Tag Archives: liturgy

The Public Reader in the Church

The role of the public reader in the earliest diasporan Church, how the language changed over time, and the new problems it created.

The practice of public reading (lector) is found occasionally in the New Testament writings,(1)Luke 4:16, Acts 13:15, I Timothy 4:13 while the Catholic Encyclopedia states that it continued after this period: During the first centuries all the lessons in the liturgy, including the Epistle and Gospel, were read by the lector.”(2)As found at New Advent’s website under Lector

Previous studies found on this blog starting with Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church address the Corinthian liturgical rites in the Church and logically concludes that the public reading and the instruction were given in Hebrew which both required interpreters for the audience to understand. This article identifies the role of the public reader afterwards in the Church and its evolution over the centuries. This is by no means an exhaustive effort but does provide a framework.

The importance of the Public Reader

Literacy throughout the ancient Mediterranean world was small; it is estimated that only 10-15% of the population was literate.(3)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven: Yale University. 1995. Pg. 4 This means that public reading was a necessity.

The Public Reader in Earlier Christian literature

Justin Martyr

The first reference outside of Biblical literature was in the second century AD where Justin Martyr makes a scant reference to the continued existence of the public reader in his writing, Apology:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen;(4)Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. . The Greek can be found at MPG. Vol. 6. S. Justini. Apologia I Pro Christianis. Chapter 67. Col. 429

The text relates to a public reading being done and it very much parallels that of the Jewish rite where one reads and a leader instructs on the contents. Yet this was performed here without the use of a special liturgical language unfamiliar to the laypeople as was practiced in the earliest Corinthian Church.

The Apostolic Constitutions

The Apostolic Constitutions — a writing dated to the fourth or fifth century, but some parts could be much earlier, perhaps late second or third, attests that the Apostle Matthew instituted the office of public reader in the Church based upon the practice first established in the synagogue by Ezra:

Concerning readers, I Matthew, also known as Levi, previously a tax collector; the person who lays the hand on him that is elected a reader, and prays to God, let him say, “O God, the everlasting, the mighty in mercy and compassions, the one who has made manifest the structure of the world by the effects being actively carried out and by preserving the number of your elect. Who also now look down upon your servant, the person who is commended to read Your Holy Scriptures to your people, and give him the Holy Spirit, the prophetic Spirit. The one who instructed Ezra your servant for the purpose of being able to read Your laws to Your people, and now [the reader] beseeches on our behalf, make wise your servant and grant him the activity be accomplished without blame the work entrusted to to him, that he be shown worthy of a greater degree through Christ with whom the glory is Yours, and the reverence, and the Holy Spirit for the ages to come, AMEN.” (5)Translated from: Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum. Franciscus Xaverius Funk. Volume 1. Paderbonae. 1906; VIII: XXII. Pg.526 See also, Apostolic Constitutions Book VIII:22. MPG Vol. 1. Col. 1117ff. Translation is mine. An alternative English translation by James Donaldson can be found at the New Advent website.

The Apostolic Constitutions outlined the duties and structures within the offices of the Church. The text names an apostle and designates a certain duty or function as its benefactor. For example Bartholomew instructs about deaconesses, while Thomas informs about sub-deacons. These, along with Matthew being the founder of the Christian custom of public reading, should not be taken literally. It is simply a well structured literary device. However, the meaning here is not lost. It clearly demonstrated that the rite of reading in the Church was inherited from its Jewish parent and was still being practiced in some type of modified form.

The Office of the Reader

Harry Gamble, author of Books and Readers in the Early Church believed that the Reader was assigned as an office of the minor orders of the clergy.(6)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 218 This was considered the entry level position into a clerical life.

This is corroborated by Cyprian of Carthage. He demonstrated in the middle third century that it had become a position that had at least entry status into the priesthood. The following quotation is from when Cyprian proclaimed the ordination of a certain person name Celerinus, on which he lavished praise:

To the Clergy and People, About the Ordination of Celerinus as Reader. . .

There is nothing in which a confessor can do more good to the brethren than that, while the reading of the Gospel is heard from his lips, every one who hears should imitate the faith of the reader. He should have been associated with Aurelius in reading; with whom, moreover, he was associated in the alliance of divine honour; with whom, in all the insignia of virtue and praise, he had been united. Equal both, and each like to the other, in proportion as they were sublime in glory, in that proportion they were humble in modesty. As they were lifted up by divine condescension, so they were lowly in their own peacefulness and tranquillity, and equally affording examples to every one of virtues and character, and fitted both for conflict and for peace; praiseworthy in the former for strength, in the latter for modesty.(7) Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. .The Latin can be found in: MLT0004-Cyprianus. Epistolae. 34:4. Cooperatorum Veritatis Societas. Excerpta ex Documenta Catholica Omnia.Pg. 29

It can be understood from here that the public reader had an prominent role that affected the mood and spiritual faith of the whole community and the person selected was under critical scrutiny.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the office of the public reader, known in Catholic circles as the Lector, had diminished after the first few centuries and transformed into a rite performed by a deacon.(8)As found at New Advent’s website under Lector Nevertheless, the public reader in the church liturgy still existed.

It is at this point the reader is asked to make a logical jump here through time — partially due to lack of easy-to-find source materials and the effort required to find the more difficult ones. Generalities will have to suffice until more material is uncovered and examined. Hebrew quickly vanished within the first generation of the Corinthian Church as the non-Jewish Greek adherents began to greatly outnumber the Jewish ones. A second century anonymous text covering II Corinthians claims that the Greek adherents had formally overtaken the Jewish ones by this time.(9)MPG Vol. 1. Clement. Epistola II Ad Corinthios. Chapter 2. Col. 333 A number of other factors could have been involved in the change. The first one being the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. It sent shock waves to the Jewish communities throughout the empire and “Jews in the Hellenistic Middle East found themselves in a truly precarious position.”(10)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Volume II. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 371ff They may have had to shed, or de-emphasize Jewish practices, including the public use of the holy tongue, in order to avoid punitive sanctions. The late first century was also the time Rabban Gamaliel at Yavneh “took a fateful step, one that was to have far-reaching historical consequences. They declared in unequivocal terms that the Jewish Christians could no longer be considered part of the Jewish Community nor of the Jewish people.”(11)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Volume I. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 307 This alienation could have accelerated the loss of Jewish identity in the fledgling messianic communities as well.

