Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Tongues of Fire.
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(לָשׁוֹן, lash6nd γλῶσσα ) is used in Scripture in various senses.

1. It stands, literally, for the human tongue (Judges 7:5; Job 27:4; Psalms 35:28; Psalms 39:1; Psalms 39:3; Psalms 51:14; Psalms 66:17; Proverbs 15:2; Zechariah 14:12; Mark 7:33; Mark 7:35; Luke 1:64; Luke 16:24; Romans 3:13; 1 Corinthians 14:9; James 1:26; James 3:5-6; James 3:8; 1 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:10; Eccles. 17:6; Wisdom of Solomon 10:21; 2 Maccabees 7:4); and so for the tongue of the dog (Psalms 68:23), of the viper (Job 20:16), of idols (Baruch 6:8); the tongues of the seven brethren cut out (2 Maccabees 7:4; 2 Maccabees 7:10; comp. Proverbs 10:20).

Various explanations have been offered why (in the passage first cited above) Gideon's three hundred followers should have been selected because they lapped water out of their hands, standing or perhaps moving onward, while they who stayed and "bowed down to drink" were rejected. Josephus says that the former thereby showed their timorousness and fear of being overtaken by the enemy, and that these poor-spirited men were chosen on purpose to illustrate the power of God in the victory (Ant. 5, 6, 3).

On Mark 7:33; Mark 7:35, Dr. A. Clarke offers the interpretation that it was the deaf and stammering man himself who put his own fingers into his ears to intimate his deafness; spat or emptied his mouth that the Savior might look at his tongue; touched his own tongue to intimate that he could not speak; looked up to heaven as imploring divine aid; and groaned to denote his distress under his affliction; and that our Savior simply said, "Be opened" (Commentary). This explanation certainly clears the passage of some obscurities.

James 3:8, Dr. Macknight translates, "But the tongue of men no one can subdue;" that is, the tongue of other men, for the apostle is exhorting the Christian to subdue his own (comp. James 3:13). He observes that (Ecumenius read the passage interrogatively, as much as to say, "Wild beasts, birds, serpents, marine animals, have been tamed by man, and can no man tame the tongue?'"

2. It is personified. "Unto me every tongue shall swear," that is, every man (Isaiah 45:23; comp. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:11; Isaiah 54:17). The tongue is said to rejoice (Acts 2:26); to meditate (Psalms 52:2); to hate (Proverbs 26:28); to be bridled (James 1:26); to be tamed (3:8; comp. Sirach 28:18, etc.). It is apostrophized (Psalms 120:3).

3. It is used by metonymy for speech generally. Let us not love in tongue only" (1 John 3:18 comp. γλώσση φίλος, Theogn. 63, 13; Job 6:30; Job 15:5; Proverbs 6:24); a soft tongue," i.e. soothing language (Proverbs 25:15); "accuse not a servant to his master," literally "hurt not with thy tongue" (Proverbs 30:10); "the law of kindness is in her tongue," i.e. speech (Proverbs 31:26; Isaiah 3:8; Isaiah 1:4; Wisdom of Solomon 1:6). On the "confusion of tongues," (See BABEL); (See ETHNOLOGY); (See LANGUAGE), etc.

4. For a particular language or dialect spoken by any particular people. "Every one after his tongue" (Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31); So also in Deuteronomy 28:49; Esther 1:22; Daniel 1:4; John 5:2; Acts 1:19; Acts 2:4; Acts 2:8; Acts 2:11; Acts 26:14; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 14:2; Revelation 16:16).

5. For the people speaking a language (Isaiah 66:18; Daniel 3:4; Daniel 3:7, etc.; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 10:11; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15).

6. It is used figuratively for anything resembling a tongue in shape. -Thus, " a wedge of gold," literally a "tongue" (Joshua 7:21; Joshua 7:24; γλῶσσα μία χρυσῆ; Vulg. regula aurea). The French still say, un lingot dor, "a little tongue of gold," whence, by corruption, our word " ingot," "The bay that looketh southward," literally "tongue" (Joshua 15:2; Joshua 18:19); "a tongue of fire" (Isaiah 5:24; comp. Acts 2:3; Isaiah 11:15).

