Medical Study “Proves” Speaking in Tongues has Divine Origin

The video above is from several years ago, but I came across it and thought it was worth commenting on briefly.

This is interesting in a number of ways.

One major drawback in the reporting is that the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues (glossolalia) is not presented as what it is — the practice of only one sector of Protestantism. Rather, it is portrayed as simply “Christian” and assumes certain interpretations of the Bible. It is also not mentioned that this practice in its prevalent form is only about a century old. It is of course from a part of Protestantism that is expanding rapidly, especially in the Global South, but it’s still a minority of a minority. (Worth reading is the Wikipedia article on the phenomenon, specifically the portion about Church history.)

I find it interesting, though, that proponents look at this study as “proving” that the Holy Spirit is what makes people speak in tongues. All that’s really shown here is that the frontal lobe of the brain is not active as it would be in normal speech. If this “proves” the Holy Spirit’s involvement, well, that opens up a lot of other questions, doesn’t it? For one thing, it is essentially monergistic (that God “takes over” and the human will and action are suppressed). But isn’t that essentially “possession”? Does God do that? Even if you are a Bible-only Christian (sola scriptura), I don’t see that sort of thing elsewhere in the Bible, that God possesses people and controls their actions while they watch as observers.

I’ve long had an interest in language, and so the amateur, barely-educated linguist in me also notes some things about speaking in tongues. Like other times I’ve observed this practice, I note that in this video, those shown speaking in tongues each has his own “style” which is relatively unique to him and consistent between occurrences. I suppose this is not necessarily an argument against the authenticity of the practice, but I would be interested in an explanation for this. If this really is the “tongue of angels” or somesuch, why does each person have his own distinct version of it? Why isn’t it the same for everyone or at least for more than one person?

Another thing I also always note is that each speaker only seems to use phonemes normal to his native language. Why is that? If God really is taking over here, why is He limiting the sounds of Anglophones’ tongue-speaking to English phonemes? Surely there’s room for an Arabic-style deep H or a few African clicks or Korean-style diphthongs or even some voiced palatal or retroflex fricatives. This to me is a far more problematic observation for proponents. There is no reason to believe that a genuinely supernatural language ought to conform to the phonetic conventions of the speaker’s native tongue.

There’s a lot more one could say here — I have, for instance, been told by former practitioners that neophytes are encouraged to “practice” before they get it down, that there is often great pressure to perform, etc. — especially when speaking in tongues is taught to be necessary for salvation. But since that’s not what’s in this video, I’ll leave it aside here.

Update: The discussion has of course led to the question of what exactly is happening on the original day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and how the Orthodox Church understands it. (This is not necessarily the same phenomenon happening at the church in Corinth.) The claim was made in the comments that the unusual character of what happens at Pentecost is merely that the Apostles are speaking Greek and Aramaic when they should have been speaking Hebrew.

Yet the Church Fathers are pretty unanimous that the Apostles are actually speaking real human languages, that there were a lot of them and that this was a miracle from God. Here are some quotations of note (emphasis added):

Venerable Bede (8th c.) in his commentary on Acts 2:4: The church’s humility recovers the unity of languages which the pride of Babylon had shattered. Spiritually, however, the variety of languages signifies gifts of a variety of graces. Truly therefore, it is not inconsistent to understand that the Holy Spirit first gave to human beings the gift of languages, by which human wisdom is both learned and taught extrinsically, so that he might thereby show how easily he can make men wise through the wisdom of God, which is within them.

Bede borrows from St. Gregory the Theologian (4th c., a.k.a. “Gregory Nazianzen”) for his comments on Acts 2:6: The question here concerns the way in which everyone heard them speaking about the wonders of God in his own language. Was it that the speakers expressed what they had to say in the diverse discourse of every language — that is, in such a way that each of them, speaking now this language and now that, thus proceeded through all [the languages of those present]? Or was the marvel rather the fact that the discourse of those who were speaking, in whatever language it may have been uttered, was understood by everyone of the hearers in his own language? So, for example, when any one of the apostles was talking in the assembly (for one person had to speak while the rest were silent, and one discourse had to come within the hearing of everyone) that very discourse had within itself the power that, when there were hearers of diverse nations, each of them would perceive what they heard in terms of his own language and would grasp the meaning of that one and the same discourse which had been uttered by the apostle — unless perhaps this makes the miracle seem to be more in the hearing than the speaking.

The passage from St. Gregory which Bede is no doubt paraphrasing: They spoke with strange tongues, and not those of their native land; and the wonder was great, a language spoken by those who had not learned it. And the sign is to them that believe not, and not to them that believe, that it may be an accusation of the unbelievers, as it is written, With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and not even so will they listen to Me says the Lord. But they heard. Here stop a little and raise a question, how you are to divide the words. For the expression has an ambiguity, which is to be determined by the punctuation. Did they each hear in their own dialect so that if I may so say, one sound was uttered, but many were heard; the air being thus beaten and, so to speak, sounds being produced more clear than the original sound; or are we to put the stop after “they Heard,” and then to add “them speaking in their own languages” to what follows, so that it would be speaking in languages their own to the hearers, which would be foreign to the speakers? I prefer to put it this latter way; for on the other plan the miracle would be rather of the hearers than of the speakers; whereas in this it would be on the speakers’ side; and it was they who were reproached for drunkenness, evidently because they by the Spirit wrought a miracle in the matter of the tongues.

