The history of tongues

Tongues-speaking [1] has occurred since ancient times in both the non-Jewish and non-Christian world.

“In the ancient world, ecstatic utterances, trances, and frenzied behavior were commonly associated with pagan prophets. Eleventh-century B.C. documents record occurrences of ecstatic speech and the like in Egypt. In the Hellenistic world the prophetess of Delphi and the Sibylline priestess spoke in unknown or unintelligible speech. Moreover, the Dionysian rites contained a trancelike state as well as glossolalia. Many of the magicians and sorcerers of the first-century world exhibited similar phenomenon, as is the case of the “spirit of divination” (or possibly ventriloquism) at Philippi in Acts 16:16-18.” [2]
Tongues-speaking has also been reported throughout Church history. In 150 AD, Irenaeus, a Greek father of the early church, wrote “...we hear many of the brethren in the church who have prophetic gifts, and who speak in tongues through the Spirit, and who also bring to light the secret things of men for their benefit...” [3] [4] Tertullian (ca. 155-220) (a Latin father for the early church) also spoke favourably of this gift. [5]

Montanism was a prophetic movement that broke out in Phrigia in Roman Asia Minor (Turkey) around 172AD. It made tongues-speaking a central part of their worship experience. Montanists followed Montanus of Phrygis, who said he was the chosen instrument of the Spirit to prepare the church for the second coming. He taught a strict asceticism, which soon developed into legalism. It was condemned by bishops in Asia and elsewhere. A residual sect persisted in Phrygia for some centuries before it disappeared. [6]

By the middle of the fourth century, the practice seems to have diminished in the West, [7] although Vincent Ferrer and Francis Xavier were missionaries who described their miraculous ability to communicate with various groups as glossolalia, [8] and other examples exist. [9] In addition many believe that in the Eastern church tongues-speaking continued to be practiced in Greek Orthodox monasteries throughout the Middle Ages. [10]

At the end of seventeenth century, widespread tongues-speaking occurred for a little over a decade in southern France among a group of persecuted Huguenots. Similarly, in the 1730s an occurrence of tongues-speaking happened among a group fo Catholic pietists, called the Jansenists. [11]

Then in the 1830s until the end of the century a revival of tongues-speaking occurred in England during the ministry of Edward Irving. After reports that tongues-speaking had occurred in the west of Scotland in the spring of 1830, Irving himself shortly after reported such expressions in his Regent Square Church. Until the end of the century his followers (Irvingites) made tongues-speaking central to their church life. [12]

The example of the Huguenots and Irvingites then led to similar occurrences in Mother Anne Lee's Shaker movement in England and America, and among the Mormons in America where Joseph Smith's followers in New York, Missouri, and Utah began practicing tongues-speaking. [13] Not long after, in the 1850s, a tongues-speaking movement began in Russia that continued throughout the century. [14]

Similarly, beginning around 1860 on the Southern tip of India, through the influence of Plymouth Brethren theology [15] and the leadership of the Indian J.C. Aroolappen a revival of tongues-speaking and prophecy was reported. [16]

In addition to the occurrences of tongues-speaking in 1901 in Topeka and in Los Angeles in 1906-9, it also arose in the Welsh revival in 1904-5. [17]

It seems, then, that tongues-speaking, whether unknown utterances or miraculous gifts of languages, have been reported throughout history. However, what makes Pentecostalism unique is that never before has tongues-speaking been given the doctrinal importance that modern Pentecostals gave to it.

“Pentecostals... were the first to give doctrinal primacy to the practice. Though Pentecostals recognize such sporadic instances of tongues-speaking and other charismatic phenomena throughout the Christian era, they stress the special importance of the Azusa Street revival, which occurred in... 1906 to 1909 and launched Pentecostalism as a worldwide movement.” [18]
But to understand why Pentecostals were the first charismatic movement in history to give tongues-speaking theological importance we need to understand the theological roots of Pentecostalism.

That's why in the next article, “Where did Pentecostalism come from?” we'll talk about the theological roots of Pentecostalism.

More on this topic

(PART 1) Where Pentecostalism came from - The theology of John Wesley

How Pentecostalism developed over time

Tongues and Spirit-baptism: What Pentecostals believe

The gift of tongues: What the Scriptures describe

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[1] The Greek word for “tongues” is, glossolalia, meaning “languages.” While the tongues-speaking enabled by the Spirit in Acts 2:4 were identifiable known dialects of countries foreign to the speaker, some think 1 Corinthians 14:2 indicates another type of tongues. This is based upon the view that if “no one understands him” except God, and his words “utter mysteries with his spirit,” then this tongues-speaking is not an actual language, but rather “unknown utterances.” Whether this is a valid reading of this text, this history to tongues-speaking records the reporting of both types of phenomenon (the miraculous gift of languages and speaking unknown utterances).

[2] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1206.

[3] Refutation and Overthrow of False Doctrine, p. 174.

[4] Elsewhere Irenaeus said, “When God saw it necessary, and the church prayed and fasted much, they did miraculous things, even of bringing back the spirit to a dead man.”

[5] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1207.

[6] David F. Wright (D.D, University of Edinburgh), “Montanism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 790.

[7] Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was quite negative about it. Augustine (354-430) taught that it had been given only for the New Testament times. However, Luther and Calvin both accepted the continuing validity of tongues, speaking positively of the gift, primarily in terms of missionary preaching. Similarly, John Wesley believed that tongues-speaking was still a valid gift.

[8] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1208.

[9] Abbess Hildegard recorded unknown tongues in Lingua Ignota.

[10] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1208.

[11] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1208.

[12] Ian S. Rennie (Ph.D., University of Toronto), “Irving, Edward,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 617-618.

[13] Vinson Synan (Ph.D., University of Georgia), “Pentecostalism”, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 899.

[14] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1208.

[15] They taught a charismatic eschatology which they inherited from Edward Irving. Irving influenced J. N. Darby, a leader in the Brethren movement of the nineteenth-century. Irving taught a charismatic eschatology: that in a period prior to the Second Coming a special “latter-rain” outpouring of the Holy Spirit would occur. Darby became the leader of the exclusive group known as the Plymouth Brethren movement and develop classical dispensationalism, which even more specifically taught that there would be a special time in history for the church in the period just prior to Christ's Second Coming.

[16] Gary B. McGee (Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Chair, Bible and Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), Systematic Theology, Chapter 1 “Historical Background,” Logion Press, 1995, p. 10.

[17] Grant. R. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), “Tongues, Speaking in,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 1208.

[18] Vinson Synan (Ph.D., University of Georgia), “Pentecostalism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 899.


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1 comment:

Terry Hovey said...

Great article! Excellent research! Thank you so much. I don't believe that the "tongues" spoken within some Christian churches today is an actual God-given "tongue", but rather a form of excessive "emotionalism". Though our emotions are a part of our worship, when they "rule" we are no longer worshiping in Spirit and Truth. I've always heard that "tongues" had been practiced long before Pentecost, and was wanting some actual references to this. So again...thank you so much.