Tag Archives: interpreter

Tongues of Corinth Infographic

A history of speaking, interpreting, and reading from 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. in Judaism and early Christianity.

An interactive infographic to help you navigate Paul’s world and how these offices later evolved in the Christian Church. Clicking on the image will bring you to the full interactive site.

Paul’s mention of speaking in tongues in I Corinthians is deeply wrapped in the Jewish identity. The same goes for his understanding of speaking, reading, and interpreting of tongues. These rites have a rich history that goes well over 800 years. The initial origins are deeply connected to the times of Ezra.

Infographic explaining speaking, interpreting, and reading at the Corinthian assembly

Here is the link to the Corinthian Tongues Infographic if clicking the image does not work.

The reference to speaking and interpreting in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is entirely distinct from the miracle of Pentecost—for information about Pentecost see A History of Tongues in the Catholic Church and related articles found at the Gift of Tongues Project.

The customs of speaking, interpreting, and public reading are deeply embedded in Jewish tradition and inherited by the early church. Paul, if he was alive today, would be surprised at how the modern interpretations are so different than his intentions.

Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

The following are quotes from the principal sources on the real Francis Xavier and the legend of his speaking in tongues. This is a quotes only document — a comparative analysis of all this information is in the final stages and will be posted as a separate article.

The debate and controversy that surrounded St. Francis Xavier’s alleged speaking in tongues was a source of internal friction within Catholicism, especially the among the Jesuits themselves, and a rallying point for Protestants. The real Francis Xavier did not speak in tongues, but the legend of Francis did.

How this legend began and grew is an interesting and complex story.

This leads into a journey about how Medieval Catholics viewed speaking in tongues; what it meant to them, how it was applied, and the politics that surrounded this practice.

The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues ranks within the top five themes throughout the two-thousand-year history of the christian doctrine of tongues. There is no doubt that this legend is the most complex one out of any documents in the Gift of Tongues Project. There are numerous reasons why the mystery of Francis Xavier is difficult. The original documentation is multilingual; spanning Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and French. The subject is wrapped in Medieval Catholicism, which has its own unique history, customs, personalities and procedures that outsiders such as myself have a difficult time to grasp. Xavier’s gift of tongues is deeply embedded with international and national politics. The topic is shrouded in religious symbols and shifts into the Protestant realm where Rationalists especially took critical aim. It spans across continents and new worlds that most Europeans hardly knew at the time. The maps, names and locations mentioned in the texts are far from the modern English mind.

This article is produced to meet a requirement of the Gift of Tongues Project which is the digital capturing of source texts. The following are actual quotes from testimonies, writers, and publications that highly influenced and perpetuated this myth. These are actual quotes with little or no commentary from myself relating to Xavier speaking in tongues. They are organized according to date; from the earliest publications shortly after Xavier’s death, all the way into the twentieth-century. The Italian, Spanish and Portuguese originals are not digitally captured because I have no knowledge of these languages or the ability to do data-entry in them. However, links to the original text along with an English translation is supplied where appropriate.

This file is designed for the researcher, not for the casual reader. This is the longest article found in the Gift of Tongues Project because of the amount of source material. It may take a few moments to load the full contents into the browser, please be patient.

TOC

  • Pedro de Ribadeneira
  • Giovanni Pietro Maffei
  • Horatius Tursellinus
  • João de Lucena
  • The Book Monumenta Xaveriana:
    • Emanuel Fernandez
    • Thomas Vaz
    • Antonio Peirera
    • Pope Urban VIII
  • Daniello Bartoli
  • Dominique Bouhours
  • Pope Benedict XIV
  • John Douglas
  • Hugh Farmer
  • Charles Butler
  • Henry James Coleridge
  • Andrew Dickson White
  • A Jesuit response to Andrew Dickson White
  • Edith Anne Steward
  • James Brodrick
  • Georg Schurhammer
    • Volume II
    • Volume IV

Continue reading Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

Three Welsh men speaking in tongues

The story of three sixth-century Welsh Christian Saints and their encounter with the gift of tongues.

St. David, Padarn, and Teilo are important figures in the history of Wales. Who exactly were they and how do they fit in the history of tongues speaking? It is necessary to narrate the lives of these revered Welsh icons before the coverage of speaking in tongues can begin.

The legends behind these people are interesting, especially that there is a connection between two of them and the legendary King Arthur.

The life of St. David has the most coverage and the most controversial. The Encyclopedia of World Biography describes his biography in this way:

Most information about Saint David comes from the writings of an eleventh-century monk named Rhygyfarch (also Rhygyvarch, Rhigyfarch, and Ricemarch), son of Bishop Sulien, of Saint David’s Cathedral, Saint David’s favorite of the churches he established. Rhygyfarch claimed to have gathered his information from old written sources, but those have not survived. Rhygyfarch’s life of Saint David is regarded by many scholars as suspect because it contains many implausible events and because he had a stake in enhancing Saint David’s history so as to support the prestige of the Welsh church and its independence from Canterbury, the center of the English church (still Catholic at the time). According to David Hugh Farmer in The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Rhygyfarch’s history of Saint David “should be treated as propaganda, which may, however, contain some elements of true tradition.” 1

Teilo, often written by his Cornish name Eliud, was a bishop and founder of monasteries and Churches in south Wales. “Reputed to be a cousin, friend, and disciple of Saint David.”2 He is the patron Saint of fruit trees and horses and there are more than 25 Churches in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany dedicated to him. A great feat, but St. David still has more Churches honoured to him.3

Padarn, was an early 6th century British Christian who is considered one of the seven founding saints of Brittany. Padarn is one of a small group that mention King Arthur independently of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.4

These three made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Shortly after leaving Britain, they discovered linguistic barriers between themselves and the countries they were journeying through. The solution was a divine one. St. David was “endowed with the gift of tongues, just as the apostolic company was, so that when they were staying among foreign peoples they should not lack an interpreter, . . .”

There are different versions of the account that are not in complete agreement. Rhygyfarch’s text, which contains the above quote, is the most popular. His original work was written in the eleventh-century but there are so many variations of his text today, it is unclear which one is the original. The version used here is from Rhygyfarch’s Life of St. David. Ed. and transl. Richard Sharpe and John Reuben Davies. They have done the comparative manuscript work. The English translation and the Latin text provided at the end of this article is from their contribution.

Rhygyfarch supports the idea that St. David had the same gift as the Apostles had, but fails to describe the miracle. This requires a further look into another version. The Nova legenda Anglie, a biographical collection of English Saints started by John of Tynemouth in the fourteenth-century, provides some insight. “He [Teilo] began to expound the sacred Scriptures. And each one of those standing heard him speaking in his own language.” The Nova legenda Anglie is promoting the miracle of hearing rather than speaking.

However, the Nova legenda Anglie takes a twist in the narrative. It was Teilo who first spoke in tongues. St. David and Padarn followed later. This is different from Rhygyfarch who emphasised St. David over Teilo and Padarn. This explanation may be connected to a rivalry between the Church organisations led by St. David and Teilo where each one later wanted to position themselves as a superior order. The demonstration of miracles, including the gifting of tongues, was to demonstrate their exclusive superiority. This is not the first time this has happened. This same competition was found between two religious orders in France; l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Arnoud argued that their founder, St. Patiens of Metz, supernaturally spoke in tongues to support their claim as the more credible Church order.5

The legends of St. David, Teilo, and Padarn speaking in tongues may be a later medieval interpretation and this is fine. Their story further reinforces how the medievalist biographers understood the Christian doctrine of tongues. They understood it as a divine infusion of either speaking or hearing a foreign human language. These texts demonstrate no connection to uttering incoherent words, speaking an angelic or prayer language.