St. Ephraim the Syrian (4th c.): Now the Prophets performed all [other] signs; but on no occasion supplied the deficiency of members. But the deficiency of the body was reserved, that it should be supplied through our Lord; that souls might perceive that it is through Him that every deficiency must be supplied. It is meet, then, that the prudent should perceive that He Who supplies the deficiencies of the creatures, is Master of the formative power of the Creator. But when He was upon earth, our Lord gave to the deaf [and dumb], [the power] of hearing and of speaking tongues which they had not learned; that after He had ascended, [men] might understand that He gave to His disciples [the power] of speaking in every tongue.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd c.): Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language [i.e., not just two languages – Fr. A] joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.

St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th c.): The phrase ‘Spirit of God’ denotes also the Paraclete Spirit, and that not only on the testimony of prophets but also of apostles, when it is said:— This is that which was spoken through the Prophet, It shall come to pass on the last day, says the Lord, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and their daughters shall prophesy. And we learn that all this prophecy was fulfilled in the case of the Apostles, when, after the sending of the Holy Spirit, they all spoke with the tongues of the Gentiles.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th c.): The Galilean Peter or Andrew spoke Persian or Median. John and the rest of the Apostles spoke every tongue to those of Gentile extraction; for not in our time have multitudes of strangers first begun to assemble here from all quarters, but they have done so since that time. What teacher can be found so great as to teach men all at once things which they have not learned? So many years are they in learning by grammar and other arts to speak only Greek well; nor yet do all speak this equally well; the Rhetorician perhaps succeeds in speaking well, and the Grammarian sometimes not well, and the skilful Grammarian is ignorant of the subjects of philosophy. But the Holy Spirit taught them many languages at once, languages which in all their life they never knew. This is in truth vast wisdom, this is power divine. What a contrast of their long ignorance in time past to their sudden, complete and varied and unaccustomed exercise of these languages!

St. John Chrysostom (4th c.): Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it [the gift of tongues – Fr. A] before the rest [i.e., at Pentecost – Fr. A]? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages.

44 comments:

  1. Something is fishy here. The question I would like to examine is this: WHY is the mainstream media so interested in this topic? Why is the video comprised of so much footage of the people speaking in tongues? I wonder if this is this an effort to begin to mainstream the concept? Since it is possible that “other” spirits are at work here, perhaps likely, thought don’t want to claim that I know for sure, wouldn’t this “promo” be squarely within the agenda of the enemy of souls? Forgive me if this is saying too much.

  2. Father,

    How does Orthodoxy view the nature of the authentic glossalalia in Scripture? Surely, it differs in important ways from what is presented here.

    1. There is no ecumenical conciliar decree on the subject, and I am not aware of any local councils that have addressed it, either. (Anyone?) That said, various articles have been written on the subject from an Orthodox viewpoint. Some Googling yields a good bit.

      The general consensus seems to be along three different lines (sometimes with some overlap, depending on the specific phenomenon being discussed): 1. It’s real but not important. 2. It’s just self-deception. 3. It’s demonic.

      There is also much that tends to be said about sobriety, being guided by a competent father-confessor, etc.

      It should especially also be noted that there is a difference between glossolalia (speaking in non-human, supposedly divine language for prayer) and xenoglossia, which is speaking in a human foreign language not previously known to the speaker. It’s pretty clear that the latter is what happened on that first Christian Pentecost.

      1. Father,

        i meant the real gift mentioned by Paul. Weren’t there people who had it at least in the first century? And what was it like to have it? –surely it was quite different from what is displayed in the video.

        Or is that what you mean by “It’s real but not important”?

        1. Right. My last paragraph was just to define terms.

          The article by Nicozisin, for instance, describes authentic glossolalia as a truly ecstatic experience, which would seem to preclude being able to do it on command or scheduling it for Sunday morning. Such ecstasy (of whatever type, not necessarily including glossolalia) is also generally associated in Church history mainly with people who are spiritually quite advanced, not with neophytes.

          1. I noticed and read this article after my last question. Thank you. This clarifies greatly and helps me understand the differences better between what Paul was contextualizing and the emphasis glossolalia has taken as a modern practice in some Evangelical denominations.

  3. Fr. you made some interesting comments about individual unique style. Even though it’s the “tongues of angels” no one but God himself is supposed to able to understand it, not even angels, so in that sense it is heavenly or angelic. Part of the reason being that in the OT angels had to fight through to bring messages from God (Daniel 10) and this way we have a direct connection, sort of like an ethernet cable, to God. Pentecostal theology believes that praying in tongues “bypasses” the mind, and your spirit communicates directly with God. When I was in this movement I remember being taught that I should experiment with different sounds constantly so as to develop my personal prayer language more fully. Speaking in tongues has always felt odd to me, even when I was a practitioner, but when I tried to “develop and deepen my prayer language” it felt odder than usual so I stopped trying to do that.

    1. Yeah, that confirms other testimony I’ve heard about “practicing.” That doesn’t seem to me to be consistent with the idea of divine control. There are also all kind of anthropological problems with the idea of “bypassing” some element of human nature—something semi-Gnostic, perhaps?

      I really wish I knew if there were some linguistic studies that had been done of this phenomenon. Do non-Anglophone Pentecostals use their own native language’s phonemes? How much variation is there in what is heard? Does it have the kind of linguistic variety and even complexity of structure of human language? If not, what could that mean?

      My sense is that modern glossolalia is simpler than natural human language. One might argue that that’s because God is more direct and simple, but then that doesn’t explain why it wouldn’t just be something truly simple and monotone, e.g., the Om of Hinduism and Buddhism.

      As you can see, I’m actually most interested in this from the linguistic viewpoint, perhaps because it’s easier to observe and describe.

