Tag Archives: Judaism

Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

A look at the problem tongues of Corinth being an internal linguistic struggle between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

This is part 2 of an 7 part series on the mystery tongues of Corinth. Part 1, The Role of Hebrew in the Jewish Aramaic World, covered how Hebrew became the language of religion and worship in Aramaic Judaism. The precedence about Hebrew established here transferred over to Jews living in a Greek world.

When you add that the ancient synagogue liturgy of Hebrew as the language of instruction was adopted in the Corinthian assembly, then we are getting close to finding a good answer to the question of Corinthian tongues.

This conclusion is greatly strengthened by a fourth-century church father by the name of Epiphanius. He did not stop at explaining the tongues of Corinth as being a problem of Hebrew instruction. He further commented it was a linguistic conflict between Doric, Aeolic, and Attic Greeks.

Continue reading Greek, Hellenic Judaism and the problem tongues of Corinth

Introductory Notes on the Gift of Tongues Project

The goal of the Gift of Tongues Project is find as many historic texts on the subject as possible, digitize them, translate, and provide a commentary.

The fourfold purpose of the Gift of Tongues Project:

  1. Identify and collate any ancient literature on the subject

    Large portions of ancient literature on this topic has been ignored, forgotten, or unresearched. This absence has negatively affected this whole subject and has led to erroneous conclusions.

  2. To provide the original sources in digital format

    All the pertinent texts found are digitized in the original language. All the material provided is at your digital fingertips and can be accessed in a matter of seconds. This has taken years to build. The database is provided free of charge and validates any conclusions made on this site.

  3. To provide the texts in English

    There never has been a substantial amount of ecclesiastical writings translated into English. My guess is less than 20%. Many translations are abridged, condensed, old English, or dynamically translated. The lack of English translations and problems associated with the existing ones have negatively affected the tongues debate. The supplying of English texts has become one of the greatest ambitions of this project.

  4. Trace the evolution of the tongues doctrine from its inception until now.

    This is a difficult task. There has been many twists and turns throughout the centuries.

Why study this topic?

Defining and understanding the christian doctrine of tongues is a big challenge. This has been one of the most difficult unsolved issues in the realm of Protestant, and lesser of Catholic, Christianity for the last 120 years. This also was a big motivation for the author to uncover this mystery.

Why has it remained unresolved so long? The answer is ignorance of the ancient records.

There is a litany of important ecclesiastical documents on the christian doctrine of tongues that have been left out of the story. This is because of three problems: first, few have studied or read the doctrine of tongues in the original texts — a lengthy examination demonstrates there are many critical historical texts on the subject that have never been utilized. Secondly, the lack of translations in English or any other contemporary language of ancient source texts has led to the assumption that history was silent on the subject, when it really wasn’t. Third, the last two hundred years of scholarly study have relegated church literature to the realm of myth, and considered an invalid source for serious inquiry. In doing so, they denied ecclesiastical literature its proper place in the tongues discussion. Thus, they came to an altogether different conclusion that obscured the traditional one. This ignorance of the historic record has led many to erroneous positions on the christian doctrine of tongues.

The Gift of Tongues Project started as a personal journey, and ends as a scholarly one. It was initially designed to prove the charismatic experience as correct and also as a mystical apologetic to the world that God does indeed exist. It then switched into a I really don’t care at all feeling. It felt petty to consume so much time to figure out when abject poverty, loss, pain, and violence daily surrounds us. However, the intellectual challenge is just too hard to resist.

The challenge of uncovering the christian doctrine of tongues is a complex mixture of theology, ancient religious rites, languages, cultures, Judaism, social movements, psychology and ancient Greek life. This combination makes a great playground for the historical theology process used in processing all this information. The various genres mixed together requiring a solution keeps me continually involved in the subject. I like the world of literature, texts, manuscripts, language and thought that this subject opens up.

The Gift of Tongues Project is a hobby — one that gave me the reason to keep my acquired Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac languages, along with the later learned Latin, intact. It also was a great distraction from the busyness of my day. While most watch television at night, I am frequently scanning volumes of Migne Patrologia Graeca or Latina, or other ancient works looking for signs.

