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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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Physiologically, the tongue (γλῶσσα) is accessory both to the sense of taste and to the faculty of speech, but in the literature of apostolic Christianity (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:9) it is connected with speech alone.* [Note: Similarly, in the OT, taste is not specially connected with the tongue (Job 20:12 refers to the mouth as a whole), but with the palate (çÇêÀ). For the more scientific Greek view, see Aristotle, de Anima, ii. 10.] Here, as in primitive thought generally, to which the nervous system and the more minute structure of the tissues were unknown, the tongue was thought to possess an inherent faculty of speech, and the ethical qualities attaching to what was said were attributed to the organ itself (ethnic parallels in J. G. Frazer, GB [Note: B Golden Bough (J. G. Frazer).] 2, London, 1900, ii. 421, 422, note). As, in the OT, the tongue is said to concoct deceit (Psalms 50:19), and iniquity is said to be in it (Job 6:30) or under it (Psalms 10:7), so, in the NT, it is said to defile the whole body, to be a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:6; James 3:8). This vivid language is not adequately characterized by saying, with Mayor, ‘The tongue is of course merely the innocent instrument employed by the free will of man’ (The Epistle of St. James 3, London, 1910, p. 220). That which seems to us to be ‘odd and exaggerated’ in the language of St. James really marks the difference between ancient and modern psychology. When joy (Acts 2:26; Acts 2:1 Clem. xviii. 15), arrogance (1 Clem. lvii. 2), deceit (Romans 3:13; Romans 3:1 Clem. xxxv. 8) are connected with the tongue, a psycho-physical idea underlies the usage, which springs from the conception of the organ as an integral part of the whole personality.

Early Christian ethics seems to have found it necessary to emphasize the control of the tongue; it is even made the sine qua non of religion (James 1:26) and the condition of life (1 Peter 3:10; 1 Peter 3:1 Clem. xxii. 3; cf. Psalms 34:13). It is particularly urged on women (1 Clem. xxi. 7, Hermas, Vis. II. ii. 3). Evidently ‘the scourge of the tongue’ (1 Clem. lvi. 10; cf. Job 5:21) was a very real evil in early Christian communities. We may also note the rebuke of hypocrisy and insincerity, as shown by the contrast between the inner life and its outer expression: ‘let us not love in word, neither with the tongue’ (1 John 3:18). On confession itself great emphasis was naturally placed (Romans 14:11; see also article Mouth); it is felt that the truth of the inner life will instinctively utter itself in the testimony of the spoken word: ‘As the fountain gushes out its water, so my heart gushes out the praise of the Lord and my lips utter praise to Him, and my tongue His psalms’ (Odes of Solomon, xl. 4, 5).

The word ‘tongue’ occurs in a figurative sense in Acts 2:3 (tongues of fire; cf. Isaiah 5:24) and Revelation 5:9, etc. (= language). On the phenomena of glossolalia, which St. Paul regards chiefly as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21 f.), see articles Tongues, Gift of, and Holy Spirit.

Literature-The Commentaries; see also articles Man and mouth.

H. Wheeler Robinson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tongue'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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