      1. In my experience most don’t believe God actively controls it, you as the speaker control it (citing 1 Cor.14:32) but as you pray the Holy Spirit can take control in a sense and guide you deeper into prayer or miraculous experiences. (One thing that shocked me out of the practice of it was when I read the NT and saw that the demons were the ones who made people lose control). I think you’re right on when you say that people use their own native phonemes though they wouldn’t be aware of it. When you watch how people get “baptized in the Holy Spirit” they usually have a person guiding them through the process. This person prays over them and instructs them on how to pray saying things like “just make a sound and pray that sound over and over again” while also praying over them in tongues. The receiver then has his own sounds and the sounds of the guide to base their own prayer language off of. I would posit that if you were to hear Africans praying in tongues in English phonemes it is because the person that prayed over them was a native English speaker or got the gift through an English speaking person.

      2. Christ is risen! I am a professional linguist– a syntactician working within a Chomskyan theoretical framework. I didn’t really get to hear a lot of examples of “talking in tongues” from the posted video but I do have some impression. First of all there was virtually an identical syllable shape in the entire glossolalic monologue for all the speakers: CV: a consonant followed by a vowel. And often this was reduplicated: momomomo, dididididi, etc. That is, the same CV was repeated. In English, syllables are quite complex– we can have CVC (e.g. cat) or CCV (e.g. try) or CCCV (e.g., straw) or CCCVCCCC (e.g., strengths) {Remember this is referring to SOUND NOT LETTERS}. The glossolalia sounds a lot like baby talk (CVCVCV) or words in Creoles or Pidgins– extremely simplified syllable structure– common in situations of language contact or child language acquisition contexts. The prosody (intonational melody) is quite odd– it is fairly monotonic or else is sounds like someone is pronouncing phrases in a list where the pitch falls at the end of the phrase. It isn’t really possible to tell if it has a syntax because I would need to know what the basic syntactic objects (roughly words) of the “utterances” were. And then I would have to see if there were hierarchical structure, because human language has hierarchical structure– that is an aspect of sentence structure where not only does word order mean something– e.g. the dog chased the cat means something different from the cat chased the dog, but also: We need more intelligent leaders means more than one thing despite the fact that the word order doesn’t change because psychologically we can construe “more” with “intelligent” so that it means we have leaders but we need ones who are “more intelligent” or we can construe “intelligent leaders” as a phrase which “more” modifies. On that reading we have intelligent leaders but need more of them. In any case, that is not possible to observe in the glossolalia examples in the video. I would also want to measure whether there is an environmental/imitative effect. That is, do certain syllables get repeated more if there is such an example in the environment– uttered by someone else? Natural language is not influenced in that way. Instead, natural language follows rules and the rules involve something different than repetition/imitation of what one hears in the environment per se. E.g., a great deal of what we say is novel. The lack of imitativeness goes deeper than that. If anyone is interested I could write a bit about that. I think there is a lot to be said about the idea of whether or not human language would have different properties from God’s language. I will write that in a second post.

      3. I had thought I could write something about God’s language (from a linguistic perspective) but now I understand I have nothing useful to say on that.

        However, I did want to say that a chanter at my church really does have a gift of xenolalia in that he can read any passage in Greek and simultaneously and spontaneously translate it into English, fitting it perfectly into the necessary tone on the spot while chanting. It is like a mini Pentecost!

      4. Photinieucharistia,
        As a blog reader here, just wanted to chime in that I found your posts very interesting. And if the blog hosts here are listening – there is at least one person that would find a more in depth article written by you worth a read!

        Btw – if you wanted to hear more examples of “speaking in tongues” by Pentecostals and/or other holy rollers, then I’d suggest YouTube. There was also – or will be soon – a show on National Geographic (“Taboo” perhaps?) about these sects and how they have very young children “prophecy-ing” which included a lot of “speaking in tongues.” The previews were heart-breaking, but if you can stomach it they might make for good study.

  4. It seems to me that Robert Zerhusen has the best explanation for speaking in tongues. In Acts 2 the apostles proclaim the Gospel in languages they already know, Aramaic and Greek. In first-century Palestine, Hebrew was the required language for festivals and the apostles violated Jewish cultural norms when they speak in the common tongue of the gathered crowd. Zerhusen also discusses how the tongues problem in Corinth is related to the fact that Corinth was a multilingual seaport. In a Corinthian liturgy some people would speak in a tongue unknown to those present, which is why St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to translate the tongue. At any rate, tongues in Scripture does not indicate a language miracle nor are the ecstatic utterances of Pentecostals and charismatics, which are non-cognitive processes, ever found in the Christian tradition. (I would argue that ecstatic utterances are of pagan origin.)

    http://www.onthewing.org/user/Tongues%20-%20Zerhusen.pdf

  5. I don’t participate in an Evangelical community that conscientiously practices or encourages such “speaking in tongues,” but I have a couple of friends who regularly practice it in a quiet way. I’ve tried it myself on occasion only based on my impression of what is happening, but not with the guidance of a leader or group, as was shown in the video. I find it an interesting and freeing experience. I sometimes say the “Jesus Prayer” to myself, though not precisely word for word with each utterance, and let the repetition progress into a complete conscious detachment from the words themselves. While my mouth is quietly uttering xenoglossiac nonsense I find my mind clearly focused on the central worship and surrender in Jesus, my consciousness free to communicate my praises, confessions and hopes without the articulation of it is well-structured language consciously occupying my mind.

    Such “speaking in tongues” seems to me a tool for disconnecting the rationalizing and social-positioning process — praying as if one needs to communicate with intelligence, authority, persuasion, cohesion, affirmation of education, etc. — and one focuses on just letting the central consciousness release itself. Remarkably, when people pray aloud, even if not under the pressure of standing in front of a group, this language-rationalizing process still happens. “Speaking in tongues” therefore accomplishes similar things dynamically and in state of mind (it seems to me based on my experience) as reciting a “Jesus Prayer” mantra or chanting a meditative mantra like Aummm. It isn’t quite an “empty mind” or “singular mind” experience that is usually sought in Eastern experience, but reaches a similar outcome by way of a different path in that it can enable one’s praises and desires to freely release without consciously containing and rationalizing them. It is interesting to see in the video that experiential sensation linked to imaging of what is actually happening in the brain.