The initial assumption was little or no literature existed on the subject. However, this attitude slowly changed. The research began before digital technologies and the internet took off, and so the traditional method of parsing through printed literature was the only option. The place to find ancient literature was at a university library, which for me was the University of Manitoba. It was assumed that the research would be done in a week’s time. Walking down the library’s corridor on Church Father Writings, I randomly pulled out an English translation which happened to be Cyril of Jerusalem. A page was accidentally found describing what foreign languages Peter and John spoke at Pentecost. No Charismatic, Pentecostal, academic, or any other scholar to my knowledge had ever quoted him before. It was a definitive statement that should have set the basis for almost any part of the tongues discussion, but it was completely absent. This started the journey of asking, looking, and finding significantly more texts. It forced the following question — why were so many Church writings missing from the debate? Cyril of Jerusalem’s text faded into the overall inquiry, but the question set the wheels in motion that took many years to unravel.

The wealth of untranslated literature and the labour required to identify, collate, and read is overwhelming. The task is a full-time job for a number of specialists to do over a long-period of time. However, the majority of Pentecostals and almost all Charismatics formally reject intellectual inquiry into substantive issues of faith. There are few capable in this sector with skills in the original languages to take on the task, and absolutely no financial, political, or emotional support exists to explore this issue. Those who are qualified to review such documentation are typically of Catholic background, and the importance of studying this topic has no importance to their communities so they hardly devote any principal resources to answer this question. Modern academics consider the issue irrelevant and have not added anything substantial to the conversation over the last 50 years. These factors have contributed serious ongoing hindrances to a proper study of the doctrine.

Members in the pentecostal or charismatic communities who have ancient language skills or employ a historic theology system of interpretation is faced with a difficult, almost impossible task because they don’t have internal support. This forces the researcher to embark on a charitable project that requires thousands of hours of volunteer effort with little or no encouragement from the community they participate in. The reward is not in financial or personal accolades, but in solving one of the most complex theological issues the last 100 years has to offer.

The most serious challenge was finding the original literature. Thanks to modern technology, this very big obstacle is being overcome. In the past a study of this nature would be almost impossible. Manuscripts and texts that did not belong to Migne Patrologia Graeca or Latina were shelved in monasteries, universities, and other remote locations. Specialized books too were held in reserve. Many were not available through inter-library loan. The circumstance required travelling to these locations to look at the original sources. A visit may require prior authorization because there are no guarantees that the officer in charge of the source material will grant a viewing either. Now, many institutions like the British Museum and the Vatican are posting their manuscripts online for free. Google and Microsoft are also in a race to digitize libraries around the world for public use. This data availability was unheard of even a decade ago and opens a treasure chest of data for anyone who uses the historical theology process. What used to take days or even months of planning, travel, correspondence and cost, can now be done in a matter of seconds.

With this availability a new problem has arisen – the lack of English translations. This circumstance is now the number one problem of defining the historical rite of speaking in tongues.

The study has an urgency because of the revived popularity of this doctrine. The amount of people who engage in or support the modern rite of speaking in tongues are staggering. 584 million people either identify themselves as Pentecostal or Charismatic all across the world – both organizations that emphasize this rite are a central part of their doctrines.1

However, the definition of speaking in tongues by those who practice and promote such a lifestyle is very mysterious and abstract. There is a complete lack of historical evidence to support such a contemporary phenomenon. This absence of historical literature has led to a variety of conclusions and has shaped the modern practice.

The growing popularity of this practice requires a critical evaluation.

How the goals are being accomplished

This project has been ongoing for over two decades now and finally almost near completion. It has accelerated in the last few years due to the innovations offered by the internet. Sites such as Google Books, and Perseus for Greek and Latin Dictionaries, have offered invaluable assistance.

There are many significant passages relating to tongues that have not been found in any popular English translations. The starting point was to look through the massive Migne Patrologia Graeca series which contains Ecclesiastical writings from the second to fifteenth centuries. It had to be sight read. There are no digital versions of this work available.