Another text that closely parallels that of Rhygyfarch’s Life of St. David is the one found in Acta Sanctorum. The text truncates a few lines when compared to Rhygyfarch. I wonder if the editors of Acta Sanctorum were concerned about the Rhygyfarch text being added and revised at a later date. Unfortunately, medieval textual criticism is not my forte and will have to leave that problem for a medievalist enthusiast to solve.

As per the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project three original texts in the Latin are provided. Two contain an English translation. The third does not have an English translation which is the Acta Sanctorum. This text is left only in the Latin because it closely parallels Rhygyfarch’s Life of St. David. It is pointless to spend the time translating this text but may be of value to those Latin readers who like to see subtle shifts in textual transmission.

English translation of Rhygyfarch’s Life of St. David.

§ 44. As his merits increased, so also did his rank and respect. For one night, an angel came to him, and said, “Tomorrow, put your shoes on and set out to travel to Jerusalem and make the journey you have longed for. I shall also call two others to be your companions on the way, namely Eliud” (who is now commonly called Teilo and was formerly a monk of this monastery), “and also Padarn” (whose life and miracles are contained in his own history). The holy father, wondering at the authority of the command, said, “How shall this be done? For those whom you promise to be my companions live three days’ distance or more away from us and from each other; therefore we cannot by any means meet tomorrow.” The angel said to him, “Tonight, I shall go to each of them, and they will come to the appointed place, which I shall now reveal.” Saint David made no delay, but having organized the useful things of his cell, he received the blessing of the brethren and began his journey early in the morning. He reached the appointed place, met the promised brethren there, and they went on their way together. They were equals as fellow travellers, no one considered himself to be above the other, each one of them was a servant, each one master. Constant in prayers, they watered the road with tears. The further their feet took them, the greater was their gain. They had one mind, one joy, and one sorrow.

§ 45. When they had sailed across the British sea and arrived in Gaul, they heard the strange languages of different nations, and father David was endowed with the gift of tongues, just as the apostolic company was, so that when they were staying among foreign peoples they should not lack an interpreter, and also that they should confirm the faith of others by the word of truth.6

Latin source of Rhygyfarch’s Life of St. David.

44 Crescentibus autem meritis, crescunt eta honorumb dignitates. Nam quadam nocte ad eum angelus affuit, cui inquit, ‘Crastina die precingens calciad te, Ierusalem usque pergeree proficiscens, optatam carpe uiam. Sed et alios duos comites itineris uocabo, Eliud, scilicet,’ qui nunc Teliau uulgo uocatur, qui quondam eius monasterio interfuit monachus, ‘necnon et Paternum,’ cuius conuersatio atque uirtutes in sua continentur hystoria. Sanctus autem pater, admirans imperii preceptum, dixit, ‘Quomodo hoc fiet, nam quos promittis comites trium uel eo amplius dierum spatio a nobis uel a semetipsis distant? Nequaquam ergo pariter crastina conueniemus die.’ Angelus ad eum nuntiat, ‘Ego hac nocte ad quemquam illorum uadam, et ad condictum, quod nuncf ostendo, conuenient.’ Sanctus autem [Dauid], nichil moratus, dispositis cellul” utilitatibus, accepta fratrum benedictione, primo mane iter incepit. Peruenit ad condictum, repperit ibi promissos fratres, pariter guiam intrant. Equalis commeatus, nullus enim mente alio prior, quique eorum minister, quique dominus, sedula oratio, lacrimis uiam rigant. Quo amplius pes incederet, merces excresceret, una illish anima, una leticia, unus dolor.

45 Cum autem trans mare Brittannicum uecti Gallias adirent ac alienigenas diuersarum gentium linguas audirent, linguarum gratia ceu apostolicus ille cętus ditatus est [pater Dauid], ut ne in extraneis degentes gentibus interprete egerent, et ut aliorum fidem ueritatis uerbo firmarent.7

An English translation from Nova Legenda Anglie 2:365-66.

However, in order to satisfy their desire and the people’s supplications, he [Teilo] began to expound the sacred Scriptures. And each one of those standing heard him speaking in his own language. Therefore, when all who had been moved by so great a pleasing speech and they heard him for such a long time, the more they desired to hear him. Lest one should appear to presume about the business regarding which he was going to speak, as if he was preaching on his own account, he said to the people: “Hear now the words of life from my brethren who are more perfect in life than me, and or more diligent in learning.” Therefore Saint David and Padarn arose and they preached to the people and everyone in their own language perfectly understood them.8

The Latin source from Nova Legenda Anglie 2:365-66.

Vt tamen populo supplicanti et illorum voto satisfaceret, sacras scripturas exponere cepit: et unusquisque astantium illum sua lingua loquentem audiuit. Cumque omnes tanta dulcedine sermonis illius essent affecti, ut quanto eum diutius audirent, magis illum audire desidarent; ne predicandi officium videretur presumere si solus predicassset, populo dixit: ‘Audit iam a fratribus meis verba vite, qui me perfectiores in vita sunt, et diligentiores in doctrina.’ Surrexerunt ergo sanctus Dauid et Paternus, et predicauerunt populo, omnibusque in sua lingua perfect intelligentibus eos.”

Acta Sanctorum.

AASS Mar., I. 44-45. Pg. 45

Chapter IV

Quadam nocte Angelus S. Dewi apparens, ait : Crastina die cingens et calceans te, Jerusalem peregre proficiscens, optatam carpe viam. Sed et alios duos comites vocabo : Eliud scilicet, qui nunc Telion vulgo nonimatur, qui quondam ejus monasterio interfuit monachus, et Paternum, cujus virtutes in sua continentur historia. Sanctus autem Pater admirans imperii præceptum, dixit : Quomodo hoc fieret? Nam quos promittis socios, trium vel amplius dierum spatio a nobis vel a semetipsis distant : nequaquam ergo crastina conveniremus die. Cui Angelus : Ego hac nocte ad quemlibet illorum vadam : et ad condictum, quod tibi modo ostendo, convenient. Sanctus autem nihil moratus, dispositis cellulæ utilatibus, accepta Fratrum benedictione, primo mane incepit iter, pervenit ad condictum, reperit ibi præmissos Fratres, pariterque intrant viam : una illis anima, una lætitia, unus dolor. Cum autem trans mare Britannicum vecti, Gallias adirent, ac alienas diversarum gentium linguas audirent, linguarum gratia, sicut Apostolicus ille cœtus, ditatus est David Pater : ut ne in extraneis degentes gentibus, interprete egerent.

John of Damascus on Tongues: an English Translation

A translation of the eighth century John of Damascus’ Commentary on I Corinthians as it relates to the doctrine of tongues.

In Epist. Ad Corinth I. by Joannis Damasceni. Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 95. Col. 676ff as translated from the Greek by Charles A. Sullivan.

I Corinthians 13:1-3


[v1-3] “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and I know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my possessions, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

By saying this, he insinuates the holding of negligent responsibilities results in receiving much less, and those who remain steadfast,1 if they so wish, results in something much greater. So love is much greater than all the gifts. He thus establishes this and lays-out the combination, as all the gifts are nothing with the absence of love. For see how he builds this premise. Namely, he does not say, If I knew languages,2 but instead, if I should speak in the languages of angels. Nor does he simply say, If I am going to prophesy, but, I know all the mysteries and all knowledge, with careful detail3 And he does not say, If I could give possessions,4 but, if I could distribute,5 so that he combines service with the cost. In fact demonstrating all here with careful detail, he shows it is greatly inferior with that of love. On which account if you passionately are desirous of the greater gifts, he says, pursue love.

