The Pentecostal Rewrite of the History of Speaking in Tongues

Two Pentecostal Missionaries listening to Philip Schaff Cartoon

How Pentecostals built their historical framework for their doctrine of tongues from Higher Criticism literature–a necessary but unlikely relationship.

This merging of two opposed systems, one dependent on the supernatural, and the other focused on the rational and logical with no reference to any divine entity, makes for one of the most major shifts in the history of the christian doctrine of tongues.

As shown throughout the Gift of Tongues Project, tongues as an ecstatic utterance was a new addition to the doctrine of tongues in the 19th century. There is no historical antecedent for ecstatic utterance, glossolalia and their variances before this era. Nor is there a connection with the majority of ecclesiastical writings over 1800 years which had a different trajectory.

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The Testament of Job and Angelic tongues

A picture of a page of the Testament of Job with a magnifying glass in front
A colorized and altered Testament of Job sample in Greek Minuscule. Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

An analysis of the Testament of Job, its controversial state on speaking in angelic tongues, and its place in the christian doctrine of tongues.

The Testament of Job’s narration of Job’s three daughters speaking in the dialect of angels piques curiosity, especially those who hold an interest in the christian doctrine of tongues. Were they speaking a supernatural language of angels that purportedly the early Christian church of Corinth produced and later the Montanists? Alternatively, were they speaking in highly exalted poetic language as the Delphic prophetesses practiced?

An obvious third question then arises. Did the tongues of angels perpetuate in the early church and beyond? No literature so far in any ecclesiastical text examined in the Gift of Tongues Project has addressed the subject. It is not a part of the ancient traditions in Western or Eastern Christianity.

These first two questions and more are the purpose of this article.

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Praying in tongues, hymns and more: intro

Praying in tongues graphic

A detailed look at praying in tongues from a historic Jewish perspective. The results may surprise many readers.

When one examines praying in tongues from a Jewish liturgical perspective, the understanding of praying in tongues changes dramatically. The most important finding is that praying in tongues was part of a list of liturgical activities noted by Paul occurring in the Corinthian assembly. A list which includes speaking in tongues, hymns, psalms, and the amen construct. These are all found in ancient Jewish traditions.

They all point to the fact that the Corinthian assembly had inherited the liturgical rites of their greater global Jewish community.

Read morePraying in tongues, hymns and more: intro

Summary of the Gift of Tongues Project: Introduction

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 … Read more

Pentecostals, Tongues, and Higher Criticism

The relationship between Pentecostals and the historians Philip Schaff, F. W. Farrar and others along with their influence on the modern definition.

How the traditional definition of tongues all but died and was replaced by the Pentecostal practice of Pentecostal 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.

Before 1906 there were only two definitions of speaking in tongues within the traditional Christian practice:

  • Tongues as the spontaneous ability to speak a foreign language not previously learned or known beforehand
  • tongues as someone speaking in one voice and everyone hearing in their own language.

In the 1800’s, this definition expanded:

  • Firstly, redefined as glossolalia: an ecstatic state that produces speech-like syllables. A social phenomenon, not a miraculous one
  • then modern Pentecostal tongues: a spiritualization of the glossolalia doctrine.

The Azusa Street revival began as a traditional Christian tongues doctrine: many people imbued with the Holy Spirit were perceived with the ability to speak a foreign language spontaneously. The Azusa people and those involved in the greater grassroots holiness movement saw this as a sign to evangelize all the nations. This theology was called Missionary Tongues.

As previously noted in Pentecostal Tongues in Crisis, Pentecostal missionaries arrived at their foreign destinations and discovered they did not have this supernatural linguistic ability.

Read morePentecostals, Tongues, and Higher Criticism

Solutions to the Pentecostal Tongues Crisis

Pentecostal solutions to the missionary tongues and gibberish crisis. Early Pentecostal excitement and enthusiasm for missionary tongues in foreign nations failed. They also had a serious challenge on the home front. The general public mocked them for speaking gibberish. These circumstances created an urgent need to build a Pentecostal apologetic for their speaking in tongues. … Read more

Early Pentecostal Tongues: Intro

This four-part series covers how the traditional definition of tongues all but died and replaced by a wider set of expressions; the language of adoration, singing and writing in tongues, and a private prayer language. Some expressions were emphasized more than others. Neither did every Pentecostal organization agree on every redefinition either. The transformation was … Read more

Early Pentecostal Tongues: Notes and Quotes

Quips and quotes taken from early Pentecostal based newsletters, papers, digests, and other material found about the doctrine of tongues.

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.

The majority of the works are found in Pentecostal based archives.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly
  • Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Los Angeles)
  • Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Portland)
  • Confidence
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • The Bridegroom’s Messenger
  • The Assemblies of God Publication
    • The Weekly Evangel
    • The Christian Evangel
    • The Pentecostal Evangel
  • The Latter Rain Evangel
  • The Church of God Evangel
  • White Wing Messenger
  • The Bridal Call
  • The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate
  • Notes
  • For more information on pentecostal tongues

Read moreEarly Pentecostal Tongues: Notes and Quotes

A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism

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.

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