This may have fast-tracked the public reading in Greek, and perhaps Latin in some instances. Later on, Latin overcame Greek in the Western portion of the Church while Greek remained in the Eastern. Latin became the sole authority in the religious life which extended to civic and social affairs as well. It is not known exactly when Latin became the dominant language of religion in the West but it clearly occurred.

Thomas Aquinas on the Public Reader

This general foray above takes this study back to certitude in the thirteenth century where Thomas Aquinas described the public reader and the use of Latin in the Church. He linked the gift of tongues with the public reader and noted that the transition was an understood evolution in the Church:

“In the mouth of two or three, etc..” (Deuteronomy 17:6) but it must be noted that this habit for the most part is being served in the Church for we have the [public] readings and the epistles and also the gospels in the place of tongues, and for that reason it follows in Mass two are being delivered, because only two are being said whose antecedent is to the gift of tongues, specifically the epistle and the gospel. Accordingly in Matins many are done, in fact you say three readings in one. For in the former times they used to read a nocturn the next three night watches separately. Now however they are being spoken at the same time but on the other hand the procedure is not only to be preserved in regard to the number of those who are speaking but as well in regards to the way [it is done]. And this is what he says, “and through sharing,” that is in order that those who are speaking are to follow in turns with one another, a fact that one is to speak after another, or “through sharing,” that is interrupted, specifically that one is to speak on part of a vision or of instruction and is to explain it, and afterwards another and explains the very thing being shared and so follows one after another. Preachers have become accustomed to preserve that way when they are to preach to men of an unknown tongue by means of an interpretation. And for that reason it says, “Let one interpret.” as he result he says, “if there will not be available, etc.,” he shows when it is not to be practiced with tongues, saying that the one who is about to speak is through sharing and the one ought to interpret but, “if there will not be available,” anyone [who is an], “interpreter,” that is who understands, [then] those who have the gift of tongues, “are to keep silent in the Church,” that is he is not to speak because he himself understands and this silence is to be manifested in prayer or in meditation.

In other portions of his works he strongly positioned Latin as the language of religious polity:

But why do they [the priests] not give the blessing in the common [tongue], that they may be understood by the people and adhere themselves more to them? It has been said that this had been done in the early church, but afterwards, the faithful ones were taught and knew what they heard in the common office, the benedictions take place in Latin.(12)Thomas Aquinas, Lectures. My translation from Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc3

And again elsewhere:

A contrary argument. It is the same to speak in tongues and to speak clearly enunciating [the Latin words] to such a degree for the uneducated. Since then everyone is to speak clearly enunciating in the Church, that all is being said in Latin. It appears that it is madness in the same way. One ought to say to this: Madness existed in the early Church on that account because they were unacquainted in the custom of the Church, consequently they were ignorant of what they should do here unless it was to be explained to them. But certainly in the present all have been educated. Although from this point everything is being spoken in Latin, they still know what is taking place in the Church.(13)Thomas Aquinas, Lectures. My translation from Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc3

Thomas Aquinas’ opinion and the role of the Church reader represents an era in Church polity that would come to to forefront three centuries later. The Reformation was in part a protest against Latin being the sole language of religious instruction throughout a diverse ethnic and linguistic community — which gave rise to the revolutionary and later misunderstood words unknown tongues. More on this can be found at The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible.■

References   [ + ]

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. Another article in this series The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church, aligns with Paul’s explanation of tongues.

The goal initially was to capture the concept of the synagogue process of the reader and see if it fits in with Paul’s address of tongues in his first letter to the Corinthians. However, it was close, but didn’t quite match.

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.

Building a framework

In order to structure a Jewish background to the Corinthian saga, historical context has to built. This has to be done from Jewish sources, with some help from the Bible, the Apostle Paul, and a number of ecclesiastical texts.

The coverage is broken into two parts. The first looks at the texts themselves and attempts to rebuild a historical background. The second is to pick-up clues from the reader/interpreter rite in the synagogue.

The rebuilding is very difficult. Although there is much information on how the Aramaic speaking Jewish community adapted the Hebrew Scriptures to their lives, there is little information about how the Jewish Greeks observed theirs. It is too much to assume that whatever dogma was established in the Babylonian or Palestinian Talmuds would be exactly followed in their contemporary Jewish Greek world. However, with the exception of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, there are no Jewish Greek literary traditions that relates to the Jewish Greek synagogue practices of the first century.

Neither is it clear how the Greek Septuagint fit within the earliest Corinthian Church. It is irrefutable that the Septuagint was the source Bible for early Christian life, but the Corinthian Church, composed originally with a majority of Messianic Jews, may have initially started with different liturgical and linguistic values. These traditional Jewish liturgical and religious influences may have shifted significantly within a decade.

This lack of first century Jewish Greek literature, especially from a Jewish Pharasaic religious perspective such as Paul wrote from, or anything that relates to their synagogue liturgical practices in the first century, forces the researcher to a limited array of evidence that is only found in the Bible, Babylonian Talmud, a small number of Patristic writers, and later Jewish thinkers who based their thought on the Talmud.

This is a serious problem and one that will likely never be completely overcome. Therefore the researcher is forced to utilize the best pieces available today.