It is a tedious and time-consuming task. Some patterns and trends are beginning to develop that are different from the contemporary presuppositions on the topic.

Migne’s edition is not always the best text, but served as a springboard to finding the better ones.

The overwhelming amount of information collated and reviewed forced me to ask, Why do we think so differently about it today than they did?

This was an equally challenging question that is dealt with throughout the pages of this project.

This project is not so much a theological journey as it is a historical-critical one. It attempts to traverse through the epochs of tongues expressions by comparing various manuscripts, authors and trends. It also tries to chronologize the passing of the tradition through the centuries.

It is a project that spans over 2000 years of material which demonstrates that the definition has evolved. It aims to document the main contributors and movements over the various epochs of time, what or who influenced the changes, and how these antecedents have influenced our modern religious mindset.

Who this Project is For

  • This project is aimed at an intellectual religious audience familiar with the christian doctrine of tongues.

  • The level of reading difficulty is quite high. A familiarity with the controversy along with the Biblical literature related to it; especially the Book of Acts, Chapter 2 and I Corinthians Chapter 14 is required.

  • This is not purposed as a polemic against any religious group and their practices. Many denominations that have tongues in their statement of theology are positive organizations in their overall Christian life and witness. This is simply a detailed journey using a historic-critical method to graph and analyze the changing definition throughout history. It is up to the reader to apply it in their particular situation.

Apologies for Delving into the Realms of Philosophy (sort of)

Many important pieces of Patristic material are heavily influenced and framed within Greek philosophy. Readers may feel that some coverage may concentrate too much in this aspect, but this was the world that many of the ancient writers lived in. It cannot be ignored or underestimated.

Reconstructing a Framework

Largely due to the persecutions of Christians prior to the fourth-century, the availability of any Christian literature written from inception until 300 AD can be counted on your fingers. Those few address little about speaking in tongues – whispers and ghosts, but nothing substantive.

The fourth-century was the golden age of Church and Jewish literature. Many of the most well-known Christian authors can be traced back to this time. This is where the greatest corpus of literature can initially be found on the subject. Since these documents are around 300 years removed from the events and background that led to the origin and implementation of tongues in the early Church, they cannot be considered the absolute standard. However, these are the best documents available today.

With this in mind, the first objective will be to reconstruct the early Church interpretation based on remnants found in the gilded writers starting around the fourth century.

But this is not enough. As the research will later decidedly demonstrate, the early Church at least in the first century was a Jewish sect, based on Jewish faith and liturgy that crossed the boundaries into a Greek world.

So one must have a thorough combined understanding of Greek philosophy, Jewish underpinnings and the Church Fathers in order to arrive at a complete and thorough understanding of the subject.

This brings on a very apparent and immediate problem – the Graecanization of the Christian faith. Patristic writers liked to trace and explain the Christian movement prior to the fourth century in wholly Greek terms. Ambrose began his explanation of creation referring to Pythagoras. St. Thomas Aquinas had a certain love for the writings of Aristotle. The early Church writer Irenaeous spent a large portion of his writings polemically against the Greek concept of gods.

This was also noted by Harry Gamble in his book, Books and Readers in the Early Church, where he found that many of the Church leaders were converts from a Greek cultured background, “Most Christian writers of the second through fifth centuries were practiced in the rhetorical arts; not a few, Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius and Augustine, for example, were teachers of rhetoric before they entered the Church.”2

Secondly, as admitted by John Chrysostom, the tongues controversy at least in Corinth, had no Greek antecedent, and because he was unaware of the Jewish initial influence, he could not find the solution, “This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts.”3

It is indisputable the sources for both the ancient and modern definitions of the gift of tongues originated in fourth-century.

Another problem about building a framework about the early Church definition and practice from later literature is the amount of source material. It is small — but enough to build a basis for the early Church interpretation of Pentecost and the practice of tongues at Corinth.