    Yet I struggle with such a practice as a modal expression within a body of believers in worship. On one hand, were this the genuine expression of that Gift of the Spirit, it doesn’t seem out of place nor wrong that an individual should seek that gift out (1 Cor 12:31). What makes me doubtful that this is the gift as discussed in Scripture is that 1) it never seems at all like the xenoglossiac experience described in Acts, but 2) even if xenoglossia weren’t the only mode of the gift, I’ve never seen it accompanied by the Interpretation of Tongues (1 Cor 14), which seems to me the other half of the communicative gift. All I’ve seen is a few Believers practicing it toward themselves, or, like in the video, a group chanting it toward each other with no interpreter(s) nor receiver(s) intended as part of the “angelic communication”. The latter especially makes me uncomfortable. Not that the experience happens, were it ecstatically authentic, per se, but that in such situations it seems socially affirmed one must participate in it to be experiencing genuine worship in the Spirit. And this is plainly not so.

    1. Just for clarity, xenoglossia is not ecstatic utterance or nonsense syllables. It’s speaking a real, normal human language that one doesn’t otherwise know. An example would be if I began speaking Turkish or Korean. That is not the same thing as glossolalia. Most decent analyses of the NT would regard what happens at Pentecost in Jerusalem as xenoglossia, while glossolalia is what’s happening in Corinth.

      Regarding the Jesus Prayer, it actually is not the same as a mantra, though I suppose one could misuse it in that way. It is rather called by the monastic fathers the monologistos evchi, the “prayer of a single thought.” The idea is not to remove all conscious thoughts from oneself but rather to focus in on a single one—crying out to the Lord for mercy. It is actually an exceptionally conscious form of prayer, not an anti-conscious one.

      1. Thanks for the clarifications. I was referring by using the term xenoglossia to the Jerusalem experience in Acts, but not being clear that I still struggle whether the “Pentecostal” experience is an authentic correlative to the Corinth experience. Opinion? Is it of a similar historical mode?

        And re: your comment on the Jesus Prayer that’s why I said, “singular mind” as intent compared to the “empty mind” a mantra like Aum is intended to achieve. (Which even by Eastern meditative standards isn’t precisely a “non-conscious” intent but certainly in its focus not exactly the same as a prayer like the Jesus Prayer). I think they are different ways to similar ends, but you’re probably right I should not use the term mantra to describe the Jesus Prayer nonetheless.

      2. Father Andrew, while I understand the distinction between xenoglossy and glossolalia, and the argument that tongues in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 are different phenomena (I agree with the second part), I think Prof. Zerhusen decisively refutes the notion that xenoglossy ever happened in Acts 2. If you look at the list provided by St. Luke in Acts 2:9-11, in most if not all of those regions the native languages were Aramaic and Greek (for example, Rome and Judea are included on the list, so is Mesopotamia [Aramaic] and the Roman colony Cyrene [Greek]). The crowd heard the apostles speak in their own languages because the apostles spoke Aramaic and Greek, whereas in the context of first-century Palestine Hebrew was the language reserved for festivals such as Pentecost. Most NT commentators who interpret Acts 2 as xenoglossy ignore the cultural context and read their assumptions into the text. St. Luke never says the apostles spoke in languages they had never learned.

        1. That was a great article and the diglossia perspective makes a lot of sense — and contrary to Evangelical worries does not say there isn’t the divine in being able to speak (and being perceived as speaking such) with weight and authority. In fact it makes it seem even more appreciable and less alien to our common spiritual experience. Evernote’d for re-reference when this comes up in conversation with Evangelical friends in the future. Thanks for sharing!

        2. I will admit that I have not taken the time today to read the 50-page paper you linked to from Mr. Zerhusen, but to be honest, I’m not sure that we need to. Honestly, insisting that the languages spoken of in Acts 2 are glossolalia makes no sense even on its face. Why would St. Luke emphasize everyone hearing in his own language (which in itself negates the idea of glossolalia — these are real human languages) if there was nothing miraculous about it? And why the emphasis on the numerous places the listeners were from, if there really only were two languages under consideration? Such a gloss makes no sense at all just from its plain sense. It is not surprising to me that it takes 50+ pages to try to circumlocute around what is actually pretty plain language.

          In any event, the Orthodox Church has always pretty directly said that what happens in Acts 2 is xenoglossia. Here’s an example from the Venerable Bede (8th c.) in his commentary on Acts 2:4:

          The church’s humility recovers the unity of languages which the pride of Babylon had shattered. Spiritually, however, the variety of languages signifies gifts of a variety of graces. Truly therefore, it is not inconsistent to understand that the Holy Spirit first gave to human beings the gift of languages, by which human wisdom is both learned and taught extrinsically, so that he might thereby show how easily he can make men wise through the wisdom of God, which is within them.

          Bede borrows from St. Gregory the Theologian (4th c., a.k.a. “Gregory Nazianzen”) for his comments on Acts 2:6:

          The question here concerns the way in which everyone heard them speaking about the wonders of God in his own language. Was it that the speakers expressed what they had to say in the diverse discourse of every language — that is, in such a way that each of them, speaking now this language and now that, thus proceeded through all [the languages of those present]? Or was the marvel rather the fact that the discourse of those who were speaking, in whatever language it may have been uttered, was understood by everyone of the hearers in his own language? So, for example, when any one of the apostles was talking in the assembly (for one person had to speak while the rest were silent, and one discourse had to come within the hearing of everyone) that very discourse had within itself the power that, when there were hearers of diverse nations, each of them would perceive what they heard in terms of his own language and would grasp the meaning of that one and the same discourse which had been uttered by the apostle — unless perhaps this makes the miracle seem to be more in the hearing than the speaking.