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)וְכֹל מֵבִין 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)וְהַמְּבִינִים 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—instructed(3)מְבִינִים the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear(4)מְפֹרָשׁ and giving the meaning(5)וְשׂוֹם שֶׂכֶל so that the people understood(6)וַיָּבִינוּ what was being read.(7)Nehemiah 8 NIV as taken from the biblegateway.com website. The highlights in red are not part of the original but put in here by me.

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.

There is a clue about this word meaning instructing found later on in the Book of Nehemiah which states the lay audience Ezra spoke to did not know Hebrew; the majority knew Aramaic and the rest other foreign languages.(8)Nehemiah 13:24 Therefore the people who heard the reading from the Law were incapable of understanding the Hebrew reading. 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)http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16515/jewish/Chapter-8.htm#showrashi=true Therefore בין, bin, must be understood as teaching or instructing within this context.

Was Hebrew really a dead language in Ezra’s time?

This is a controversial point. What did the people hear when listening to Ezra? The book, Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda edited by William Horbury, asserts that the cultural elite only knew Aramaic, and the peasantry conversed in Hebrew.(10)Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda William Horbury ed. T & T Clark, 2000. Pg. 17 This is a completely opposite conclusion to the evidence found above. The Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda does not seem to fit all the evidence found.

The more plausible theory is the one noted earlier that Ezra read the Hebrew text out loud and immediately translated into Aramaic. The Talmud Babli indicates academic, religious and political communities understood and could speak Hebrew during his time, but the layperson could not. This fits in better with the paradigm offered in the Talmud.(11)Talmud Babli Yoma 20b

The importance of 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.(12)Ezra 4:18. 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 parash becomes a key word for later discussions. The word 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 ongoing tradition of the Reader/Translator

Ezra to Paul

According to later Jewish texts, this tradition established by Ezra has carried on ever since then. It is not clear how it evolved or adapted over the centuries. Only small snippets in time can be found that reference this. 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.

There is no historical information regarding the role of Hebrew and the translator in the Jewish liturgy for almost five hundred years after the time of Ezra. The next document that refers to it, albeit controversially, is around 60 AD by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 14)

Paul addresses the rites of speaking in a foreign language, the audience hearing a foreign language, interpreting, interpreting in turns, saying the amen, and a need for clarifying or explaining a speech. These fully parallel with that of the Jewish liturgy. There are too many key terms that rule out any relationship with the Jewish liturgy as purely accidental.

However, one must keep in mind that Paul did not suggest the reader/interpreter paradigm in his famous tongues passage of I Corinthians 14. 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. He was addressing instructing/interpreting which also had a role in Jewish traditional religious piety.

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 or 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. It declares that the Books of Scripture may be written in any language, but then later stipulates that it can only 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.(13)Talmud Babli Megillah 9a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 31

  • 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.(14)Talmud Babli Megillah 17a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 64ff

  • 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 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.(15)Talmud Babli Megillah 17a. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 64ff

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

  • Megillah 23b 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.(16)Talmud Babli Megillah 23b. The Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Megillah 2a – 32a. Reformatted by Reuven Brauner, Raanana 5771. Pg. 89

  • 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, gender and physical requirements, but it does not relate to the Corinthian context, so it is not listed here.

Maimonides on reading and interpreting

The twelfth century Rabbi, scholar, and physician, Maimonides (also known as Rambam) 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 found in I Corinthians:

    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)Mishne Torah. Book of Love. Order of Prayers. Halachah 5. This English translation is done by Eliyahu Touger and available at Chabad website. For the Aramaic text, go to the Hebrew Wikisource website

    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 anaplêrôn, was to say the amen on behalf of the congregation. The term anaplêrôn is unique to Paul’s writing. The fifth century Alexandrian Church called the person who occupied the position of anaplêrôn(18)ἀναπληρῶν as keimenos(19)the full text has it as ὅ γε μὴν ἐν τάξει τῇ τοῦ λαϊκοῦ κείμενος See also Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion — 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.

  • Maimonides believed that the synagogue liturgy of reading from Hebrew with a 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)Maimonides. Mishne Torah. Book of Love. Order of Prayers. Halachah 10. This English translation is done by Eliyahu Touger and available at Chabad website. For the Aramaic text, go to the Hebrew Wikisource website

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. Aramaic tradition and the 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)Rambam: Talmud Torah 4:3

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)Meturgemanas found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

It 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.

A better alternative is the standard Hebrew word for interpreter, פרש peresh. The eminent Hebraist and author of the Hebrew New Testament, Franz Delitzsch, consistently translated the word interpret and variants in I Corinthians 14 as פרש peresh.(23)The New Testament text as found at Dukhrana 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 brings the reader to the third part, did the concept of the Jewish reader adapt into the rites of the earliest Church? This question is attempted to be answered and more in the following article: The Public Reader in the Church

References   [ + ]

Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church

Understanding the tongues of Corinth from linguistic, ethnic and liturgical perspectives along with an inquiry into whether Hebrew was part of their liturgy.

The Gift of Tongues Project has uncovered two ancient Christian writers who correlated the problem tongues of Corinth as ethnic or linguistic conflicts. The Ambrosiaster text emphasized the want of the Jewish adherents to speak in Aramaic during the liturgy, which few understood in Corinth, and the Epiphanius text believed the problem of Corinth was a dispute between three distinct Greek speaking groups; Attic, Aeolic, and Doric along with the use of Hebrew in the Church liturgy.

The Epiphanius text is the most direct on the subject. Although the reference to the use of Hebrew is found here, the text itself failed to directly connect the primary use of Hebrew with the Greek conflict. Nevertheless, it is inferred by its close grammatical relationship. This connection can be understood in two ways:

  • It was the traditional reading of the Hebrew text and the delivery of it into the local vernacular. In the context of the Epiphanius text, the Corinthians couldn’t agree what was to be the standardized Greek language for translation/explanation/preaching in the Church liturgy.