Presuppositions and Caveats

The author presupposes the gift of tongues to be a supernatural phenomenon. This is borrowed from the author’s religious outlook. However, just because it was described as a miracle should not cause the researcher to have a closed the mind to the realm of possibilities. The Books of Acts and Corinthians do not provide a level of detail to definitively conclude and so subsequent writings must be analyzed to fill in the gaps.

The GOT Project intends to let the Church Fathers speak on their own terms in relation to the christian doctrine of tongues. The majority of books on this subject attempt to rewrite history to align with their ideology and have a heavy dependance on the small amount of English translations already available. This is a serious handicap on their part – something which the GOT Project attempts to avoid.

A few notes on the translations provided:

  • If a text is ably translated by someone else, this may be used. However, it must be examined first before being published on this site. Experience has shown that the quality of English translations varies. There are translations that are abridged, condensed, amplified or some other problem that one cannot just simply pass them as being true to its antecedent. So a process has been implemented. It is first compared against the original text. If it is not a good translation, it will be re-translated.

  • I have provided many translations myself because of the plethora of ancient texts on the subject that exist only in their original language. Although I have been very tedious in providing professional level translations, there always exists the element of error — though I don’t believe any error would be sufficient to change any conclusion herein. But still the reader must be aware of this reality.

Many modern documents, books, and authors on the gift of tongues lack the necessary citation and/or supply a quote to back-up their claims. In order to separate this research from others that have preceded, there will be a heavy emphasis on both citation and quotation.

How the Church Fathers were Researched

The approach to this project was simply to read as many ancient writings as possible. The subject could come up in an ecclesiastical text on any occasion because most Church writers were allegorists and not literalists. The result was a time-consuming reading and translating regimen that produced very positive finds.

By visually scanning through the image files of the texts, there is a chance that some important citations or subtypes are missed. Even though this is a good possibility, the ones that have been found are substantial enough to draw a definitive conclusion.

How much was looked at? The first 135 of the total 161 volumes of Migne Patrologia Graeca — a large compendium of Church writings from Clement in the 2nd century to the Council of Florence in 1438-39 was visually checked page by page for potential texts. The last 31 of MPG were not checked in such detail. Only the indices were analyzed for chapter headings that were applicable to the subject matter. Migne Patrologia Latina has been consulted but not as thoroughly as MPG. MPL has been digitized and one day will be looked at in further detail. There is no timeline for this.

Language Notes

The majority of the early textual work is concerned with Greek, Latin, and Aramaic with minor samplings of other writings. Syriac literature could have been more prominent but it is restricted due to time limitations.

Why does the study stop in the early 1900s?

The Gift of Tongues Project has revealed so far three important phases in the doctrine of tongues throughout history:

  • the traditional doctrine of miraculously speaking or hearing a foreign language. First to eighteenth-centuries.
  • the change to the doctrine of glossolalia in the nineteenth-century
  • the third mutation to a heavenly language in the twentieth-century

The goal of the project is not to trace every movement from the seventeenth-century onwards, but to follow why the definition had changed. The new definition had stabilized soon after 1906 so it is not necessary to go any further into the genre after that.

Tracing and explaining the modern tongues speaking movements is a topic unto itself and would require its own careful attention. I am not a specialist in pentecostal or charismatic studies and there are many others better equipped to add this part of the story in other materials.

A Short Linguistic Analysis

The initial intention was to do an etymology of the religious word tongues from a literary and linguistic perspective: first it was to discover its usage, various synonyms and potentially finding extra adjectives among the various pieces of Greek literature throughout the centuries. The second stage was to be comparing the Latin, Syriac and later translations.

By doing this, one could theoretically deduce whether tongues was intended to be ecstatic utterances, heavenly or earthly languages or any combination of the three.

As the translation work went on with the Ecclesiastical writers both in the Greek and the Latin, it became wholly clear that this was unnecessary.

The consistent message among the first fourteen centuries clearly demonstrated that it was a human language. This was so strong and clear, there was no reason to defend this. How this human language happened and the mechanics behind this were the sources of debate.