          As you can see, Bede (via St. Gregory) is concerned here only with whether the miracle was that the Apostles could switch between languages or whether they simply spoke and everyone heard something different, according to his native tongue. There certainly is no sense here that there are only two languages being spoken that all the apostles knew and everyone else did, too.

          And here’s the passage from St. Gregory which Bede is no doubt paraphrasing from:

          They spoke with strange tongues, and not those of their native land; and the wonder was great, a language spoken by those who had not learned it. And the sign is to them that believe not, and not to them that believe, that it may be an accusation of the unbelievers, as it is written, With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and not even so will they listen to Me says the Lord. But they heard. Here stop a little and raise a question, how you are to divide the words. For the expression has an ambiguity, which is to be determined by the punctuation. Did they each hear in their own dialect so that if I may so say, one sound was uttered, but many were heard; the air being thus beaten and, so to speak, sounds being produced more clear than the original sound; or are we to put the stop after “they Heard,” and then to add “them speaking in their own languages” to what follows, so that it would be speaking in languages their own to the hearers, which would be foreign to the speakers? I prefer to put it this latter way; for on the other plan the miracle would be rather of the hearers than of the speakers; whereas in this it would be on the speakers’ side; and it was they who were reproached for drunkenness, evidently because they by the Spirit wrought a miracle in the matter of the tongues. (emphasis added)

          Definitely xenoglossia. You say that someone who sees things this way ignores the cultural context, but I daresay someone like St. Gregory the Theologian is actually quite a bit closer in both time and space to what is going on there than Zerhusen, whoever he may be. (Is he really a professor? The article does not say that he teaches anywhere, and he does not even have a doctorate listed.) Indeed, it seems to me that those who argue for glossolalia in Acts 2 are the ones ignoring the time and place.

          Some more from the Church Fathers, who clearly regard what happens on Pentecost as xenoglossia (emphasis mine):

          St. Ephraim the Syrian (4th c.): Now the Prophets performed all [other] signs; but on no occasion supplied the deficiency of members. But the deficiency of the body was reserved, that it should be supplied through our Lord; that souls might perceive that it is through Him that every deficiency must be supplied. It is meet, then, that the prudent should perceive that He Who supplies the deficiencies of the creatures, is Master of the formative power of the Creator. But when He was upon earth, our Lord gave to the deaf [and dumb], [the power] of hearing and of speaking tongues which they had not learned; that after He had ascended, [men] might understand that He gave to His disciples [the power] of speaking in every tongue.

          St. Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd c.): Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language [i.e., not just two languages – Fr. A] joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.

          St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th c.): The phrase ‘Spirit of God’ denotes also the Paraclete Spirit, and that not only on the testimony of prophets but also of apostles, when it is said:— This is that which was spoken through the Prophet, It shall come to pass on the last day, says the Lord, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and their daughters shall prophesy. And we learn that all this prophecy was fulfilled in the case of the Apostles, when, after the sending of the Holy Spirit, they all spoke with the tongues of the Gentiles.

          St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th c.): The Galilean Peter or Andrew spoke Persian or Median. John and the rest of the Apostles spoke every tongue to those of Gentile extraction; for not in our time have multitudes of strangers first begun to assemble here from all quarters, but they have done so since that time. What teacher can be found so great as to teach men all at once things which they have not learned? So many years are they in learning by grammar and other arts to speak only Greek well; nor yet do all speak this equally well; the Rhetorician perhaps succeeds in speaking well, and the Grammarian sometimes not well, and the skilful Grammarian is ignorant of the subjects of philosophy. But the Holy Spirit taught them many languages at once, languages which in all their life they never knew. This is in truth vast wisdom, this is power divine. What a contrast of their long ignorance in time past to their sudden, complete and varied and unaccustomed exercise of these languages!

          St. John Chrysostom (4th c.): Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it [the gift of tongues – Fr. A] before the rest [i.e., at Pentecost – Fr. A]? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages.

          I could of course go on and on here. The point is that the Church through the ages has understood what happened at Pentecost as being the Apostles speaking human foreign languages. Of course, I suppose you could argue that most Christians for 2000 years have been wrong about this and now suddenly this gentleman with a couple of Master’s degrees in theology has finally got it right. But I can’t say I find his analysis more trustworthy than the unwavering, unchanging Orthodox Christian faith, especially since he seems to be completely unaware of what the Church Fathers have to say on the issue.

      3. Thanks for all the quotes, Fr. Andrew. To be clear, Mr. Zerhusen’s thesis is at an impasse with the discussion as you have framed it, but not because he is arguing glossolalia in Acts 2. Peace and good will, and thank you for helping me better understand the Orthodox perspective via your contributions here.

        1. I don’t think it’s just a question of framing, but rather of dealing with what’s actually in the Scripture and how the Church that wrote, compiled and canonized that Scripture understood it. One can weave all the theories one likes about such things, but if they don’t actually conform to the faith of the people who put those texts together, there’s no particular reason to regard those theories as authoritative interpretations. It doesn’t make much sense to tell the people who put the book together that they’re wrong about what it means, else you’re accepting their authority in choosing texts but not in how to read them.