  • Or, it could be that Epiphanius did not want to correlate the Hebrew liturgical reading of Scripture at all, but that this language was the language of instruction and religious devotion. Those masters who were instructing/lecturing on the principles of the Christian faith did so in Hebrew, while an interpreter was required to translate it into the local vernacular. The conflict was in which Greek vernacular was most suited for the Corinthian congregation.

The Corinthian tongues conflict explained by Epiphanius is unique and no thorough investigation has been done to qualify or discard this claim.

There is a definite need for finding a positive solution to the mystery tongues of Corinth since a thorough investigation completed in the Gift of Tongues Project has ruled out the Corinthian tongues as a mystical experience resulting in those speaking ecstatic utterances. As previously written and documented, tongues as an ecstatic utterance was a theory first introduced in the 1800s.(1)See The History of Glossolalia

This series of articles are devoted to finding whether this historical context was correct through investigating Jewish literature, archaeology, and ecclesiastical writings.

The problem of insufficient first-hand data on the Corinthian assembly liturgy.

The ecclesiastical literature cited above, along with a number of pieces demonstrated in Rabbinical writings later on in this series, are mostly all fourth century or later works. Unfortunately, this is the only material a researcher can work from. No matter which way one approaches this problem, the person is forced to look at later texts to rebuild an earlier scenario.

Michael Graves, author of The Public Reading of Scripture in Early Judaism looked into this problem and agrees:

Yet, the use of Jewish liturgical practices to reconstruct early Christian worship is not without difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that many Christian historians, to some extent following older Jewish scholarship, have operated with the assumption that Jewish liturgy was essentially fixed and uniform in the first century ad. This assumption, however, cannot be reconciled with the available evidence. Recent scholarship on the history of Jewish worship has painted a more complex picture of Jewish liturgical development, thus forcing scholars of Christian liturgy to rethink the potential relationships between early Jewish and Christian forms of worship. Out of this new research has arisen greater awareness of the diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of development, and also a more skeptical stance toward the use of later documents to reconstruct the customs of earlier times. Of course, total skepticism toward rabbinic reports is unwarranted, and one cannot dismiss older historical and philological studies as having nothing to offer. But when the sources present a picture of diversity, or when no evidence exists for a given practice at a certain time and place, one must avoid simply harmonizing one tradition with another or an earlier time period with a later one.(2)Graves, Michael. The Public REading of Scripture in Early Judaism. JETS 50/3 (September 2007) 467–87

Mr. Graves statement has to be seriously considered. Harmonizing is a good start, but not a good end point. The following analysis agrees with Graves statement that there was diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of diasporan Jewish liturgy. The Corinth Paul lived in was complex. A whole host of Jewish, Roman, Greek, and Latin influences are found mixed together in a curious blend that cannot easily be untangled. This shouldn’t stop the researcher from trying. This lack of early source material makes it difficult, but not impossible.

There are a number of assumptions that can be made about the Church of Corinth and Paul’s reference to tongues in I Corinthians 14:

  • Paul was an orthodox Jew whose pedigree was confirmed by his learning under one of the leading Jewish teachers of the first century, Gamaliel.(3)Acts 22:3 Paul had no ambition to overthrow or abandon Jewish culture. He wanted to complete it. His initial strategy was to preach in the synagogues of any town, village or city that he visited. It later expanded to the non-Jewish community.(4)Romans 1:16, Acts 18:ff Therefore his writing style, life and practice was steeped in Jewish influences. The founding of any Church associated with him would reflect this.

  • The initial Corinthian Church had two names attached to it — Titius Justus and Crispus. Crispus was a leader of a synagogue; Titius Justus was described as a worshiper of God, suggesting that he was not Jewish and his name infers a Roman lineage.(5)Acts 18:6ff These two accounts demonstrated that the Corinthian Church was of mixed ethnic origin.

  • The mentioning of a converted synagogue leader, who must have exercised some internal authority in the development of the Corinthian Church, would have had a serious influence on the liturgy.

  • Paul’s address on the tongues of Corinth are reminiscent of Jewish tradition. Speaking, interpretation, the office of an interpreter, and the Amen are all found in Jewish liturgical traditions.(6)This will be documented in part 2 of this series

  • The Hebrew language is a central part of the Jewish religious identity. The Jewish sages had numerous discussions on the role of Hebrew in religious life and affixed when, where, and why Hebrew or an alternative language was to be used. Although the final discussions are the only available corpus today, this must have been an issue in the first century.

Was Hebrew used in the Synagogue liturgy outside of Israel, especially in lands dominated by the Greek language and culture?

The role of Hebrew in the ancient Greek communities of the Jewish diaspora is a disputed subject. Gedaliah Alon, a Jewish historian, noted the interweaving of Hebrew and Greek in the Synagogue before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.(7)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Ed. and Trans. by Gershon Levi. Vol. 2. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338 Some, like Harry Gamble, have argued a complete abandonment of Hebrew “In the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Diaspora, however, the scriptures were apparently always read in Greek, and no translation was required.”(8)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 210 Gamble goes on to conclude within the earliest Christian Church, “no explicit evidence attests the liturgical reading of either the Torah or the prophets in Christian assemblies in the first century, …In addition, when it arrives on the field of historical vision Christianity is already fully wedded to the Septuagint.”(9)Harry Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church. New Haven:Yale University. 1995. Pg. 211 Obviously he was unaware of Epiphanius’ account of Hebrew being read as part of the liturgy in the earliest Corinthian Church or felt that Epiphanius’ text was too removed from the primitive Church to be of value. Gamble’s assumption about exclusive Greek reading in the churches is questionable. Alon believed that at least in one synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, whose principal language was Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were used for “literary purposes, for worship and even other needs.”(10)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Ed. and Trans. by Gershon Levi. Vol. 2. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338 This small reference demonstrates that Hebrew still existed as a religious vernacular in some or all of the diaspora which would have had an effect on the structure of the earliest Christian Churches.

The tension between Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic as the lingua franca in Jewish life.