Love is rightly the greatest of the gifts. For these other things naturally had been the cause of division,6 while on the other hand love unites those who disagree.

See from where it begins, by the greatness appearing with them of these languages, and not only of men but also of angels. Furthermore, about the tongue of angels, a body is not assumed for angels. The matter being referred to is like this: although I should utter a sound in this way as the means that the angels dialogue between each other, for instance when he says, every knee should bow to him: of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth,7 he is not saying these things as one who assumes knees and bones with angels, but wishes to allude to the fervent-pitched act of worship by means of this imagery to us. That is why he cited language here, wishing to show to the rest of the audience a sermon8 in a familiar way with us.■


I Corinthians 14:1-33


[V.1]“Follow after charity.”

And consequently to us, the work of the race is supremely for this.

“And desire the spiritual things, rather that you may prophesy.”

In order that someone may not suppose that he introduced the word of love so that he could put an end to the gifts, regarding this he introduced a grace, saying: desire the spiritual things. He makes the case of aggregating together those things belonging to the family of gifts and lessens the gift of languages, neither is the gift useless by any means, nor does it show9 the benefit in respect to this.

[v2-4] “For one who speaks in a language, speaks not to men, but to God; for no one hears, moreover he speaks mysteries in the spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and consolation to men. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.”

The one who has the ability to speak to God, points out greatness, but on the other hand smallness since this person does not have the ability to edify the Church. For he absolutely desires this; the edification of the many.

[v5a] “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in languages,”

Not that they should form an opinion here that the person who is critical condemns10 the languages by these, that this one is in the act of being set right about the suspicion concerning them, he says this:

[5b]“Unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.”11

It is less, he says, the act of speaking in languages than that of prophesying. Unless of course someone also can interpret the languages.12 It was by no means to be a reference to equality made with the one who prophesies.

[v6] “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking,13 what will I profit you?”

What if I speak other things? He says, if I myself come speaking in languages, it will not be greatly beneficial for those who are listening. Thus he speaks these things, the one who demonstrates enthusiasm for that which is beneficial for these people, he does not have hostility against those who possess the gift.

[v6b] “Unless I speak to you whether by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?”14

Unless I speak, he says, that can be easily apprehended by you but otherwise will have shown only that I have a gift of a specific language, consequently you all will have gone away having gained nothing in these things. Why should it be from a voice that you all do not understand?

[v7-9] “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?15 Likewise you also in this manner, by the office of language.”

What I speak,16 he says, is it that the matter is unprofitable with regards to you all? Also wouldn’t anyone have instinctively known this about lifeless things and the harp and bugle?

[v9b] “Unless all of you are given an intelligible word, how will it be known what the person is speaking?”

The alternative,17 unless you all can interpret.

[v9c] “For you will be speaking into the air.”18

That is, a person is uttering for no one else, for this one is speaking to no one.

[v10-12a] “There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.19 So it is also with you.”

That is, so many languages, so many sounds, Scythian, Thracian, Roman, Persian, Mauretanian, Egyptian, other myriads of nations.

[v12b-13] “Since you are zealous of spiritual things, seek to abound for the edification of the church. Therefore let one who speaks in a language pray that he may interpret.”

If it is necessary to be zealous, be zealous for the gifts which builds up the Church. On which account he adds, saying: Pray, that he may interpret

[v14-15a] For if I pray in a language, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do?

That is, the gift which had been given to me, and summons the language.

[v15b-16] “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. Otherwise, when you are praising in the Spirit, how can the one who leads the place of the laymen, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?”

It has a meaning something like: who then is the one apt to teach and be beneficial? And what manner was it necessary to speak? And why is it necessary to request from God? And he responds saying that one ought to pray by the Spirit that is by the gift and with the intent,20 so that when the language is uttered, the mind equally is not ignorant about the things being spoken. For if this should not be [the case where] a strange bewilderment is produced. For the layperson did not know to respond21 Amen. He naturally did not know what you are saying.

[v17] “For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.”22

So that he did not appear to utterly hold the gift as worthless, he provides this. On the contrary this was elevated when he was saying, This one who is speaking speaks mysteries as well speaks to God and builds himself up.23 You, therefore, he says, give thanks well. For you are speaking, being moved by the Spirit. But the person hears nothing, nor knows the things being spoken, and remains standing24 — the one who receives does not benefit much.

[v18-19a] “I give thanks to my God that I speak in a language more than you all. But in the Church.”

He says this so that it would not show that he is hostile as one depriving [them] of the gift.

[v19b] “I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also.”25

That is, understanding that which I speak and having the ability also to interpret for others.

[v19c] “Rather than ten thousand words in a language.”

He says In fact this is holding a performance26 without a companion,27. On the other hand the greater benefit is to be for the other people.

[v20] “Brothers, do not be children in thoughts, but on the other hand be like a child with evil.”

Namely the little ones gape at astonishment28 to the littlest of things, while on the other hand does not contain so much an admiration of the great things. Seeing too then that those who have the gift of tongues, they were supposing to have the ability to master everything, albeit it was the least of them all. For that reason he says, do not be children in thoughts. That is, these things should not be senseless,29 whereby it is necessary that these things to be intelligible.30 But in that predicament they are children and simple minded, some at one side are vain-glorious, some at the other are puffed-up. On the latter note, what does it mean to be children in evil? Or does it mean not ever having the ability to know what is evil?

[v21] “In the [Law] it is written, that “in strange tongues, and other lips I will speak to this people and even so they will not hear me” says the Lord.”

The Divine Scripture is called [the] Law, and the Prophets.

[v22-30a] “So then tongues are for a sign, not for those who believe but for unbelievers. Prophecy on the other hand is for a sign, not to unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore, if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and uneducated or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uneducated person enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, and thus the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

What is the outcome then, brothers? When you assemble, each one of you has a psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation, interpretation. Let all be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a language, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. On the other hand if a revelation was to be made to someone else sitting by…”31

That is a shocked feeling,32 not so much for the purpose of instruction.33

[v30b] “Let the first one be silent.”

Namely it was not appropriate, while the one who is being moved in the matter of prophecy, this person can speak.

[v31] “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.”34

He says this for the one has been put to silence35 so that this is made more bearable.36

[v32] “And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”37

So that there should not be someone who is contentious or slanderous, he shows the gift itself being placed under authority.38 For then he cites the work as of the spirit. So if the spirit is being placed under authority, you too can be with fullness.39

[v33] “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—and so I direct in all the holy Churches.”40

He shows this as also appeasing to God, so that the person who holds a contrary position may not spread strife.■


The actual Greek text is found here: John of Damascus on Tongues: the Greek Text.

The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

A look at the ancient Jewish rite of instruction in Hebrew with an immediate translation into Aramaic or local vernacular. How it potentially impacted the earliest Corinthian assembly and how this rite evolved in the church.

This is part 5 of a series on Corinth which attempts to correlate the mystery rite of tongues outlined in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians with standard Jewish liturgy of the time.

For more information on this series go to Introduction to the tongues of Corinth

The tradition of Jewish instructors speaking in Hebrew lasted for centuries. It is no longer practiced in synagogues today but was an important function in Judaism around the first-century. This little-known practice had an important part to play in the Jewish identity, and as will be shown, was a factor in the tongues conflict in Corinth.

In order to better explain this practice and make an association with the Corinthian gathering, we must go into ancient Jewish literature and citations from some of the more prominent Jewish authorities. Some of which is obscure on the first read and takes a little explanation before the truth becomes clear.