7. Some of the Hebrew idioms, phrases, etc., formed of this word are highly expressive. Thus, "an evil speaker" (Psalms 140:11; אַישׁ לָשׁוֹן, literally "a man of tongue;" comp. Sirach 8:3, and see Ecclesiastes 10:11, Hebrew, or margin); "a forward" or rather "false tongue" (Proverbs 10:31; לְשׁוֹן תִּהְפֻּכוֹת, "a tongue of revolvings" ); "a wholesome tongue" (Proverbs 15:4; לָשׁוֹן מִרַפֵּא, literally "the healing of the tongue," reconciliation, etc.; Sept. ἴασις γλώσσης, lingua placabilis); "a backbiting tongue" (Proverbs 25:23; סֵתֶר, secret); "slow of speech" (Exodus 4:10; כְּבֹד לָשׁוֹן, literally "heavy of tongue," unfit to be an orator, βραδύγλωσσος; contrast Sirach 4:29); " the tongue of the stammerer" (Isaiah 32:4), i.e. rude, illiterate (comp. 35:6; on Isaiah 28:11, see Lowth). In Isaiah 33:19, it means a foreign language, which seems gibberish to those who do not understand it (comp. Ezekiel 3:5); "the tongue of the learned" (Isaiah 1:4), i.e. of the instructor. The lexicons will point out many other instances.

8. Some metaphorical expressions are highly significant. Thus, Hosea 7:16, "the rage of the tongue," i.e. verbal abuse; "strife of tongues" (Psalms 31:20); scourge of the tongue" (Job 5:21, (See EXECRATION); comp. Sirach 26:6; Sirach 28:17); "snare of the slanderous tongue" (Sirach 51:2); on the phrase "strange tongue" (Isaiah 28:11), see Lowth, notes on Isaiah 28:9-12, and afterwards the vivid -rendering of the Vulg.; "to slip with the tongue" (Sirach 20:18; Sirach 25:8), i.e. use inadvertent or unguarded speech; "they bend their tongues, their bows, for lies" (Jeremiah 9:3), i.e. tell determined and malicious falsehoods; "they sharpen their tongues" (Psalms 104:3), i.e. prepare cutting speeches (comp. Psalms 57:4) ) "to smooth the tongue" (Jeremiah 23:31), employ flattering language; "to smite with the tongue" (Jeremiah 18:18), i.e. to traduce-if it should not be rendered, "on the tongue," alluding to a punishment for false witness; to lie in wait with the tongue" (Sirach 5:14); "to stick out the tongue" (Isaiah 57:4), i.e. to mock; "against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue" (Exodus 11:7), i.e. none shall hurt them; but both Sept. and Vulg. have "not a dog belonging to the children of Israel shall howl," which, as opposed to the "great cry" in Egypt over the first-born, means, not one of the children of Israel shall have cause to wail (Joshua 10:21; Judith 11:9). "To hide under the tongue" means to have in the mouth, whether spoken of hidden wickedness (Job 20:12; comp. Psalms 10:7) or delicious language (Song of Solomon 4:11); "the word of God in the tongue" denotes inspiration (2 Samuel 23:2); "to divide the tongues of the wicked" is to raise up dissensions among them (Psalms 55:9; comp. 2 Samuel 15:34; 2 Samuel 17:14-15). "The tongue cleaving to the palate" signifies profound attention (Job 29:10) or excessive thirst (Lamentations 4:4; comp. 22:16); "to cause the tongue to cleave to the palate" is to inflict supernatural dumbness (Ezekiel 3:26; Psalms 137:6). To gnaw one's tongue is a sign of fury, despair, and torment (Revelation 16:10).

9. Some beautiful comparisons occur. "An evil tongue is a sharp sword" (Psalms 57:4); "the tongue of the wise is health" (Proverbs 12:18); "like choice silver" (Proverbs 10:20), i.e. his words are solid, valuable, sincere.