  6. This is interesting. I’m not Orthodox but am an Orthophile … and I agree with much of what I’ve seen of the Orthodox ‘take’ on this issue. I have known instances of ‘interpretation of tongues’ in Pentecostal/charismatic settings and even did what I took to be interpretation myself on one or two occasions – but the thing with any of this is that there’s no objective way of checking whether that’s really what was happening. I have no idea whether I really ‘interpreted’ the tongues or not or simply put together a few pious sounding thoughts. I think the latter is the most likely explanation! I have known instances of people who have apparently ‘spoken in tongues’ spontaneously without the kind of guidance, platform cues or peer-pressure that others have described. I’ve heard one or two instances that sound quite convincing – a theology professor in one instance and an Anglican nun in another … but neither would make any great big ‘deal’ out of the practice.

  7. Interestingly enough, before I was a Christian I remember thinking that the obsession with “speaking in tongues” was supposed to be a sign of demonic possession (during which the pastor approaches and “exorcises” the sufferer) which was only encouraged on account of the belief that it at once made one acquainted with one’s own sinfulness and at the same time allowed for a kind of instantaneous, ecstatic healing or liberation. It was only much later when I learned that this practice was not only something which was actually pursued for its own sake, but also almost unconditionally considered to be utilizing a divine or angelic language. I was further shocked when I first started reading through the Book of Acts only to discover that the Apostle’s reception of the “gift of tongues” described therein was quite obviously in reference to their miraculous ability to preach the Gospel in the vernacular languages of the nations, which kind of flew in the face of the Pentecostals’ claims to simply be “doing what’s in the Bible.” I thought it was pretty clearly understood as a prophetic reversal of the OT curse of Babel. I was also amused to note that in the linked Wikipedia article which cited Eusebius’ description of the heretic Montanus as one who “became possessed of a spirit, and suddenly began to rave in a kind of ecstatic trance, and to babble in a jargon, prophesying in a manner contrary to the custom of the Church which had been handed down by tradition from the earliest times,” he even grants that the latter became possessed of “a spirit”… just not the Holy Spirit. If anything, this seems to be the exact opposite of what was experienced by the Apostles: speaking in a private language only you can understand as opposed to a public language everyone can understand.

    I also found Fr. Andrew’s description of modern glossolalia as “semi-Gnostic” to be interesting as well, for manifold reasons. Firstly, the whole Pentecostal movement is pretty obviously an extreme reaction against the (admittedly problematic) rationalism contained within much of historic Western Christianity, with Roman Catholicism and the Reformed churches being the most ubiquitous manifestations, and its subsequent relegation of the Holy Spirit to a kind of almost, if you will, second-class citizen of the divine community of the Trinity (a la Filioque). The desire to “bypass the mind” in prayer bears only a kind of superficial resemblance to the “mind in the heart” doctrine of the Desert Fathers and the Prayer of the Heart; rather, such a “bypass” seems to suggest that the mind (or the body for that matter) as a created substance is somehow inherently evil, and not merely fallen. Moreover, implicit in the anti-mind/matter attitude is the highly problematic belief that the spiritual world is, by contrast, inherently good and thus in a sense precluding any concerns about spirits of, well, another kind. I actually think it is unfair to the ancient Gnostics, whose anti-matter mentality was more often the result of the kind of metaphysically flawed asceticism (i. e. concluding that the spirit’s disordered relation to the body is because of the inherent, eternal evil of the latter instead of a relative, temporal evil cosmically affected by the Fall) than a desire to “do whatever.”

    Interestingly enough, there is even a Charismatic movement going on within the Roman Catholic world proper which has recently gained full papal approval as a legitimate “tradition of the church.” I was pretty disappointed when I learned that one of my contemporary Roman Catholic heroes and one of the great defenders of classical Christian thought and practice, Peter Kreeft, has given his endsorement and participation to this movement. But whatever the intricacies, it is clear that the growing desire to break away from the rational, structured, and predictable and embrace the (apparently) more spontaneous, ecstatic and “spiritual” is strong indeed. It is certainly sad that so many do not realize that liturgy and an organized prayer life are in fact merely the first stepping stones to a truly unceasing and spontaneous life of the Spirit, in which we carry the joy of the Resurrection each Sunday throughout every moment of our daily existence. After all, it’s all only a dress rehearsal for the Eternal, Heavenly Liturgy at the Second Coming.

  8. “Tie me a bow tie”. That is the secret to faking tongues. Just repeat “Tie me a bow tie” over and over again, with eyes closed and arms raised. I learned this once from an “off the cuff” remark made by an asst. pastor at a Foursquare Church (Pentecostal) I was attending at the time. Apparently it was an “inside joke” and known as a way to “fake it” until the “real thing” happened.

    1. I thought it was “I’m in a Honda.” 🙂

      Giggles aside, I was spiritually abused by some “charismatic” nutjobs as a teenager. Sent me into a nihilistic downward spiral that nearly killed me, so I don’t feel much charity towards the group as a whole. Anyone who goes after children or impressionable young men and women by virtue of their emotions, teaching them to bypass their self-control, is just a plain-old demonic instrument.

  9. I grew up in churches that taught “speaking in tongues” though I never really cared for doing it in public. I usually felt it was a private prayer between myself and God. It is something that is a mystery to myself and to many others.

    I read some of Fr Seraphim Rose’s thoughts on it. He was interesting, but quite harsh. Fr Thomas Hopko approached it much more gracefully in a podcast I listened to.

    I certainly don’t condemn it, but being in Orthodoxy now, I have found ways to pray in which I feel much more connected to God. “Tongues” don’t feel necessary anymore. While prayer is simply communion with God, even that is a mystery to me. St Paul said he thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than all of the Corinthians, but that too is a mystery to me. Why would it matter? And did he mean doing it privately or publicly? I probably have more questions than good answers at this point, but I’m ok with that.

