Some Interesting Facts About “Speaking in Tongues”

Some Interesting Facts About “Speaking in Tongues”

I. Biblical Tongues = Known Human (Earthly) Languages
The Gift of tongues in Corinth (First Corinthians) was essentially the same as the gift described in Acts 2; both pertained to known human languages that were previously unknown to the speaker. However, the speaker through the Holy Spirit, was miraculously enabled to speak (with understanding) in those languages. Thus, the gift involved foreign languages, and not supposed “heavenly languages” or “ectstatic utterances.”

The modern-day tongues movement is a new resurgence of the glossolalia phenomena found amongst many pagan religions, and found amongst four known heretical groups/individuals within Christendom (from the 100-200’s, the 1100’s, the 1300’s, and the 1700’s AD). I will go into more detail on these four groups/individuals below, but generally-speaking the “modern tongues movement” started in the late 1700’s and has no connection to Christianity, or even to historic/mainstream Christendom. Moreover, it is primarily found amongst the Sacramentalist and Arminian/Semi-Pelagian religions within Christendom (although it has made significant inroads into reformed/calvinistic/ predestinarian circles in our day).

As we will see below, every commentary written before the mid-to-late 1700’s recognized that tongues were human languages. In the 1700’s the notion of tongues as “ecstatic utterances” (emotionally wrought mumbling brought about by the supposed working of the Holy Spirit) became popular. By the 1800’s, 1900’s, and in our day, tongues morphed into supposedly “heavenly languages” known to God (and angels), but unknown to men (unless given the “gift” of interpretation).

II. The earliest fragmented commentaries affirmed
According to the earliest extant comments on tongues in Corinth (from Irenaeus circa 185 A.D. and Clement of Alexandria circa 190 A.D.), the Corinthians tongues were clearly human (foreign) languages.

III. The earliest full commentary affirmed
The earliest known full commentary (Homily) regarding First Corinthians was written by John Chrysostom somewhere between 386 and 398 A.D. His view was the common view held throughout all of Christianity and Christendom (with only a few exceptions to be addressed below). Chrysostom wrote the following concerning the naure of the gift of tongues in First Corinthians:

“… in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages. See accordingly how he both depresses and elevates it. Thus, by saying, He that speaks with tongues, speaks not unto men, but unto God, for no man understands, he depressed it, implying that the profit of it was not great; but by adding, but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries he again elevated it, that it might not seem to be superfluous and useless and given in vain.”

IV. The Early Church Fathers (so-called) affirmed
The following all understood the gift of tongues as being the miraculous, God-given ability to speak in foreign languages (known human languages) that the speaker himself previously did not know.

  • Origen (185 to 254 AD);
  • Eusebius (263 to 339 AD);
  • Athanasius (293 to 373 AD);
  • Gregory of Nazianzus (330 to 390 AD);
  • Gregory of Nyssa (335 to 394+ AD);
  • Hilary(300 – 367 AD);
  • Jerome( 347 to 420 AD);
  • Epiphanius(310/20 to 403);
  • Augustine (354 to 430 AD);
  • Theodoret( 393 to 457); and
  • Gregory (540 to 604 AD).

V. Leaders and commentators within “Christendom” and Christianity affirmed
The following all understood the gift of tongues as being the miraculous, God-given ability to speak in foreign languages (known human languages) that the speaker himself previously did not know.

  • Thomas Aquinas (famous Romanist Philosopher – 1225 to 1274 AD)
  • Martin Luther (Protestant Reformation leader – 1483 to 1546)
  • John Calvin (Protestant Reformation leader / Biblical commentator – 1509 to 1564)
  • Matthew Henry (English non-conformist minister and Biblical commentator – 1662 to 1714)
  • John Gill (English Particular Baptist minister and Biblical commentator – 1697 to 1771)
  • Adam Clarke (British Arminian theologian and Biblical commentator – 1762 to 1832)
  • Robert Jamieson (1802-1880); Andrew Robert Fausset; and David Brown (1803-1897): Authors of the famous “Jameison-Faussett-Brown commentary”
  • John Nelson Darby (author of the Synopsis of the Books of the Bible and founder of the error of Dispensationalism – 1800 to 1882).