10. The vices of the tongue are specified in great variety: flattery (Psalms 5:9; Proverbs 28:33); backbiting (Psalms 15:3), literally "run about with the: tongue" (Proverbs 25:23); deceit (Psalm 1:19); unrestrained speech (Psalms 73:9); lying (Psalms 109:2); "a lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it" (Proverbs 26:28; comp. Tacit. Agr. 42," Proprium humani ingenii est, odisse quem laeseris" ). "They have taught their tongue to speak lies. and weary themselves to commit iniquity" (Jeremiah 9:5) words which beautifully illustrate the fact that falsehood and vice are not natural, but are a restraint and compulsion upon nature: "double-tongued" (1 Timothy 3:8), δίλογος, saying one thing to this man and another to that (comp. Sirach 5:9; Sirach 5:14; Sirach 28:13). The retribution of evil-speakers is represented as brought on themselves (Isaiah 64:8).

11. The virtuous uses of the tongue are specified: "keeping the tongue" (Psalms 34:13; 1 Peter 3:10; Proverbs 21:23); "ruling the tongue" (Sirach 19:6; James 1:26); the origin of the right and wrong use of the tongue traced to the heart (Matthew 12:34).

12. Mistranslations: as "holding the tongue;" the Hebrews had no such idiom (Psalms 39:2; Sirach 20:1; Sirach 20:7; comp. the Bible and Prayer-book version of Habakkuk 1:13). In Ezra 4:7, "the Syrian tongue," literally "in Syriac" (Esther 7:4). Our mistranslation of Proverbs 16:1 has misled many: "The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord;" literally," Of man are the dispositions of the heart, but a hearing of the tongue is of the Lord."

13. The miraculous gift of tongues, as well as its corresponding gift of interpretation, has been the subject of two opinions. It was promised by Christ to believers: they shall speak γλώσσαις καιναῖς (Mark 16:17); and fulfilled at Pentecost, when the apostles and their companions "began to speak ἑτέραις γλώσσαις (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:11; comp. Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:30; 1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:39). In the last passage we have "to pray in a tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:14), "to speak words in a tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:19), "tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 14:22; 1 Corinthians 14:26). The obvious explanation of most of these passages is, to speak in other living languages, the supernatural acquisition of which demonstrated the truth of the Gospel, and was a means of diffusing it. Some verses in 1 Corinthians 14 :however, have given rise to the notion of a strange, ecstatic, inspired, unearthly language; but these all admit of a different solution. In 1 Corinthians 14:2, "he who speaketh in a tongue" evidently means, he who speaks some foreign living language; the supplied word " unknown" in the A.V. is needless, and misleads the English reader. It is further said that "he edifieth himself" (which, as Macknight justly pleads, required that he should understand himself), and edifieth the Church also if an interpreter were present (1 Corinthians 14:28). The apostle says (1 Corinthians 14:14), "If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful," which words in English seem to intimate that the speaker might not understand himself; but the words δὲ νοῦς μου sigify "my meaning" (comp. 1 Corinthians 2:16; Vulg. "sensum Domini" ), or, as Hammond and Schleusner say, "my faculty of thinking upon and explaining to others the meaning of what I utter" (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:19), though in 1 Corinthians 14:15 some take τῷ νοϊ v as a dativus commodi, and render "that others may understand." The key to the difficulties of this subject is the supposed absence of an inspired interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:28), in which case the gift would not be profitable to the hearers. The gift of tongues was to cease (1 Corinthians 13:8). Irenieus testifies (1 Corinthians 5:6) that it subsisted in the Church in his time. When Paul says, that though he should speak with the tongue of men and of angels, it would be nothing without charity, he uses a supposed hyperbole; as when we say, angelical beauty, angelical voice, etc., e.g. "I would have every one set a due value on the gift of tongues; but though a man possessed the most exquisite eloquence, this inestimable gift would be of little use to him, as to salvation, if he be without charity." See Macknight, Notes on 1 Corinthians 14; Oihausen, Comment. on Acts 2, 4; Neander, Hist. of the Apostolic Age, and in Bibl. Repos. 4:249, etc.; Stosch, Archaeol. (Econ. N.T. p. 93; Gataker, ad M. Anton. p. 120; and Ernesti, Lex. Techn. Gr. Rhet. p. 62. (See SPIRITUAL GIFTS).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Tongue'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​t/tongue.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
Ads FreeProfile