Aramaic was granted a high standing and was the native tongue of most Rabbinic sages. The Aramaic version of the Bible, known as Targum Onkelos has been a prime source of Jewish exegesis for almost two millennia. Yet the public reading was still retained in Hebrew according to Stephen Wylen, who further added:

It became a custom among Jews to read the weekly lectionary portion of the Torah three time through, once in Hebrew and twice in Aramaic. This custom was retained even into the Middle Ages when Jews no longer spoke Aramaic.(11) Stephen Wylan. The Seveny Faces of Torah: The Jewish Way of Reading the Sacred Scriptures. New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2005. Pg. 37

However, not everything was to be done in Hebrew. This was especially noted with the language of prayer. Whatever language the prayer was originally produced in, was allowed to remain in that language. For example, Talmud Babli Megillah established that whatever prayers were originally written in Aramaic, were to remain in Aramaic throughout the diaspora.(12) Talmud Babli Megillahh 9a

This was a disputed point and considerably argued. Aramaic was internally contested in reference to Jewish identity. God’s speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai was used as a polemic against Aramaic. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”(13)Sefer Haggada (in Hebrew) Tel-Abib: Dvir co. ltd. Book III, 3b. My translation There was a concerted effort to resist the inclusion of foreign languages in their liturgy and prayers. “For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.”(14) The Soncino Talmud. Trans. by Epstein I. London: Soncino Press. 1935. Pg. 162

There was a movement against Aramaic and Greek in the land of Israel and an assertion that only Hebrew should be used. As reflected in this passage found in the Talmud Babli, Sotah 49b:

and that nobody should teach his son Greek. …At that time they declared,-`Cursed be a man who rears pigs and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!` Concerning that year we learnt that it happened that the `omer had to be supplied from the gardens of Zarifim and the two loaves from the valley of En-Soker. But it is not so! For Rabbi said: Why use the Syrian language in the land of Israel? Either use the holy tongue or Greek! And R. Joseph said: Why use the Syrian language in Babylon? Either use the holy tongue or Persian! The Greek language and Greek wisdom are distinct. But is Greek philosophy forbidden? Behold Rab Judah declared that Samuel said in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel , What means that which is written: Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city? There were a thousand pupils in my father`s house; five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek wisdom, and of these there remained only I here and the son of my father`s brother in Assia! It was different with the household of Rabban Gamaliel because they had close associations with the Government; for it has been taught: To trim the hair in front is of the ways of the Amorites; but they permitted Abtilus b. Reuben to trim his hair in front because he had close associations with the Government. Similarly they permitted the household of Rabban Gamaliel to study Greek wisdom because they had close associations with the Government.(15) Talmud Babli Sotah 49b as found at the Instone Brewer website.

The duration, strength, or popularity of this opinion which existed in the land of Israel is not known. These examples are two to four centuries removed from the time of St. Paul, and may have even been stronger during the Corinthian conflict.

The Greek influence and encroachment on traditional Jewish life and practice.

On the other hand there was a problem of Greek perception towards the Jews. The Greeks believed their language and culture to be superior to anything else. For example the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian, rejected what was then known to be the sect of the Galileans (Christianity) because it was not of Greek origin, nor wrought from the Greek language, and worse yet, it came from something obscure and unimportant as Hebrew. This can be gleaned from Cyril’s refutation against Julian;

For you esteem very lightly the distinguished men with the one subsequent Hebrew language that went a different way from the Greek , and I reckon that your Italian which was made for everyone, that you arranged it a certain number? Furthermore has it not been truly said to us that if we wish to understand the straight and narrow, the Greek language is not about to be held as the author of religious devotion… And so we are taught that the greatest place of moral virtue is through the sacred writings of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Nevertheless, we use such things for the preparation of sound teachings with Greek thoughts since we are not familiar with the Hebrew language.(16)S. Cyrilli Alexandrini, Contra Julianum, Lib. VII [234]. MPG: Vol. 76. Pg. 858. Translation is mine.

The Greeks extended the idea of their language being the heavenly one and this had a universal influence, even in the Latin world. One of the greatest Roman leaders and Orators, Cicero, so highly valued the writings of the Greek Philosopher Plato that the god Jupiter “were it his nature to use human speech, would thus discourse.”(17)Plutarch. The Parallel Lives. The Loeb Classical Library. Trans. by Bernadotte Perrin. 1919. Pg. 141

The Greek Septuagint was introduced to the Graeco-Roman world over three hundred years before the advent of Paul and his address to the Corinthian Church. The Septuagint was the standard in many Jewish circles, especially the diaspora. Paul himself made substantial usage of the Septuagint; when 93 Biblical quotes from Paul are examined 51 are in absolute or virtual agreement with the LXX, while only 4 agree with the Hebrew text.(18)http://www.religiousforums.com/forum/abrahamic-religions-dir/118238-paul-septuagint.html The text of Talmud Babli Megillah supports the Greek version to have near or equivalent status to that of the Hebrew one.(19)Talmud Babli 9a. Philo believed that the Greek text was necessary for the Jewish faith to become a universal standard:

But this is not the case with our laws which Moses has given to us; for they lead after them and influence all nations, barbarians, and Greeks, the inhabitants of continents and islands, the eastern nations and the western, Europe and Asia; in short, the whole habitable world from one extremity to the other.(20)Philo. On the Life of Moses: II IV:20 . . .Some persons, thinking it a scandalous thing that these laws should only be known among one half portion of the human race, namely, among the barbarians, and that the Greek nation should be wholly and entirely ignorant of them, turned their attention to their translation.(21)Philo. On the Life of Moses: II V:27

The role of the Septuagint became so prominent according to Jennifer Dines in her book, The Septuagint, that this Greek translation may have forced the Jewish community to explicitly state that the Hebrew text was inspired.(22)Jennifer Mary Dines. The Septuagint. New York: T&T Clark, 2004 Pg. 64

