2χ)/παρεκστῆναι, ξενοφωνεῖν, ἐκφονημάτων, ἐκφρόνως, προφητοφόντας. ἀμετροφώνους, and εκστάσει.
Has Montanism always been correlated with the Christian rite of tongues or is this a recent phenomenon? If so, when did it begin and how did it develop?
Is the Montanist example supplied because there are so few examples of any kind? Or, are there much better ones that have been glossed over?
These three questions will be answered in the third part of this series on Montanism. The next article The Montanists Part 2 supplies the basis for the whole coverage. It is the actual Eusebius text from Migne Patrologia Graeca in both the Greek and the Latin. It is also contains an English translation.