VI. Exceptions
As stated above, the modern-day tongues movement is a modern twist on an old heresy. Tongues as ecstatic utterances were unheard of through-out most of Christendom; however, there were a few notable exceptions:

1. Montanus: A heretic who lived circa AD 135 to AD 177, founded a movement (along with his followers) that:

  • Believed that God was not a Trinity but was a single God of three modes or manifestations;
  • Believed that their prophecies superseded and fulfilled the doctrines proclaimed by the Apostles;
  • Encouraged ecstatic prophesying (Montanus, along with the “prophetesses” Priscilla (or Prisca) and Maximilla exhibited frenzied religious experiences by enraptured seizures and utterances of strange languages that the disciples regarded as oracles of the Holy Spirit. Their behaviour mimicked the wicked prophetess of the famed (pagan) Oracle of Delphi;
  • Believed that Christians could lose their salvation;
  • Forbade remarriage after the death of a spouse; and
  • Believed that Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla proclaimed a “New Prophecy,” which foretold that Christ would return to Pepuza, a small village of Phrygia, upon which the new Jerusalem was to come down.

2. Hildegard of Bingen (1100’s AD) a so-called “christian mystic” allegedly spoke and sang in tongues. Her spiritual songs were referred to by contemporaries as “concerts in the Spirit.” She is admired even in the new age movement for her mysticism.

3. The Moravians (1300’s AD) are referred to by detractors as having spoken in tongues. John Roche, a contemporary critic, claimed that the Moravians “commonly broke into some disconnected Jargon, which they often passed upon the vulgar, ‘as the exuberant and resistless Evacuations of the Spirit.'” [Note: though this sounds like the modern-day tongues movement, I could not confirm from modern Moravian sources whether they did indeed speak in this garbled jargon].

4. Camisards/Cevennol Prophets/Prophets of the Cevennes (1700’s A.D.): in the late seventeenth century, a radical group of Huguenots, mostly peasants, were reported to have spoken in tongues (most often, these uneducated peasants and young children were observed to “prophesy” in pure, elegant French). They were known for their “enthusiastic, demonstrative worship, and they claimed to be “seized by the Spirit.” They believed themselves to be directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Between Montanus and his followers and the Camisards (about a 1500 year gap), there were only two alleged instances of what people in our day call “tongues.” As can be seen, none of the above four groups/individuals practiced true Christianity. If there are others besides the four, one can rest comfortably knowing that they were not Christian either.

VII. Heavenly tongues? Multiple languages from Heaven?
Charismatics and Pentecostals will often speak of heavenly tongues (plural); tongues means languages… as far as we can gather from the Bible alone, there aren’t multiple languages in Heaven because there is no sin in Heaven. We only have multiple languages as a punishment (at Babel) for our sins. So do angels and men from the “South-side” of “heaven” speak a different language than those from “downtown” “heaven?” Just as nothing indicates that Heaven has a “South-side” or “downtown,” nothing indicates that Heaven has multiple languages.

However, Christians can be said to speak heavenly languages whenever they speak the blessed words of the Kingdom of God (election, predestination, regeneration, sanctification, righteousness, righteousness imputed, glorification, propitiation, redemption, atonement, justice, love, mercy, judgment, tribulation, damnation, persecution, etc.) in their own native, or learned, earthly/human languages.

VIII. Glossolalia in other Religions:
Glossolalia (ecstatic utterances) can be found today, and in the past, in the following religions that are distinct from both Christianity and Christendom. These forms of ecstatic utterances are very similar to those of found in Charismatic/Pentecostals circles:

  • Apollo-worship (The Oracle of Delphi);
  • Pseudo-christian Gnostics;
  • Voodoo Practitioners (Haiti);
  • Numerous Shaministic religions worldwide;
  • Spiritists (channelers, etc.)
  • Hindu Fakirs and Gurus; and interestingly,
  • Those inside and outside of religion that ingest Psilocybe mushrooms

IX. Revelation 22:18 warns against modern-day tongues
Revelation 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

Speaking in Tongues (foreign languages previously unknown to the speaker) was a true and blessed gift from God the Holy Spirit. However, when the Bible was finalized, the gift of tongues (and other such gifts) ceased. Those who claim that the Holy Spirit continues to bring additional prophecy are in violation of Revelation 22:18. They are adding to God’s word by claiming that God is still bringing divine revelation/messages/prophecies/etc, and thus, that there is more to divine prophecy/revelation than the bible alone, and in its entirety.

X. Useful online resources

(Caveat: These sites are suggested for this issue only – this isn’t a blanket recommendation of their website or theology overall)

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