God dictated to Moses the importance of literacy for the perpetuation of the faith, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…”(23)Deuteronomy 6:9 though this was not ever completely established, because 700 years later at the time of Ezra, as mentioned by the great thirteenth century AD Jewish thinker, Maimonides, Hebrew was switched to a liturgical language and required an interpreter for any local reading.(24)Maimonides הלכות תפילה This will be demonstrated in more detail with the next upcoming article. The first century Jewish writer, Josephus, related that Hebrew literacy was up again in the first century, “and it is ordered to bring the children up (in) the letters concerning the Laws and to place upon (them) the works of the ancestors.”(25)Translation is mine. “to bring the children up (in) the letters” clearly refers to literacy. The popular William Whiston english translation has “It also commands us to bring those children up in learning, and to exercise them in the laws, and make them acquainted with the acts of their predecessors,” it misses the emphasis on literacy here. This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

An objection can be raised that Hebrew had this level of prominence through the study of tomb epitaphs. Jewish tombs have been uncovered in Rome with dates beginning from 63 BC and ending at 300 AD. Out of the 534 names, 76% had a Greek name, 23% a Latin, and only five contained Hebrew, Aramaic, or hybrid names.(26)http://www.livius.org/di-dn/diaspora/rome.html There are a number of problems with this conclusion. First of all, it reflects a long period of time, over 400 years. The Jews who had lived there during the time of Paul may have still kept their original mother tongue and the results are a later calculation. Secondly, Corinth was an international city that was a major intersection for the Jewish diaspora. There would always be an influx of Jews from Israel that would maintain the language. Thirdly, Hebrew may have been retained strictly as a liturgical language which would hardly have been reflected on burial inscriptions.

A relatively unknown group of Hellenized Jews later evolved a system called minhag-romania, whereby they performed “traditional Jewish prayers that were recited and chanted in Greek, but were written with Hebrew letters.”(27)http://gulnbla.tripod.com/romaniotes.htm This unusual rite was based upon the fact that they understood that the Rabbis dictated all readings must be from Assyrian Script. It is not known how large this movement was, or when it began. The website article contains little substantiation.

The composition of the earliest Corinthian assembly.

Paul’s strong background in Judaism, the appointment of a synagogue leader to lead the original Corinthian assembly, and the liturgical problems outlined by Paul in I Corinthians demonstrate that this was a highly influenced Jewish organisation. A second century writing dubiously claimed to be by Clement claimed that the Greek adherents quickly outgrew the Jewish ones in a short manner of time, “Seeing that our people who were given to be abandoned from God, have become more numerous than of the righteous who have God.”(28)MPG Vol. 1. Clement. Epistola II Ad Corinthios. Chapter 2. Col. 333 This suggests the abandonment of directly connected Jewish traditions and liturgies probably before the end of the first century.

What does this all mean?

Although the majority of these authors were of a later age, the majority of takes give a good outline demonstrating what kind of ethnic and linguistic tensions confronted Paul in the initial Corinthian Church. Epiphanius’ statement about Greek ethnic infighting and Hebrew being part of the original Corinthian liturgy is a very plausible explanation. The best one that has come forward.■

Next: Jewish Liturgy and the Tongues of Corinth.

References   [ + ]

Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth

Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis

The Epiphanius text on the tongues problem in the first century Corinthian Church.

This fourth century or later writing is one of the most important texts in trying to rebuild a historical model for explaining the tongues problem at Corinth.

The text is customarily credited to Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in the fourth century. This text may have been heavily edited, redacted and even added over the centuries since its original release. We are not sure whether it is a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-century opinion. Even with this problem of textual criticism and dating, the work still reflects an ancient one.

However, the nature of Epiphanius assertion that there was a direct Jewish correlation to the problem tongues of Corinth suggests that this was part of the original text. Later editors or writers would not have added such a connection.

The Epiphanius text on the Corinthian conflict.

Here is the central part of the text found in Epiphanius’ Panarion Book I, Section III, Heresy 42 starting at Scholion XIII and XXI:

. . . Therefore languages are from a grace of the Spirit. Of what kind does the Apostle speak? He knew how not only the different Hebrew sounds, and manifold expressions in every single word with skills adorned with eloquence, but also the proud language of the Greeks; some who boast the ability to speak Attic, Aeolic, and being able to utter the language of the Dorics, of whom had caused the disturbances, and factions within the Corinthians, to which the Epistle was dispatched. . . . And he confessed the gift which is having the ability to proclaim [the oracles] with the Hebrew words and also teaching the Law to be a spiritual endowment. And he agreed that it is a spiritual grace to proclaim and to teach the Law in the Hebrew words.

The complete English text can be found here: The Epiphanius Text on the Tongues of Corinth in English, or, the translation completed by Frank Williams .

What did Epiphanius mean by this?

The Epiphanius text states two things about the Corinthian conflict: it was a clash between different Greek ethnic groups and the Hebrew language had some type of role in the Corinthian assembly. There was no reference to an out-of-this-world mystical experience, or something supernatural.

Hebrew, Greek, teaching the Law — these indicators combined suggest it to be a liturgical or didactic problem within the Corinthian gathering. This necessitates to find more information on early Church liturgy for answers.

The answer to the Corinthian tongues conflict may be found in understanding the contemporary Jewish structure during that time and how much the early Christian Church in Corinth adopted this custom. There are two ways to understand the background to this Epiphanius passage from the historical records:

  • It was the reading of the Law in Hebrew and an interpreter(s) translating it into the local vernacular that caused the problem. Jewish tradition had a specific liturgy concerning Jews worshiping together outside of Israel; the Law was to be read in Hebrew and an interpreter was to stand beside the reader and translate it into the local tongue. It could be inferred, though not conclusively from this, that the Corinthian Church had adopted this form of Jewish liturgy but ran into problems concerning which Greek language the interpreter was to use.