Talmud Babli Yoma 20b

Any discussion on the role of Hebrew as a sacred language of instruction will inevitably land on this passage which refers to two Rabbis who lived in the third-century: Rav Shela and Abba Arika. The narrative is about Rabbi Shela wanting to give a lecture in Hebrew which was demonstrated here as the language of Jewish religion and polity — a sacerdotal tongue. In order to perform such a task, a third-party was required to translate it into Aramaic. Abba Arika, often referred to as Rav, offered to provide the translation. While Shela was lecturing, he mentioned call of the rooster and Rav translated it as call of the man. These words call of the rooster and call of the man are almost identical in Hebrew. The words go back into an academic dispute between Jewish scholars on when the priests in the Temple were to wake up and begin their duties. Shela admonished Rav for taking too much liberty in translating. Rav parlayed back that he couldn’t translate it that way because Shela was entirely wrong on this point and demonstrated the thoughts of an uneducated man.

The text makes Hebrew instruction with an immediate translation into Aramaic a standard procedure during this time.

Here is the actual Talmudic text in English with a link to the original source in the footnote:

Rab came to the place of R. Shila, when there happened to be no interpreter to stand next to R. Shila, so Rab took the stand next to him and interpreted, ‘keriath hageber’ as ‘the call for the man’. R. Shila said to him Would you, Sir, interpret it as: Cockrow! Rab replied: ‘A flute is musical to nobles, but give it to weavers, they will not accept it’.1

This passage used two different words to define the concept of interpreter. The first one was אמורא Amora. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that this term had two functions. The first one represented all the Rabbinic teachers that flourished during a period of about three hundred years, from the time of the death of the patriarch R. Judah I. (219) to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (about 500)2 The second definition applies here. “While the lecturer generally pronounced his sentences in the academic language, which was chiefly Hebrew, the Amora gave his explanations in Aramaic. . .”3 The article states that the term Amora as an interpreter or translator was a later usage to that of the word meturgeman and often was interchanged with it.

The second word used for interpreter is פרש peresh — to interpret, expound, clarify.

Understanding the word interpret in I Corinthians 14 is one of the keys to unlocking what Paul meant. The Syriac version of this passage is especially helpful which is ܦܫܩ pashek. J. Payne Smith’s Dictionary describes at as to explain, expound, to write commentaries, to translate. The dictionary demonstrated how the word ܦܫܩ was used in the Syrian Church: “he expounds the Six Days of Creation to the congregation,” which exemplifies the fact that Paul wasn’t meaning interpreter to be a literal word for word translation from one language to another but it could be dynamic, or amplified.4

The Syriac presents the idea that whatever translation was given, just like the incident mentioned with Rav Shela above, wasn’t necessarily a literal word-for-word translation, but an amplified version given by the interpreter that the people could understand. If the concept is taken a step further, peresh could allow an interpreter become too stylistic, or promoting his own oratorial skills at the expense of the original speaker. This may have been a contributor to the Corinthian saga as well.

Rashi on Hebrew instruction and interpretation

Almost any analysis on the Talmud will take the researcher to the eleventh-century French medieval Rabbi Rashi. His concise commentary and analysis gives him the classification of one the great writers of the Jewish world. His critiques and analysis are on the same high level as Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. He chose to explain further the mechanics between the teacher and the interpreter:

The one who interprets stands beside a sage who gives the homily and the sage whispers the Hebrew language to him and he translates to the common language they hear in.5

Where Rashi got the idea of the Sage whispering to the translator is not known. This may be a much later tradition than Paul’s time.

Why did Paul not mention Hebrew specifically in his text?

Paul was purposely being vague because of the ethnic tensions between the traditional Aramaic Jews, the Hellenized Jews who were eager not to lose their ancient Jewish language and customs, and Greek adherents who came from different Doric, Aeolic, and Attic linguistic backgrounds. If he took a side with any of them by naming a certain language, or showing a preference for one over the other, he would have potentially started a split; alienating one group from another. He was in a very difficult position. His reply showed that he was interested in establishing an effective teaching methodology within the parameters of traditional Judaism that assisted both the Greek and Aramaic Jewish layperson, along with Greek converts in learning. He was emphatic that education was the priority, language was secondary to this goal.

Could it be Aramaic instead?

Saul Lieberman outlines in his book, Greek In Jewish Palestine certain practices within the third-century that proposes a different view that may even discount the Hebrew theory and replace it with Aramaic. He stated that when Jewish preachers went into Greek towns, they preached in Aramaic.6

This comment by Lieberman is along the same line of reasoning with a Latin work called the Ambrosiastor text. If we link these two pieces, then Aramaic was the central problem. This conclusion provides a compelling alternative to the Hebrew instruction theory. However, Hebrew instruction has a little bit more substantiation, but not decisively. I put it at 55-45 for Hebrew.

It is a confusing triangle of languages. The reader must be aware of this.

How it evolved in the Church

The Epiphanius text believed the practice of instruction and reading in Hebrew was still being performed in the earliest Corinthian Church. Yet there is one difference between Paul’s exhortation and two hundred years or so later to the time of Rav Shila–during Paul’s time a teacher instructing in Hebrew could provide his own translation.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.7

Rabbinic tradition during Rav Shila’s time did not allow for a person to translate their own speech. Someone else was obligated to do the translation.

On the other hand as one reads on in the I Corinthians letter, Paul prefers that when someone speaks in a foreign language before the assembly of believers that a third-party interpreter/expositor be utilized.

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.8

As to Hebrew being the language of instruction, it probably died within the first forty years after the founding of the assembly of Corinth—maybe even earlier. The Jewish revolt and Rome’s sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD led to a widespread distrust of anything relating to anyone belonging to the Jewish race. Any symbols or practices would have been less apparent or even removed for fear of anti-Jewish sentiments especially in a major Roman-ruled city such as Corinth. This was even more apparent under the emperorship of Domitian (81–96 AD), “where there was scarcely a Jew to be seen (in the Roman Empire) during his reign.”9 He also sought to destroy all the family members of the Davidic line in order to maintain perpetual control.10

The fateful decision to excommunicate the entire Jewish-Christian movement by the decree called the Birkat ha-Minim11 from the Jewish world somewhere around 90 AD also may have accelerated the loss of the Hebrew language and Jewish identity in the fledgling movement.

The changing demographic influenced the removal of Hebrew as well. The common Greek adherents began to quickly outnumber the Jewish ones in all the assemblies. An anonymous early text covering II Corinthians claims believed this happened around 100 AD.12

Afterwards, Greek took over Hebrew as the primary language in the church. Saul Lieberman asserted this in his findings. He referred to a church in Scythopolis—especially focusing on a man name Procopius. Procopius lived during the late 200s (AD). Scythopolis was a Greek populated city slightly below the Sea of Galilee and a little west of the Jordan river. Today it is known as Bet She’an. He explains that the the roles of speakers and interpreters continued in the church, albeit in a slightly different form.

On the other hand, Eusebius informs us that Procopius was (around 286) a Reader and Interpreter from Greek into Aramaic in the church of Scythopolis. In the Hellenized town of Scythopolis it was necessary to render a Greek passage in Aramaic before the people could understand it! But Zahn is quite right in his remark that whereas the Biblical lessons, the liturgy and the sermons in the church of Scythopolis were in Greek, there was need of an Aramaic translator for the benefit of the peasants who attended the church. Probably even the peasants knew the limited practical everyday vocabulary of Greek, but explanations by an interpreter (תרגומן) in the mother-tongue of the masses were quite welcome. [/note]

Lieberman refers to an author named Zahn on this topic. The original quote and text from Zahn has not been located. Fortunately, and more important, the actual Eusebius text is available and narrates about Procopius:

His family was from Baishan; and he ministered in the orders of the Church in three things :–First, he had been a Reader; and in the second order he translated from Greek into Aramaic; and in the last, which is even more excellent than the preceding, he opposed the powers of the evil one, and the devils trembled before him.13

It is not clear whether Procopius translated homilies given in Greek into Aramaic during the service, or performed this function for other needs. However, the overall structure appears to support that he was a translator for the homily done in Greek.

