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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Tongues Gift of

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The chief authority in apostolic literature for the gift of speaking with tongues (γλωσσολαλία) is 1 Corinthians 14. What happened on the day of Pentecost is described (Acts 2:4) as speaking ‘with other tongues’ (λαλεῖν ἑτέραις γλώσσαις). The emphasis lies on the distinguishing ἑτέραις. The speakers spoke in languages other than their own: under the stress of spiritual emotion they lapsed into a foreign tongue; it was a special phenomenon peculiar to a special occasion. In Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6 the same phenomenon according to some authorities re-appears; but, as the distinguishing ἑτέραις is absent, it is open to us to regard these passages as parallel to 1 Corinthians 14 and as indicating a phenomenon other than the Pentecostal.

What are the chief features of glossolalia in the Corinthian church? (1) Like ‘prophecy,’ ‘speaking with tongues’ was one of the gifts of the πνευματικοί: it was reckoned among the charisms as an inspiration or endowment originating with the Holy Spirit. (2) It was unintelligible to others (1 Corinthians 14:2, ‘no man understandeth’). (3) It was personal to the speaker, who edified himself and not the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). (4) It is described in the case of an individual as γλώσσαις λαλεῖν (1 Corinthians 14:5) and again in the singular γλώσσῃ (1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:27) or ἐν γλώσσῃ (1 Corinthians 14:19) (διὰ τῆς γλώσσης, 1 Corinthians 14:9, refers to the instrument of speech). It is evident that ‘tongue’ in this connexion is used of a specific utterance. It is an open question whether it was deliberate, on the ground that ordinary language was unsuitable for prayer or fellowship or testimony regarding the spiritual life, or was produced apart from the volition of the speaker under the influence of spiritual excitement or emotion. The evidence is in favour of the latter view: in other words, that the speaker was the subject of a Spirit-possession which moved him to speak ‘with the tongues of men and of angels’ (1 Corinthians 13:1). The distinction in the latter passage points to an ecstasy which on occasions appeared to be more than human, as if the Spirit used a human medium for angelic speech (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4). It was used only in prayer (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:14). It was speech ‘not unto men, but unto God.’ To the outsider it appeared a species of soliloquy. Intellect or νοῦς was passive or ἄκαρπος (1 Corinthians 14:14). There were many types of tongues (γένη γλωσσῶν 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Undoubtedly St. Paul recognized it as a spiritual gift, but inferior, as, e.g., compared with prophecy. It was of no value to an unbeliever, because it could not lead to faith: cf. St. Paul’s application of Isaiah 28:11 f. in 1 Corinthians 14:21. Indeed, to both the outsider and the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14:23) it would appear a kind of madness. Nor to the believer was it of real benefit unless there was an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:13); and the speaker-with-tongues was counselled to pray for such an interpretation, as if his utterance per se were of little value. St. Paul was no believer in unintelligibility (1 Corinthians 14:11): hence his emphasis on a εὔσημος (‘capable of being expounded’) λόγος (1 Corinthians 14:9). He claimed the gift as one of his own (1 Corinthians 14:18), but preferred five instructive words spoken with the understanding to ten thousand in a tongue (1 Corinthians 14:19). If his words were not understood, it was like pouring words into the empty air (1 Corinthians 14:9). Hence an interpretation was essential, though this was a gift by itself and was not necessarily exercised by the speaker-with-tongues himself.

It is obvious that the Corinthians were specially susceptible to such abnormal powers; with a considerable section of the church γλωσσολαλία was more popular than teaching and prophecy, in spite of the fact that as a purely subjective phenomenon it was of no value to the outsider (ἰδιώτης), who could not even say ‘Amen’ to the formula of thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 14:16). The common sense of St. Paul was undoubtedly tried by its ineffectuality (‘your thanksgiving may be all right, but then-the other man is not edified 1’ [1 Corinthians 14:17 in J. Moffatt, The New Testament: A New Translation3, London, 1914]).

There is no need to look for the origin of this experience among contemporary ethnic cults. That the atmosphere of the Hellenistic world of St. Paul was full of the phenomena of mysticism and ecstasy is clear to all students of the mystery-religions. But the ecstatic manifestations of the Corybantic or Dionysiac devotee or the worshipper of Isis and Osiris are simply parallels with the Corinthian Christian phenomena; they are not sources of it. Κορυβαντιᾶν (to use Philo’s word, Quis Rer. Div. Heres, 69, quoted by Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, p. 66) is a convenient generic term for Divine possession as found in the revivals of ancient and modern religions. To Huxley the Salvation Army appeared to be a kind of ‘Corybantic Christianity,’ judged by its external phenomena of religious excitement and enthusiasm. At the same time, the phenomena that have accompanied revivals such as early Methodism, the Salvation Army, and the recent Welsh revival have rarely been of the type of γλωσσολαλία: there have been sobs and ejaculations, but not unintelligible continuous speech. In a valuable appendix to his Earlier Epistles of St. Paul2 (London, 1914) K. Lake (‘Glossolalia and Psychology,’ ch. iv. Appendix ii.) finds traces of glossolalia in the Testament of Job and in the magical papyri, e.g. the Leiden papyrus, where Hermes is invoked in unintelligible symbols. The use of strange words in magical formulas or charms which is to be found in circles alien to the apostolic communities may properly be adduced as parallels to glossolalia; but it would appear that glossolalia speedily vanished from apostolic Christianity. There is no reference to it in the Apostolic Fathers. The passages quoted from Irenaeus (Haer. V. vi. 1) and Tertullian (c. Marc. v. 8) are not convincing proofs that the practice was in vogue in their own times, while Chrysostom in the 4th cent. is unable to explain what its real nature was. Lake notes the case of the Camisards, a sect of French Protestants in the early 18th cent., who are known under stress of religious emotion to have ‘uttered exhortations in good French, although, in their ordinary state of consciousness, they were incapable of speaking anything but the Romance patois of the Cévennes’ (loc. cit., p. 245). A clearer parallel to glossolalia is the more familiar case of the Irvingites, whose ecstatic utterances were an unintelligible jargon. Lake’s examination of the phenomena as a whole demonstrates that from the standpoint of psychology there is nothing in itself unreasonable in uncontrolled or uncontrollable speech. When the subliminal consciousness is called into play or energy by religious emotion, there results a paraphasia which may take the form of speaking languages previously not known by the speaker, or uttering speech unintelligible to the hearer. The whole subject is invested with renewed interest by the modern study of religious pathology and psychology. It would now appear that speaking with tongues, like so many other phenomena of the spiritual consciousness, whether in the records of the Scriptures or in non-canonical writings or in the general annals of the Christian life in all ages, is capable of reasonable explanation on psychological lines, even if all the data fail to yield a satisfactory meaning to the inquirer.

Literature.-In addition to the works named under Gifts and Prophecy, the following may be consulted: K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul2, London, 1914; H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, London, 1913; J. Weiss, Der erste Korintherbrief, Göttingen, 1910; F. G. Hencke, ‘The Gift of Tongues and Related Phenomena at the Present Day,’ in AJTh [Note: JTh American Journal of Theology.] xiii. [1909] 193-206; W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience5, London, 1903, lects. ix. and x.; E. Mosiman, Das Zungenreden, geschichtlich und psychologisch untersucht, Tübingen, 1911 (contains an excellent bibliography).

R. Martin Pope.

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

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Friday, July 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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