    This may be stretching the text more than what the writer intended and such a relationship cannot be concretely established.

  • Or, it could be that Hebrew was the language of instruction and religious devotion within the earliest Corinthian assembly. This tradition was continued from the Jewish synagogue. Those masters who were instructing/lecturing on the principles of the Christian faith did so in Hebrew, while an interpreter was required to translate it into the local vernacular. The conflict was in which Greek vernacular was most suited for the Corinthian congregation.

    This may be a more acceptable interpretation.

The Epiphanius’ text is a base element for a series of articles intending to prove either one of these hypotheses. The goal of this series is trace the role of the reader, speaker, and interpreter starting from the rites found in the Jewish diaspora, specifically Corinth, to its transition into Church office, if there is such a relationship, and mapping this evolving rite until the thirteenth century.

The text itself is one of the clearest and logical found so far written by a Church Father. However, this work, along with Jewish writings on public reading, are four centuries removed from the actual Corinthian tongues saga. It could be a later interpretation. This problem needs to be addressed.

Why has this text never been popular in describing the Corinthian tongues debate?

It is a mystery why this passage has never come up in any critical discussions on the problems tongues of Corinth. Frank Williams’ work, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35)(1)Martin Krause ed. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Nag Hammadi Studies, 35). Translated by Frank Williams. New York: EJ Brill. 1987. Pg. 234ff or see it online, The Panarion of Epiphanius Scholion 13 and 21 contains an already available English translation, though he, nor anyone else makes no correlation to I Corinthians in the translation of the text found at the header scholion 13 and 21.

The only critical look into the position of Epiphanius on the gift of tongues is the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. The writing would lead the person to believe that Epiphanius wrote it to be an ecstatic utterance relative to the Montanist movement.(2)The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Samuel Macauley Jackson ed. Volume 11. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. The Tongues entry written by PKE Feine. Pg. 37. The Montanist correlation that was made from the Panarion XLVIII:4 is a weak one(3)The author, PKE Feine, quoted Epiphanius in Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses XLVIII:4) to support his view on Montanism. This text is in the process of being translated and will be posted later. and the writer, PKE Feine, ignored this Corinthian tongues passage altogether.

Epiphanius was attacking a person named Marcion for allegedly altering the text in I Corinthians 14:19 to suit his own needs. It is known that Marcion was the son of a Bishop, and perhaps was a Bishop himself, but at some point there was a clear break between himself and the institutional Church.

A translation problem with the key text.

The Epiphanius author(s) defined Marcion a heretic because Marcion had revised the I Corinthians 14:19 text. There is some confusion as to how Marcion revised it. There are two alternative Greek texts that give slightly different nuances:

The source-text Greek edition translated into English reads:

“Marcion mistakenly added: “according to the Law,” with, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”.(4) Πεπλανημένως ὁ Μαρκίων [μετὰ τὸ] «ἀλλὰ ἐν Ὲκκλησιᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι», προσέθετο «διὰ τὸν νὸμον». The English Bible translation is taken from I Corinthians 14:19 KJV

This would render I Corinthians 14:19 to read, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind according to the Law.”

This version fits nicely in with Epiphanius’ argument that Marcion is adding to the Bible and creating a heretical version. The Epiphanius text shortly afterwards uses this as a springboard to call Marcion many harsh names.

Whereas an alternative Greek text has:

“Marcion mistakes:“But I wish to speak five words in the Church with my mind”, on the other hand differently “according to the Law.”(5) Πεπλανημένως ὁ Μαρκίων· Ἀλλὰ ἐν Ὲκκλησιᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι· ἑτέρως δὲ διὰ τὸν νὸμον.. Migne Patrologia Graeca, Volume 41, Column 791

This would render I Corinthians 14:19 to alternatively be read as, “But I wish to speak five words in the Church according to the Law.”

The fourth century and later Ambrosiaster text would agree more with the second argument:

“But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the Law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

The Ambrosiaster text demonstrates that there was some type of tradition connecting I Corinthians 14:19 with the Jewish Law. How widespread this tradition was throughout Christendom in the early centuries is not known.

There is a third potential problem and that has to do with the similarity in the Greek between the word mind — νόος and Law — νόμος. They are very close in spelling with only a one letter difference. It could potentially be easy for a manuscript writer to confuse these and cause a transmission error. This may be a remote problem because the Greek grammar in this situation has them distinguished by case. Mind is in the dative case – νοΐ and Law is in the accusative — νὸμον. It would be hard to get them mixed up. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a play on words was happening here.

The writer(s) went on a tirade against Marcion and slandered him with homophobic references against having made such a change. However, the author(s) failed to realize that this change is not unique to Marcion and was present in some legitimate Christian communities as noted in the Ambrosiaster text above.

The text indicates that there was no certain correlation between the tongues of Pentecost and that of Corinth. They were two separate entities.■

For further reading see:

References   [ + ]

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion

Final thoughts on the texts attributed to Cyril of Alexandria about the doctrine of tongues.

A significant amount of time and labour has been spent on works attributed to Cyril of Alexandria on the Christian doctrine of tongues and for good reason. The Cyrillian coverage offers critical insights into the ancient practice of the gift of tongues within the earlier Church.

These works originate under the influence of the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt, which gives these works particular significance. The language of the New Testament is Alexandrian Greek with a Semitic influence which means the influence of Alexandria on early Christianity is centrally important. Without Alexandria, there may no Gospel, or at least many of the principal theological traditions passed down through the generations.

It has been learned from this study that the writings credited to Cyril of Alexandria are not exactly correct. Portions are from Didymus of Alexandria. Which parts are Cyril’s and others Didymus’, we do not know, though for the most part it is Cyril. There also may be medieval editorial emendations too. Even though there remain unanswered questions of authorship, it accurately portrays a fifth-century account on the doctrine of tongues as understood and practiced in Alexandria, Egypt.