A female traveller named Egeria provides an important piece to the puzzle. She lived in the late 300s AD and made a pilgrimage to Israel and surrounding areas. She came from Europe, but it is unknown exactly where. Neither does anyone know who she came with, or how she was funded. All that exists today is a portion of her letters which contains important information about early christian worship in Israel. Her work is called Peregrinatio or Itinerarium Egeriae. In it she wrote:

3. Now, forasmuch as in that province some of the people know both Greek and Syriac, while some know Greek alone and others only Syriac; and because the bishop, although he knows Syriac, yet always speaks Greek, and never Syriac, there is always a priest standing by who, when the bishop speaks Greek, interprets into Syriac, that all may understand what is being taught.

4. And because all the lessons that are read in the church must be read in Greek, he always stands by and interprets them into Syriac, for the people’s sake, that they may always be edified. Moreover, the Latins here, who understand neither Syriac nor Greek, in order that they be not disappointed, have (all things) explained to them, for there are other brothers and sisters knowing both Greek and Latin, who translate into Latin for them.14

She clearly demonstrated that the church indeed had inherited the ancient practice of speakers/interpreters. She also reinforced that Greek was the primary language. Aramaic (called Syriac in her text) was secondary while Hebrew had no place in this paradigm. Egeria’s description also substantiates Procopius as an official interpreter in this rite.

Do the Jews still practice these rites in synagogues today?

The public reading of Hebrew is still practised and, furthermore, is part of the traditional rite of Jewish children moving into adulthood.

The interpreter has a different trajectory. The interpreter, known in Hebrew as the Meturgamen later became an odious name. Those who held such an office took too much liberty for their own gain. A Jewish work called, Ecclesiastes Rabbah compiled somewhere between the sixth-to-eighth centuries of earlier sources, remarked about the abuse of the interpreter’s office.

It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man than for a man to hear the song of the fools. Because a man who hears the song of fools is better than the meturgamens who raise their voices in song for the people to be entertained.15

The office was phased out, but it is not known exactly when, though it is assumed somewhere around the sixth-century.

Conclusion

If one takes face-value the information provided, Paul was referencing the the one who speaks in a tongue as one teaching or lecturing in Hebrew. The interpreter was the speaker or another person familiar with both Hebrew and the target language, translating it on the fly. Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 14:13 that a person who speaks in a foreign unnamed tongue should himself interpret it. I Corinthians 14:28 outlines two conditions that govern whether a teacher should refrain from teaching. We will assume once again he is thinking about Hebrew here, though it is not listed in his actual text. Firstly, if the teacher speaking in Hebrew is not familiar with the local language and cannot translate it himself. The second is when a third party familiar with both Hebrew and the local language is not available to translate. The teacher should remain silent.

This was the environment Paul was up against in writing his letter to the Corinthians. It was a church composed of Jewish-Hebrew, Jewish-Aramaic, Jewish-Greek, and non-Jewish Greek members. It was a time where all things of religious faith were allowed to be reexamined, especially in the context of Jewish tradition; what rituals were to be included from previous liturgical traditions, what were to be removed, and what new traditions should be started. The Jewish tradition was the underlying base. The Church was both restorative to the ancient Jewish identity but forward looking at the same time. It was more inclusive of many different ethnic groups and practices. Paul seemed unconcerned about the language issue itself but wanted to maintain some type of order so that all these different language speaking groups could operate cohesively together.

If one reads the Pauline passage with the idea of Hebrew or Aramaic as the language of instruction and understands the Jewish structure of speaking and interpretation in Jewish tradition as outlined in this series, the text is clearly understood. It is not a mystical out-of-this-world experience but the re-imaging of Jewish structure in a newly established branch of Judaism.■

The Public Reader, the Synagogue, and Corinth

A detailed look into the Jewish rite of reading, speaking, interpreting. Practices that set the liturgical framework for the Corinthian and later churches.

This article specifically dwells on the role of the reader in the Jewish synagogue. Another article The Public Reader in the Church, explains how the early church transformed the rite into a Greek Christian one.

The Gift of Tongues Project devoted significant time and resources connecting the Hebrew public reader simultaneously being translated into the local vernacular as the correct interpretation of the tongues of Corinth.

The Jewish rite of reading parallels closely with the office of instruction. The two offices seem to overlap. This study reveals a rich history of the public reader from 500 BC; the transition from Jewish to a Greek custom.

The first public reader, Ezra the Scribe

The oldest Jewish text that attests to such a rite allegedly can be traced to Ezra the Scribe around 450 BC. It is found in the Biblical Book of Nehemiah chapter 8:

1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

2So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.1 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand.2 And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed3 the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear4 and giving the meaning5 so that the people understood6 what was being read.7

A detailed look at the Hebrew text of Nehemiah

The text described Ezra the Scribe reading from a podium along with what appears to be a third party explaining what he read in terms the audience could understand. A number of key Hebrew words develop this inquiry even further;

  • בין, bin, understanding, or teaching
  • פרש peresh, give meaning, explain, or translate and
  • שֶׂכֶל shekel, a synonym to בין comprehend, apply common sense.

The use of בין, bin, is troublesome. It is used in the Nehemiah text in two distinct ways — to understand, and to instruct. Modern Hebrew restricts its usage only to mean to understand, which makes it difficult for those knowing modern Hebrew to discern the nuances here. The contemporary language does not give any sense of instructing, translating, or explaining. This is not the case in this much earlier writing.

The text itself is not entirely clear. Does it mean that Ezra spoke in Hebrew and a translator translated in Aramaic? Or were the people uneducated about Jewish law and life and needed an intermediary to amplify the text so that they could understand it? As discussed in The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World the emphasis was on education, not language. However, many later sources of Jewish literature understood this text as emphasizing language.

We will follow the traditional perception of Ezra’s message establishing Hebrew as the language of law and life with the immediate translation into the common vernacular.

The word instructing found later on in the Book of Nehemiah states the lay audience Ezra spoke to did not know Hebrew; the majority knew Aramaic and the rest other foreign languages.8 Therefore the people who heard the reading of the Law were incapable of understanding Hebrew. The great eleventh-century Rabbi, Rashi, commented upon the idea of the Levites instructing מְבִינִים, mivinim, as a case of interpreting the Hebrew words into the common vernacular.9 Therefore בין, bin, must be understood as teaching or instructing within this context.

The complicated word פרש.

The Nehemiah text then shortly after uses פרש parash as a synonym to בין, bin. Parash usually means to make clear, explain or translate. It is important to look at the era that Nehemiah was written in to support the idea of translation.10 Internal evidence from the Book of Ezra 4:18 uses a similar verbal form which correlates with the word translation or interpret. Modern Hebrew understands the word as interpret as well.

פרש does not denote a word-for-word translation but can be amplified, a springboard for an extended lecture in the target language, and a platform for personal gain. This caused many later problems in the synagogue rite that needed to be rectified.

The eminent Hebraist and author of the Hebrew New Testament, Franz Delitzsch probably understood פרש in this manner too. He consistently translated the word interpret and variants in I Corinthians 14 as פרש peresh11 and I agree with this choice. Unless more detailed information arrives, the noun פרש peresh, and its variants, was more likely the one Paul had in mind.