The focus of the project evolved and turned into a Rabbinic form of inquiry. Where did it start, who influenced who, why did it change and when, and how did it evolve to the definition we have today? A map is being developed about the key thinkers and movements who have passed down their doctrines and ideologies on the subject from one generation to another and why it has influenced many to believe what they do today on the subject.

The Gift of Tongues Project is the place to go for all the details on this journey which travels deep into history, language, theology, philosophy, institutional movements, and more.

A Primer for the Evangelical on the Talmud

A complete set of the Talmud Babli

The Talmud is a broad collection of Jewish writings that the majority of evangelical Bible students could easily read and understand. It is very close in the thoughts and methods outlined in the New Testament.

There were quotes that Christ made that paralleled those in the Talmud. This has captured the imagination of many scholars who are looking for more correlations. A long-running argument has gone on as to whether Christ borrowed from earlier traditions, or He actually was the originator of them.

The Talmud is in many ways closer to the epoch of the New Testament than Greek classical writings such as Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras.

Because of this, the Talmud is an invaluable piece of ancient literature for those seeking religious truth.

The Talmud is a very hard collection of books to define. Adin Steinsaltz, in his book, The Essential Talmud, may have the closest thing to defining it:

“The Talmud is the repository of thousands of years of Jewish wisdom, and the oral law, which is as ancient and significant as the written law (the Torah), finds expression therein. It is a conglomerate of law, legend, and philosophy, a blend of unique logic and shrewd pragmatism, of history and science, anecdotes and humor. It is a collection of paradoxes: its framework is orderly and logical, every word and term subjected to meticulous editing, completed centuries after the actual work of composition came to an end; yet it is still based on free association, on a harnessing together of diverse ideas reminiscent of the modern stream-of-consciousness novel. Although its main objective is to interpret and comment on a book of law, it is, simultaneously, a work of art that goes beyond legislation and its practical application.”

There are two distinct versions of the Talmud. The Talmud Babli, which traces its origins back to Babylon, and the Talmud Yerushalmi, which is to the Jerusalem area. The Yerushalmi is much shorter and is used less frequently. The Talmud Babli is the central source for discussion.

The Talmud has two major components. The Mishna — which has its basis around the 2nd century AD, and the Gemara — which was completed around the 5th century. The Gemara is a discussion of the Mishna and a springboard for many other items.

Surrounding these two major components are other commentaries and glosses whose contributions vary from the 6th to 19th centuries.

A typical page with explanations can be found here.

One will see that this page is an art form and a precursor to hyper-texting.

There is no other religious document in the world that details the passing of thought throughout the centuries as the Talmud does.

This introduction is for those new to the Talmud and wanting to explore it in the English language. Here are some places to find good English literature on the subject:

There is a good online site to begin reading in English. It is called Rabbinic Traditions. It may seem overwhelming at the start with so many books, tractates, and other technical goodies listed. Feel free to go anywhere on the site and just read. After a while it will begin to make sense.

The Soncino Talmud contains the majority of the Mishna and the Gemara in English. It can be purchased, or often found for free in various iterations on the internet.

Anything Adin Steinsaltz has written on the Talmud is going to be good, and The Essential Talmud, found at amazon.com, should be on everybody’s library shelf.

A. Cohen’s, Everyman’s Talmud, found at amazon.com covers the Talmud more from a systematic theological point of view. There is a wealth of information here for the Evangelical reader.

If one wants to get a little deeper, the following books are well-written:

Ephraim E. Urbach’s, The Sages: their Concepts and Beliefs, is an incredible piece of scholarship that also integrates Christian writings in certain places as well. It is out-of-print right now, but if you can get your hands on it, it is worth the effort.

Anything written by Jacob Neusner about Jewish writings is going to be excellent. His book, The Oral Torah: The Sacred Books of Judaism, is a good place to start.

Last of all, Gedaliah Alon’s, The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age, mixes more historical references than Urbach but not as theological, is also a classic.

These last three books are an especially must have in any ancient literature buff’s library.