    1. Regarding Fr. Seraphim Rose’s comments on speaking in tongues, it’s worth noting that his style is often sharp but perhaps more importantly, he was writing in the early 1970s, before Pentecostalism had been mainstreamed. What he saw was much more often associated with writhing on the floor, making animal sounds, etc., than it is today. So he’s not necessarily speaking about the kind of Pentecostalism that most people today might know. Hopko is writing decades later, so they’re not completely comparable on this.

  10. The Scriptures give the context for the language “event” at Pentecost:

    And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

    The languages of these various places were in view, of course. Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel, as Bede and others note. It is moving from confusion to clarity; from division to unity; from many peoples to one people in Christ.

    My main quibble with the idea of them not speaking Hebrew being the main point is that, well, hardly anyone actually knew Hebrew at this time. It was extremely rare. That’s why the New Testament is in Greek, all the apostles spoke in Greek, and they quoted from the Greek Old Testament practically exclusively.

    Of course, what Paul is referring to in Corinthians is another issue, but I find it hard to believe that the Spirit of unity, peace, and harmony would also be a Spirit of confusion and babbling.

    1. Most Jews at the time spoke Aramaic, although Hebrew was often used for various religious purposes. Nonetheless, I agree with your analysis of the passage. One startling thing though is that all of the people from these various places recognized their own languages. That means that the Apostles were likely speaking in very particular dialects of Greek native to certain regions.

      1. I agree, if we’re talking about Palestinian Jews. Everyone outside of Palestine would’ve almost exclusively spoken Greek. The Septuagint was their Bible, after all 🙂

    2. Gabe, Zerhusen actually addresses that in his article – in first-century Palestine Hebrew would HAVE to have been spoken at a Jewish festival. This is documented in the Talmud, which records earlier traditions. (Incidentally, the Talmud also says that if one does not speak Hebrew at a Jewish festival they are either drunk or crazy – sound familiar?) Whether or not Hebrew would have been understood would have been irrelevant to the function of the Hebrew language in Jewish culture, which was to be a religious language. It did not matter that people could understand Hebrew, but that it was used in a religious context. Think: Did everyone in the middle ages comprehend Latin, and did that stop Roman Catholics from performing the mass in Latin?

      I have still seen no satisfactory answer to the question of why St. Luke, if he had intended to convey a language miracle, would have included places that we know for a *fact* were Greek-speaking or Aramaic-speaking regions. Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Rome, Cyrene – were all Greek-speaking places. Mesopotamia was Aramaic-speaking. These are simply historical facts …

      But the most troublesome aspect of the language miracle view, to me, is the fact that St. Luke mentions JUDEA. What language was native to Judea? “Judean”? Why mention Judea if the emphasis was on diversity of language rather than the representation of all Israel, both Judeans and the diaspora? The language miracle view, as far as I can see, can simply make no sense of this whatsoever.

      This does not seem like a central doctrine on which to hang one’s hat so this will be my last response on this thread about the subject.

      I would like to say that if anyone is interested in reading the article – actually the PDF link contains three articles – goes into much depth and builds what seems to be a very decisive case against Acts 2 recording a language miracle. At least, I can see no way to easily dismiss it. Whatever one thinks of it, I would like to see it actually engaged and not just ignored. I am certainly interested in Orthodox input on the subject and willing to be corrected or to have the point of view refined and clarified by the Tradition, but it does not appear to be a interpretation worth arguing over with other Orthodox Christians.

      1. The mention of Judea is not at all mystifying. There were Judeans present, so they are mentioned. And they, like everyone else, heard their own language.

        By the way, you seem to have left out the Persians, Arabians, etc.

        In any event, I think I showed pretty amply that the Church Fathers regard what happened at Pentecost as a “language miracle.” I can certainly understand that someone might wish to say that they’re all wrong and some new theory is correct, but I also have no reason to put stock in that theory. New isn’t better, and one can certainly find various contemporaries of the new theorist who disagree and have more credentials, etc. I need to see something pretty compelling to get me to disagree with 2000 years of essentially unanimous teaching by the Fathers. (Actually, I can’t imagine what could compel me to do that.)

      2. I would say that the Talmud is a little anachronistic when it comes to the first century, being largely a medieval work. I take little stock in what it says about most things related to Second Temple Judaism, as a result, although it has a lot of interesting tidbits of information. It is a product of the re-invented, post-Christian Judaism, not the Judaism in the days of the apostles.

        I agree that for things related to the Temple cult there would’ve been Hebrew spoken, but — as you said — no one really understood it. Even the alphabet had changed entirely in written form, from its earlier, Phoenician roots. I doubt most of the apostles knew Hebrew, especially not the simple fishermen. Greek was the dominant language, by and large, with some dialects of Aramaic in Palestine and the areas just to the north.

  11. Acts 2 aside, I’m more curious about the “gift of tongues” described in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. What exactly were the Corinthians practicing? How does it differ from what Pentecostals practice? I ask because I am an Orthodox with a background in Pentecostal Protestantism. Although having abandoned all of those practices unique to that movement a very long time ago and very dubious about the Pentecostal interpretation of scripture on these points, I’m still left at a loss when trying to understand these passages.

    1. Father Andrew, thank you very much for that. It was most informative and it confirmed my suspicions regarding the novelty of contemporary practices. But while it cleared up much, I’m still left with questions. Why was the practice prevalent in Corinthian parishes? Was it because they were multilingual? Further, if such gifts are usually only seen in the spiritually wise, as you suggested above, why was it practiced so imprudently at Corinth?

      I suppose these questions may not have clear answers as we only know so much about the Corinthians in this time period, which isn’t that much of a loss really. Paul himself writes that this gift should not be overemphasized and is not in any way necessary for the spiritual life.

      1. We also have to keep in mind that the Corinthian letters are occasional responses to specific issues within that local church. They are not necessarily touching upon issues that have universal application, to the last detail.

