Historical Data On Tongue Speaking

Tongue speaking is nothing new -- it has been around for a long time. Outside of the genuine tongues of the New Testament era, those who have sought to perpetuate the practice have left behind an interesting chronicle. Tongues were to “cease” according to divine information (1 Cor. 13:8). That cessation came when the perfect revelation was completed (1 Cor. 13:10; Jas. 1:25). At the time James wrote the law of Christ was “perfect” or complete. That does not mean it was complete in written form, but it was absolutely perfect in its revealed form.

After the death of the apostles, the earliest known claim for tongue speaking in the church involves a man named Montanus. He lived around the year 170 A.D. Eusebius says of him, “According to the description of Apollinaris, Bishop of Hierapolis ... Montanus ‘became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church’.” (Eusebius, Church History, Volume 16, second series, I, page 231).

In addition, Neander, a famous ecclesiastical historian wrote, “He fell into certain states of ecstatic transport, in which, no longer master of his own consciousness, but made the blind organ, as he fancied, of a higher spirit, he predicted, in oracular, mystical expressions1, fresh persecutions of the Christians...” Church History, Volume II, page 206.

One of the “church fathers” named Irenaeus mentions tongue speaking in his writing. He cited Acts 2 with no comment2 and applied it to the ability to speak a foreign language with no prior knowledge. He alluded to Paul’s statement, “we speak wisdom among them that are perfect” (I Corinthians 2:6) and said “perfect” meant those who “have received the Spirit of God” and affirmed that they “do speak in all languages, as he (Paul, DRS) used himself to speak, in like manner.” (Ibid. V 6, 1).

Irenaeus refused the abuses and fakery of those who sought to exercise the gift with no divine right. He related how a man named Marcus, an early Gnostic, seduced gullible women of their means by promising them the gift of prophecy. Irenaeus says Marcus began his pitch like this:

 “I am eager to make thee a partaker of my Charis (spiritual gift), since the Father of all doth continually behold thy angel before His face.

“Now the place of thy angel is among us: it behooves us to become one. Receive from me and by me Charis. Adorn thyself as a bride who is expecting her bridegroom, that thou mayest be what I am, and I what thou art. Establish the germ of light in thy nuptial chamber. Receive from me a spouse, and become receptive of him, while thou art received by him. Behold Charis has descended upon thee; open thy mouth and prophesy.”

If the woman protested even slightly, Marcus would continue by saying, “Open thy mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to thee, and thou shalt prophesy.” Irenaeus added, “She then, vainly puffed up and elated by these words, and greatly excited in soul by the expectation that it is herself who is to prophesy, her heart beating violently (from emotion), reaches the requisite pitch of audacity, and idly as well as impudently utters some nonsense as it happens to occur to her, such as might be expected from one heated by an empty spirit ... Henceforth, she reckons herself a prophetess, and expresses her thanks to Marcus for having imparted to her of his own Charis.” (Ibid., I, 13, 3).

After the great apostasy that gave birth to Catholicism was in full sway, the Catholics developed their brand of tongue speaking. In a book called, “Speaking With Tongues,” by Cutten, there is a section dealing with a Catholic Priest named Francis Xavier, a Jesuit and missionary, who translated some of the Catholic doctrines into various tribal dialects and later into Japanese. Legend grew about him and another Jesuit called Father Colleridge wrote, “He spoke freely, flowingly, elegantly, as if he had lived in Japan all his life.” (Page 45).

The “Mormons,” members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also have a history of tongue speaking. Their fanciful revelation, “The Book of Mormon,” reads, “And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, no prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues; Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them” (Mormon 9:7-8).3

Pentecostalism is the child of reaction to secularism and formalism in religion. Its immediate ancestor was the so-called “Holiness” movement that began in Methodism. Between 1880 and 1900 the Methodist Church split into holiness and anti-holiness groups. Basically the issue over which they split was the error of their founder, John Wesley. He taught error relative to sanctification and from his folly grew the notion that those who receive the Holy Spirit directly and abstractly receive “entire sanctification.” Others rejected this and thus they divided.

In Topeka, Kansas in 1901 an amazing thing occurred. It was called “the falling of the latter rain.” On New Year’s day, 1901, allegedly the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” fell on a young lady named Agnes N. Ozman, a student in Bethel Bible College.  She claimed she spoke in several languages immediately. This spawned numerous copy-cat Holy Spirit baptisms among her fellow students and all of them were accompanied with this alleged ability to speak several foreign languages instantly.

The founder of the modern Pentecostal movement was Charles F. Parham who subsequently opened another school in Houston, Texas in 1905. By the next year it had reached as far as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and New Orleans. Tongue speaking has become a hallmark of the Pentecostals. However, they do not have an exclusive claim to it.

Tongue speaking blossomed again in the early 1960’s. Largely responsible for it was an organization named “Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship.” Many of their members were not only famous, they were very “charismatic” to boot. Pat Boone, the famous entertainer, became heavily involved in the movement. His book, “A New Song,” describes his experiences in detail.

This all serves to show that outside of the New Testament times, when men needed this phenomenal gift to spread the gospel rapidly into lands where they were unable to communicate linguistically with the people, all such gifts fall into the category of a simple religious hoax. The tongue speaking of the New Testament cannot be replicated today. The early Christians were given this extraordinary gift so they could expeditiously communicate the gospel to those of another language. On Pentecost, Peter and the other apostles were speaking in the native languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, those of Pontus, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphilians, Egyptians, Lybians, Cyreneans, Romans, Cretans, and Arabians (Acts 2:9-11). All these nations and/or dialects heard the gospel in their own native tongue. There was no unintelligible gibberish or outburst of jabbering.

Probably those who speak in tongues today are very sincere.  They really feel they have some special dispensation from the Almighty and nothing will convince them otherwise. The socio- psychological circumstances surrounding religiously minded people sets a perfect stage for the desire for deeper spiritual experiences. With much of religion turning to social emphasis and entertainment, getting deeply bogged down in formalistic liturgy and ritualism, repression of the urge to express an emotional feeling for God is very difficult. The desire to speak in tongues is a natural response to formalistic religion that has lost its bearings completely.

Many sincerely think the Holy Spirit has visited them in a unique way. They feel they have the Spirit of God as an integral part of their very being. In the story, “The Slender Thread,” a man and wife are at worship on Sunday, but they have very deep personal conflicts. Their conflicts have been engendered by their own personal problems. After the worship, the man says, “Why did we come here?” The woman answers, “I don’t know.” One of the members of the religious group overheard them and injected, “You’d better come on and hurry. We’re having coffee and cake. Won’t you join us for fellowship?” All the considerations of the main issues of religion -- sin, salvation, life, death, despair, hope, heaven and hell are being obscured by this superficial chatter of coffee and cake.

The desperation of human beings speaking out of the depth of their feelings is being hushed by the sick social orientation of religion. Much of the outward display of young people today is very irreligious and could well be their reaction and opposition to socialization of the churches. Tongue speaking has been and remains an irrational response to abuses of religious activity in the modern religious world. But there need be no such irrationality. A return to New Testament principles, a scriptural emphasis on the spirituality of the life of a Christian, and a commitment to remain religiously active within the confines of the New Testament is the certain remedy.


 Notes and References:

1. A contemporary writer cited in Eusebius, uses the term glossia. This is the term from which glossolalia comes.

2. Against Heresies, Volume II, page 206.

3. In the next verse, the Book of Mormon misapplies Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever and that supernatural powers that He exercised which were bestowed upon His disciples in the first century must also be eternal.

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