This word also serves as the base for פרשה parashah or its plural, parashot or parashyiot notes a formal section (mainly a paragraph) of the Biblical Hebrew text.

Fortunately, we do not encounter this word as a grammatical construct in this context.

The ongoing tradition of the Reader/Translator

Ezra

The following precepts were established from the time of Ezra:

  • A reader to read from the original Hebrew text from a specially built podium for this rite

  • the speaking of Hebrew and a third party, which is here defined as the Levites, translating or explaining the reading in the common vernacular of the audience

  • the people hearing the reading and translation are to respond with an amen.

The Hebrew Reader and Interpreter in the Talmud

The next substantial mention of the liturgy of Hebrew being read and a third party standing beside the reader and simultaneously translating it into the common vernacular can be found in the fourth-century and later Babylonian Talmud.

Talmud Megillah 9a to 24b have scattered references to this and allude to the history of the reading of the Bible in the Jewish liturgy. They demonstrate the tensions between the use of Hebrew and its adaptation to Jewish communities of different linguistic natures. The resolutions are uneven in application but do show some general evolution.

Talmud Babli Megillah 9a

This passage declares that the Books of Scripture may be written in any language, but then later stipulates that it can only be translated into Greek and no other language. The text further states that King Ptolemy, a non-Jewish Greek ruler, legislated a Greek translation in the third century BC, which means the Jewish sages had no choice but to sanctify it and therefore the writing goes on to mythologize this. It also legislated that whatever language the liturgical prayers were originally written in, must stay in their original language.12

Talmud Babli Megillah 17a

The quotation from below is from the Mishnah, which is an older text inside the Talmud Babli and can be traced often to the second-century. The author(s) here cover the subject of reading in Hebrew — its primary usage in the liturgy and should be practiced even if a person doesn’t understand it. The problem appears a difficult one for the Jewish sages as they contradict themselves here. They conclude that hearing or reading in Hebrew, even if it is not understood, is a religious obligation that morally must be observed.

MISHNAH. If one reads the Megillah backwards, he has not performed his obligations. If he reads it by heart, if he reads it in a translation [Targum] in any language, he has not performed his obligation. It may, however, be read to those who do not understand Hebrew in a language other than Hebrew. If one who does not understand Hebrew hears it read in Hebrew, he has performed his obligation. If one reads it with breaks or while half-asleep, he has performed his obligation.13

The Rabbinic discussion proceeds further on this passage, which is not quoted here, struggling with the idea of Hebrew having such a high standing and how the Jewish faith could extend into the non-Jewish vernacular. They concluded that Hebrew was to be used in reading or recitation but the holy language extended no further. The common vernacular could be used in the common prayers, and thus other liturgical rites.

Megillah 21b

This section covers the rules of translating the Scriptures into the common vernacular. It concluded that the Torah must only have one reader and one translator for ensuring that the importance of the text is understood. The prophets are considered less important and are given one reader, and two simultaneous translators. The reading of the Talmud had little or no restrictions on the amount of readers or simultaneous translators. The amount of readers and translators, depending on the importance of the text, increased for entertainment purposes. The art of reading or translating together in harmony was like hearing a choir.

A Tanna stated: This is not the case with [the public reading of] the Torah. Our Rabbis taught: As regards the Torah, on reads and one translates, and in no case must one read and two translate [together]. As regards the Prophets, one reads and two translate, but in no case may two read and two translate. As regards Hallel and the Megillah, even ten may read [and ten may translate]. What is the reason? Since the people like it, they pay attention and hear.14

This may have been a later addition to the religious liturgy. Paul established that each one must speak or translate in turn (I Cor. 14:27). He did not want a cacophony of voices at the same time.

Megillah 23b

It explains that the reader is not to read less than three verses on any occasion, but while reading, should stop at each verse so that the translator can keep in rhythm.15

The reader is not to skip verses in the Torah, but can skip in the prophets.

There is more to the Megillah about reading and translating, such as age and physical requirements but it does not relate to the Corinthian context, so it is not listed here.

Nedarim 37b

Nedarim 37b is difficult to understand, even with explanations from ancient commentators. This reference is included because it is quoted by Bernard Spolsky, Professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He cited Nedarim 37b as evidencein his article, Jewish Multilingualism in the First Century to support the roles of Hebrew as a religious language and Aramaic as the mother tongue. His assertion about Nedarim 37b is in context to the Ezra passage found in Nehemiah 8:

In its explanation of this passage (T.B. Nedarim 37b), the Talmud interprets this last verse to refer to the institution of the practice of the Targum, the reciting of an Aramaic translation after the public reading of each Biblical Hebrew verse. (T.B. Nedarim 37b). It is possible that it refers to a translation into any language; it might also refer to an interpretation given in more colloquial language. Even if the practice did not in fact start this early, it is certain that within a few centuries the Aramaic translation and interpretation that accompanied the public reading of the Written Law was firmly established, making clear that in the course of time most of the inhabitants of Palestine, including presumably many who spoke Hebrew, used Aramaic as a lingua franca.16

Maimonides

The concept takes us to the twelfth century Rabbi, scholar, and physician, Maimonides (also known as Rambam). He is considered one of the most influential and revered Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages. If one reads his works, it is easy to see why he has been given such a high status. He synthesized the idea of the reader/interpreter into a cohesive form. His coverage of this topic can be found in Mishneh Torah: Book of Love: Order or Prayers (Hilkot Tefilah chapter 12). He copiously wrote in detail on the subject, though most if it does not directly connect with the Church of Corinth. There are two themes that do have a connection:

The Amen construct

Each one of the readers opens the Torah scroll and looks at the place from which he is to read. Afterwards, he declares, Barchu et Ado-nai hamevorach, and all the people answer: Baruch Ado-nai hamevorach le’olam va’ed. He then recites the blessing:

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah. Blessed are You, God, the Giver of the Torah.

All the people respond: “Amen.” Afterwards, he reads until he completes the reading, rolls the scroll [closed] and recites the blessing:17

Both Paul and Maimonides agree that the amen is part of the Jewish liturgy but disagree on how it is to be used. Paul emphasized that an intermediary between the speaker and the congregation, the ἀναπληρῶνanaplêrôn, was to say the amen on behalf of the congregation. The term anaplêrôn is unique to Paul’s writing.

See The mysterious Anaplêrôn of I Corinthians 14:16 for more information.

The fifth-century Alexandrian Church called the person who occupied the position of anaplêrôn18 as keimenos19 — one who takes homiletic exegesis or highly articulate language and explains it in such a way that the average person could understand. The anaplêrôn would say amen as a way of ending whatever explanation was required. If the anaplêrôn did not understand what was being said, he could not then convert it into common vernacular and therefore would be unable to say the amen. Maimonides, on the other hand, believed the amen was to be done by the congregation itself at the ending of a reading. This may be a later evolution of this rite since Paul’s time.

On speaking and interpreting

Maimonides believed that the synagogue liturgy of reading from Hebrew with a third-party translator interpreting the reading into the local vernacular was an established fact since the time of Ezra.