The results gleaned from these Alexandrian texts do not align with the contemporary Christian practice or liberal interpretations on the Christian doctrine of tongues. They offer different outcomes. Here are the findings.

The Commentary on Zephaniah clearly indicates that the Alexandrian author(s) believed it be speaking a foreign language. There was an emphasis in this commentary about the “changing of tongues,” that defined the speech as a miraculous endowment. Furthermore, those that received this blessing continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation. For more information and the actual copy of the Commentary on Zephaniah see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Zephaniah.

The Fragment on Acts has some more clues. The work emphasizes that those who spoke at Pentecost did not know the languages beforehand. It was a spontaneous event. Experienced interpreters, according to the text, were not accustomed to such a display. The purpose of Pentectost was to speak in every language to every nation. The Gospel was not to be a local religion for Jews only, but a universal one. The work goes on to describe a negative aspect of this event. People used it to promote their own extravagance and self-promotion. The actual text can be found at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Acts.

The Catena on I Corinthians had the most information, and the following was discovered.

  • The Corinthian problem of languages was viewed as a consequence of Pentecost. The Corinthian situation is not considered a separate entity. In making the Corinthian situation connected to Pentecost, it creates ethnic rivalries. If a disciple comes speaking in tongues for the purpose of rejuvenating the Jewish faith, then it leaves out the Gentile participants. This would be an untenable position.

  • When the disciples spoke at Pentecost, each one spoke a different language.

  • The Cyrillian text associated I Corinthians 14 with their itinerant preachers whose duty was to visit routinely Churches throughout the Alexandrian Church empire. This was a vast region that had a number of ethnic and language groups. The ability to speak in the various languages was a requirement for these preachers to teach and pray.(1)This is discussed in more detail at Notes on the Cyrillian Catena on I Corinthians 14:10

  • Prayers and language held a central part of the Church life. Prayers required mastery and comprehension of more than one written language. Literacy was very low in this period. Some think as low as 5%. The congregation then was entirely dependent on trained leadership to teach through readings, memorization and instruction. The prayers in the Church were led by leaders called prefects — a ruler over monks, clergy, and bishops (ὁ ἡγουμένος).(2)ὁ ἡγουμένος as found in Lampe’s Patristic Lexicon, Pg. 601, and Stephanus Lexicon Vol. 4. Col. 94

    If someone would speak or pray in the Church, whether priest, prefect, or the itinerant preacher, it would be in a high-priestly voice, similar to preachers who speak in King James English, old style Catholics who perform the liturgy in Latin, or the use of High-German in Mennonite Churches. What exactly was high-priestly language to them — was it liturgical Greek, or regular Coptic? It is not known.

    The important requirement of any Church leader speaking to an audience or any layperson was that the Skopos (σκοπὸς) had to understand what they were saying, or someone available that “sits near and interprets for the beginners.”(3)I Corinthians 14:2 catena

    The Skopos played an important position within the Church. The Skopos was an overseer who was to test, examine, and approve everything that was spoken, or done. He was also to translate, but that was likely a later attribute.(4)Stephanus Vol. 7, Col. 431

    There was a function in the Church that assisted the lay-people in understanding what the priests were saying, singing, or doing. A type of translator, but more of an intermediary. In the Corinthian text it is the anaplérôn ( ἀναπληρῶν), but in Alexandria it is the keimenos (κείμενος).

    The keimenos is a critical keyword and potentially unlocks the mystery tongues of Corinth. A complete article on this can be found by reading The Mysterious Anapleron of I Corinthians 14:16

    All messages that the keimonos explained to the people were to be concluded with an Amen.

    If the keimonos did not understand the language, or message being spoken, he would not be able to translate or explain on behalf of the laypeople, and therefore would not be able to say Amen.

    All of the references to Alexandrian Church structure; the itinerant preacher, the high priestly language and need for a mediary for the laypeople to understand, the Skopos, the Keimenos, the use of multiple languages, and the amen construct, have a connection with Paul’s coverage of I Corinthians 14. Granted this is 500 years later, and there was likely much evolution in this structure, but the shadows do exist.

  • The Catena on I Corinthians gives a different idea of prophecy and its relationship with languages. 14:2 and 5 covers the office of prophecy. It is more comprehensive than what most practicing Charismatics or Pentecostals offer today. The Alexandrian idea of prophecy was the ability to collate disparate data such as thoughts, words, ideas, dreams, language etc., and make sense out of them. It goes beyond the mechanics of translating or interpreting. Prophecy looks for the meaning behind the words, not just the words themselves. Therefore, prophecy was considered one of the highest forms of Christian practice.

The Cyrillian texts are totally oblivious to any Montanist influence on the tongues doctrine. Nor were there any attempt to write about the need for a subsequent spirit baptism or counter any movements teaching such a proposition. Nor were the Alexandrians aware of a private prayer language.

The Catena on I Corinthians borrows many Greek keywords from the ancient Greek prophetic realm. Some of them new to the tongues debate. However, they are not used in a classical way. They have become Christianized by this period. For more information, see Notes on the Cyrillian catena on I Corinthians 14:10.

This conclusion may seem subtle and boring, but it took a laborious amount of work to achieve. The discovery of the actual texts themselves was a challenge. They were found only in the original Greek, and the publications they were found in posed difficulties. Comparative work between different texts was required. The Alexandrian Greek requires a slow translation process as this vernacular has some peculiarities and unique vocabulary. Then there is the challenge to make cohesive sense out of all of them. Anyone who has visited this site over the years will see the narration of the doctrine of tongues is the one that has taken the longest to achieve. It is not an easy task for such a big project.

The reader does not have to take these conclusions at face value either. The original Greek Cyrillian texts can be found at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: The Original Texts. Or one can read the English translations and come up with a personal conclusion by going to the Gift of Tongues Project and scrolling down to the Cyril of Alexandria Category and clicking on the translation links.

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