From the time of Ezra, it was customary that a translator would translate to the people the [passages] read by the reader from the Torah, so that they would understand the subject matter.20

The office of the interpreter in Jewish liturgy

The Aramaic word for interpreter in the Talmud Megillah and commentaries associated with it is is מתרגם meturgem in the singular and מתרגמין meturgemin in the plural. The plural is used more often. English language has resolved this office to be called the meturgamen. The early history of this word is not known except that it was extensively used from the third century onwards in Aramaic circles. The torah.org website covers the twofold usage of the interpreter in a clear way:

There were two types of Merturgemans (translators/interpreters). The first is the kind who stood by the Torah reader in the synagogue and translated into Aramaic as the reader read, verse by verse. It is mentioned dozens of times in the Talmud; once the Jews were exiled to Babylon, their vernacular was Aramaic – only the scholars and elders spoke or understood Hebrew. Thus to make Torah reading understandable, it was translated. In the same way, the Meturgeman would also sit by the Rabbi in the synagogue or the study hall. When the Rabbi would share words of Torah with the congregation or with his students, he would speak quietly in Hebrew and the trans. would repeat his words in Aramaic.21

The Jewish Encylopedia further adds:

The weekly lesson from the Pentateuch and the Prophets was read by a member of the congregation, and the meturgeman had to translate into the vernacular the Pentateuchal lesson verse by verse; from the Prophets he translated three verses at a time. While the reader of the Hebrew text was forbidden to recite by heart, the meturgeman was not permitted to read his translation from a book, or to look at the Hebrew text when translating, in order that the people should not think that the translation was contained in the text. The meturgeman was also forbidden to raise his voice higher than that of the reader of the text. He did not limit himself to a mere literal translation, but dilated upon the Biblical contents, bringing in haggadic elements, illustrations from history, and references to topics of the day. This naturally required much time, to gain which the weekly lesson had to be short, so that the Pentateuch was finished only in a cycle of three or three and one-half years; while the portion from the Prophets was frequently abbreviated.

The free handling of the text, which frequently changed the translation into a sermon or homily, gave the meturgeman ample opportunity to introduce his subjective views into the lesson; and with the multiplication of sects this became distasteful to the Rabbis. The increase in the opposition to the meturgeman led to the fixation of the Targumim and to the demand that the meturgeman keep strictly to mere translation. But a mere translation satisfied neither the public, who had known the text from early school-days, nor the meturgeman, who was deprived of an opportunity to parade his knowledge and to display his oratorical gifts. As a consequence the “darshan,” or preacher, was introduced; and the literal translation fell gradually into disuse.22

The problem of the meturgamen taking too much liberty in their expositions may have reflected a problem that Paul was earlier dealing with.

The Jewish Encyclopedia does not demonstrate what sources were used to show the disuse of the meturgeman and switch to the darshan.

The same article in the Jewish Encyclopedia believed the original term for interpreter was מבין, maven. This word declined and gave way to the use of meturgeman. This may be true but it lacks sufficient documentation as well.

Another word used for translator/interpreter was אמורא Amora—well, not exactly. Amora refers to the Jewish scholars from 200 to 500 AD. They are expounders of the laws, edicts, and ethics created by the earlier Jewish authorities. They also represented the academies of Jewish learning throughout the Aramaic speaking world. One of the traditions of the Amora was to speak in Hebrew while another Amora would spontaneously translate it into Aramaic.

The Amora would not have been used during Paul’s time because the office did not exist yet.

Was Paul’s reference to speaking in tongues the public reading of Scripture in Hebrew?

The reader/interpreter part of the liturgy may have existed in the earliest Corinthian Church which Paul attended, but this does not appear to be the central thrust of his concern.

Rather, the Corinthian references to tongues matches the Jewish rite of instruction. Aramaic Judaism, along with evidence from a commentary by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, and further examinations of the interplay between Greek and Hebrew languages in the Jewish world, best supports this theory.

If Paul was emphasizing this to be a problem of liturgical reading, his word choice selection would have been different. The noun reader or the verb read can’t be found anywhere in the key-text. Paul wouldn’t have used the verb to speak such as found in I Corinthians 14:1 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ, the one who speaks in a language in reference to a reader. He would have used something similar to ἀναγιγνώσκων anaginôskôn instead. Therefore the Corinthian problem being that of liturgical reading of the text in Hebrew was not the problem — at least according to the Epiphanius’ text.

What does this all mean?

The use of Hebrew in certain Jewish customs was required, even if the audience didn’t understand it. It was also to be used in the diaspora. The examples given above are in the Aramaic diaspora, but the principles would have applied to Greek Judaism as well.

The case is made that there is a correlation between Paul’s reference to speaking in tongues and Jewish liturgy. The idea of speakers and interpreters and the Amen construct while publicly reading in Hebrew are very close to Paul’s narrative. The Jewish sources show a smoking gun, but do not supply definitive evidence. The research so far proves we are heading in the right direction. The narrative of the public speaker is an interesting one and at least one highly influential church father believed this was the gift of tongues spoken by Paul.

One of the most important points to remember is that the ancient Jewish texts clearly outline the establishment of Hebrew as the primary language of public reading in any assembly outside of Israel major. This would have been an important factor with the initial assembly of Corinth. The lack of Hebrew would have been a serious source of conflict between Paul and the Hellenistic Jews who strongly argued that he had compromised Judaism too much in his theological views.

The details about how the public reader transformed and evolved in the church, along with detailed information about why Thomas Aquinas believed it was the gift of tongues is found in the next article: The Public Reader in the Church

Pachomius Receiving the Gift of Tongues in English and Greek

The following is a translation from Greek on Pachomius receiving the gift of tongues. The actual Greek copy is found below the English translation.

Pachomius on the Gift of Tongues which he received

English Translation

As found in: Pachomian Koinonia. Cistercian Studies: Number 46. Volume 2. Translated by Arnand Veilleux. Kalamazoo, Michigan. Cistercian Publications Inc. Pg. 51-52.

About the Roman [brother].

It happened also that the Blessed Man was visiting the brothers in their cells and correcting the thoughts of each one. He came also to a certain Roman [brother], coming from a great family, who also knew the Greek language well. the Great Man, coming to him to admonish him for his profit and to know the movement of his heart, spoke to him in Egyptian. The brother did not understand what he told him; nor did the Great Man know what the Roman [brother] said, because he did not know Greek. So the Great Man was compelled to call a brother who could interpret what they both said. But when the interpreter came, The Roman [brother] did not want to tell the Great Man the faults of his heart through another person. He said, ‘I want only you after God, and nobody else, to know the evils of my heart’. Hearing this, the Great Man ordered the interpreter to withdraw and he made a sign with his hand to the Roman [brother] to wait until he came back to him.

The Blessed Man left him and went to pray by himself. Stretching out his hands to heaven, he prayed to God, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if I cannot profit the men whom you send to me from the ends of the earth because I do not know the languages of men, what need is there for them to come? If you want to save them here through me, grant, O Master, that I may know their languages for the correction of their souls.’

He prayed for three hours, entreating God earnestly for this. Suddenly something like a letter written on a piece of papyrus was sent from heaven into his right hand. Reading it, he learned the speech of all the languages. Having sent up praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he came back to that brother with great joy, and began to converse with him faultlessly in Greek and Latin. When that brother heard it, he said that the Great Man surpassed all the scholars in that language. After correcting the brother as was required, and determining the penance corresponding to his faults, he commended him to the Lord and left him.

Original Greek Text

As found in: Sancti Pachomii Vitae Graecae. Subsidia Hagiographica 19. Francisici Halkin S.I. ed. Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes. 1932. Pg. 154-155.

Περὶ τοῦ ῾Ρωμαίου.

Ἐγένετο δὲ πάλιν τὸν μακάριον ἐν τοῖς κελλίοις ἐπισκεπτόμενον τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἐπανορθούμενον ἑκάστου τὰ νοήματα παραβαλεῖν καὶ πρὸς ῾Ρωμαῖόν τινα ἀπὸ μεγάλου ἀξιώματος τυγχάνοντα, εἰδοτα καὶ τὴν ἑλληνικὴν γλῶτταν καλῶς. Ἐλθὼν οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ μέγας ἐπὶ τὸ νουθετῆσαι αὐτὸν πρὸς ὠφέλειαν καὶ γνῶναι αὐτοῦ τῆς καρδίας τὰ κινήματα, αἰγυπτιστὶ ἐλάλει αὐτῷ ὁ μέγας• οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν δὲ ὁ ἀδελφὸς τί ἐλάλει αὐτῷ• οὐδὲ ὁ μέγας ᾔδει τί ἔλεγεν ὁ ῾Ρωμαῖος, διὰ τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι ἑλληνιστί τὸν μακάριον. Ἠναγκάσθη οὔν ὁ μέγας καλέσαι ἀδελφὸν τὸν δυνάμενον ἑρμηνεῦσαι τὰ παρ᾽ἀμφοτέρων λεγόμενα. Ἐλθόντος δὲ τοῦ ἑρμηνέως, οὐκ ἠβούλετο ὁ ᾽Ρωμαῖος τὰ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ πλημμελήματα δι᾽ἑτέρου εἰπεῖν τῷ μεγάλῳ• καὶ λέγει οὔτως• « Σὲ μόνον Βούλομαι μετὰ Θεὸν τῶν τῆς καρδίας μου κακῶν γνώστην εἶναι, καὶ οὐχ ἕτερόν τινα. » Ἀκούσας δὲ ταῦτα ὁ μέγας ἐκέλευσεν ἀναχωρῆσαι τὸν ἑρμηνέα• καὶ νεύσας αὐτῷ τῇ χειρὶ ἐκδέξασθαι ἕως οὖ ἀπέλθῃ πρὸς αὐτόν, καταλείψας αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθεν προσεύξασθαι πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ὁ μακάριος• καὶ ἐκτείνας τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν προσηύξατο πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν λέγων• « Κύριε παντοκράτωρ, εἰ οὐ δύναμαι ὠφελῆσαι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους οὕς ἀποστέλλεις πρός με ἀπὸ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς διὰ τὸ ἀγνοεῖν με τὰς γλώσσας τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τίς χρεία παραγενέσθαι αὐτούς ; Εἰ θέλεις σῶσαι αὐτοὺς ἐνταῦθα δι᾽ἐμοῦ, δός μοι, δέσποτα, πρὸς διόρθωσιν τῶν ψυχῶν αὐτῶν εἰδέναι με τὴν ὁμιλίαν αὐτῶν. » Καὶ ἐπὶ ὥρας τρεῖς προσευχομένου αὐτοῦ καὶ πολλὰ παρακαλοὺντος τὸν Θεὸν περὶ τούτου, ἄφνω ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατεπέμφθη ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ τῇ δεξιᾷ ὡς ἐπιστόλιον χάρτινον γεγραμμένον• καὶ ἀναγνοὺς αὐτὸ ἔμαθεν πασῶν τῶν γλωσσῶν τὰς λαλιάς. Καὶ δόξαν ἀναπέμψας τῷ πατρὶ καὶ τῷ υἱῷ καὶ τῷ ἁγίῷ πνεύματι, μετὰ χαρᾶς μεγάλης ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐκεῖνον• καὶ ἤρξατο αὐτῷ διαλέγεσθαι καὶ ἑλληνιστὶ καὶ ῥωμαϊστὶ ἀπταίστως, ὥστε τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἀκούσαντα λέγειν περὶ τοῦ μεγάλου ὅτι πάντας ὑπερβάλλει τοὺς σχολαστικοὺς εἰς τὴν διάλεκτον. Διορθωσάμενος οὖν αὐτὸν καθὼς ἔδει καὶ ὑπὲρ τῶν πλημμεληθέντων αὐτῷ μετάνοιαν προσήκουσαν ὁρίσας αὐτῷ, παραθέμενος αὐτὸν τῷ Κυρίῳ ἐξῆλθεν ἀπ᾽αὐτοῦ.

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.

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

The arguments on both sides rest on ancient sources and linguistics. Therefore, it is necessary to take a further look into the subject matter. Continue reading A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism

Jacob the min

While reading and researching the Talmud Babli Megillah on the role of the reader in ancient Jewish worship, an unexpected name came up – Jacob the min, or in Hebrew, יעקב מינא (Talmud Mas. Megillah 23b)

Min or minim is a controversial word coined by leaders in the Jewish community about groups or persons that strained or threatened normative Jewish customs. Another word for minim in English may be heretics, but this may be too restrictive. The early Jewish Christians were the predominant target with this term.

He has been mentioned before in the Tosefta Chullin 2g, and a number of other Jewish writings where he is identified as being a faith-healer.

Tosefta Chullin 2g has been translated by Travis Hereford in his book, “Christianity in Talmud and Midrash” :

“The case of R. Eleazar ben Damah, whom a serpent bit. There came in Jacob, a man of Chephar Sama, to cure him in the name of Jeshua ben Pandira, but R. Ishmael did not allow it. He said, Thou art not permitted, Ben Damah. He said, I will bring thee a proof that he may heal me. But he had not finished bringing a proof when he died. R. Ishmael said, Happy art thou, Ben Damah, for thou hast departed in peace, and hast not broken through the ordinances of the wise ; for upon every one who breaks through the fence of the wise, punishment comes at last, as it is written [Eccl. x. 8]: Whoso breaketh a fence a serpent shall bite him.”

When I look at this quote more closely, the translation “in the name of Jeshua ben Pandira”, causes some difficulty. Pandira is a variation of the Latin last name given to Joseph’s father. This copy does not exist in the original Talmudic text supplied by the Judaic Classics Library (published by Davka). There must be a reason for this but it is not presently known. If one holds together other references of Jacob the min, and supposes that the problem text of Pandira is true, Jacob was a follower of Christ.

Also there is no Tos. Hullin 2:22-23 as Hereford identified. He must have been using another reference system, as it is Tosefta Chullin 2g or as some may call it 2.6 (Some write Chullin as Hullin).

Jacob lived, according to Travis Hereford around 130 AD (Page. 103), but Talmud Megillah 23b recorded him having a discussion with Rabbi Judah haNasi, who flourished around the early part of the 2nd century. So it is hard to peg Jacob the min’s actual date.

One can’t assume that this is the same person either, but the evidence tends to lean towards the same individual.

Jacob the min must have been an important contributor to Judaism during this time period.

It makes one wonder, if Jacob the min appears here, how many more undocumented places does he appear?

About the reading of the Law, the Rabbi’s included Jacob the min’s question.

“Jacob the Min asked R. Judah: What do the six of the Day of Atonement represent? — He replied: The six who stood at the right of Ezra and the six who stood at his left, as it says, And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood which they had made for the purpose…” (Megillah 23a Soncino Talmud)

This text does not directly comment on the public reading of the Law, but is part of a much larger discussion on it. It is amazing that Jacob the min, a Jewish believer, was allowed to be part of the discussion. It must have been a rite important to the Jewish Messianic community too.

A controversial 5th or so century manuscript with portions that may be dated earlier, The Apostolic Constitutions, reinforced the fact that the Church had continued the rite established by Ezra on the reading of Scripture:

“I Matthew, also known as Levi, at one time a tax collector, make a process to select a reader by laying hands upon him, praying to God, let him say, “O God, the everlasting, great in mercy and in compassion the one who hast made manifest the constitution of the world by Thy operations therein, and the number of elect you preserve, to him also now upon your servant being entrusted to read out your holy Scriptures to your people, and give to him your Holy Spirit, the prophetic Spirit. The One instructed Ezra your servant for the purpose to read aloud Your Laws to Your people…”

This is important to know as I get further into the role of the public reader and interpreter in the Church at Corinth.