        Really, anyone who would base their parish or church on the Corinthian church is insane. 😉 They had a whole host of issues, and we shouldn’t always take Paul’s treatment of those issues as normative for the life of the Church “in general,” I think.

        I haven’t read the Fathers on the language issues there, but even here, it is downplayed as of secondary importance (at best).

  12. Very interesting article and discussion for this former charismatic/Pentecostal Evangelical. My experience regarding that and since I became Orthodox is similar to Jeremiah’s.

    I will say, as I commented in a thread under a post of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s (here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2013/05/14/the-god-cocktail/#comment-81704) that I attended a psychology seminar while I was a college student where a visiting prof presented findings from a study comparing the brain activity of Christians engaged in praying in “tongues” and praying in their own learned language. That study found (back in the early ’80s) that there were no significant differences–seemingly opposite to the report in this post. However, the great technological advances of the past three decades in our ability to image brain activity may account for that.

    As I also mentioned in that comments thread, I recently saw a “Dr. Oz” show where Dr. Daniel Amen (PBS brain expert) measured the brain activity of a famous Long Island “psychic” in a normal state and then also when she was “receiving” messages from “the spirits.” While she was under her “influence,” the brain scan also (like those in this video) showed greatly suppressed activity in the frontal lobes, and in her case “hyperactivity” in the temporal lobes of the kind “normally associated with seizures and states of extreme stress and high anxiety” according to Dr. Amen. I’m wondering what was the level of activity in the temporal lobes for those who practice this kind of “glossolalia.” It would be interesting to compare that, too, since my understanding is that modern science shows increased levels of activity in the temporal lobes associated with “spiritual” experiences of many kinds.

    Although I would really have bristled with the suggestion in my Pentecostal years, I have had to admit since that although some Pentecostalism has become more mainstream and less extreme, that is certainly not true of all of it. Many in charismatic circles gravitate also in the direction of the “word of faith” and “prosperity gospel” heresies. I now see modern “glossolalia” and experiences of the “spiritual gifts” (with possibly a very few exceptions) as more likely to be occult in nature than genuinely from the Holy Spirit. At the very least, they seem to be more likely merely human emotional/psychological self-expression than a true expression of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

  13. I recently have come across a few articles written by former yoga practitioners who claim that when charismatics speak in tongues and writhe on the ground they seem to be experiencing kundalini energy. I myself have wondered why charismatics assume that they are being moved by the “Holy Spirit” – rather than another spirit? It seems to just be due to trust that God wouldn’t allow that. I recently read portions of a book by a youth pastor who explained how she guided children to speak in tongues if they were struggling with it. She would tell them to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit moved them to do, would try telling them to start on their own with “baby talk”, then let the Spirit take over from there – and then finally, with those who were still struggling, she said (paraphrasing from memory): “There is no wrong response, nothing wrong you can do here, there are no mistakes!” THAT seemed to get even the stragglers going…but that seems to also leave those children wide open to whatever spiritual forces are around!

  14. Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick,

    speaking in tongues.

    I have not read the previous posts, so I hope I am not repeating others.

    In the book of acts, people from many different language speaking areas were gathered in one place.

    Now please NOTE: if this were to happen today,

    example 1… an american minister goes to china to give a sermon. a translator would be used to repeat the words of the speaker in chinese.

    example 2…. in the united nations, when one speaks, each representative has an earphone in which the speakers language is translated into the listeners language so each can understand what is said in their own language

    example #2 is exactly what happened in acts when the holy spirit took over and spoke in “tongues” (properly translated “languages”).
    When the disciples spoke in his own language, each person heard the words in HIS own language in his own brain. This could only be of God himself.
    another example… If a Russian and an American and a Japanese person were standing in the crowd, each would have head the speaker in their own language in their own brain!

    In some churches today, people begin speaking “in tongues” BUT no one else understands the person, unless someone else can interpret!

    Well this does NOT match the biblical speaking in tongues that was done in the bible, so it is NOT of God!.

    This speaking in tongues is only going to be done again when God says you are not to speak when brought before the spurious Messiah, but to let God speak through you! This is future, so until then, the only way to speak in tongues is in example 2.

    Thanks

    Allan

  15. Having been apart of the Assemblies of God church for about a year, I had what they call Baptism in the Holy Spirit experience which began a gift of tongues for me. I still can’t say what exactly it is or is not, but I can share with you some of my experience which is different from what you are saying about it here. Please note, I am not trying to boast about anything, just to share some of my experiences.

    I have never known anyone to become possessed by God. Paul explains to the Corinthians, who were misusing the manifestation gifts, “let two or three speak and each in turn… and if there is no one to interpret let each of them keep silent and speak to himself and God.”(1Cor.14:27-32). I have always had complete control over my will any time I felt my spirit stirring…. this is how I know that the tongue is coming, I actually feel a stirring that originates in my gut, like an energy or excitement (I think it might be somewhat similar to what the Chinese call “qi” or “Chi”- maybe) I get this sense of urgency that I have to speak or pray or intercede for something or someone. There have been times that I have suppressed tongues because I felt it was not the appropriate time. There is this idea that one can learn to speak in tongues like you would learn a human language and that once you have the ability, you can speak at your own will…. I don’t know about that… I had a friend ask me once to speak because he was curious what it sounded like, but I told him I can’t just make it happen whenever I want.

    Ever since that “baptism” experience I have had a heightened awareness of the spiritual realm- sensing the presence of something, whether it was a peaceful spirit or one of deceit or evil intentions- and sensing where there are spiritual battles taking place (I have noticed a lot surrounding the Catholic Church, which incidentally, has led me on my quest to discovering Orthodoxy). I have also noticed a few other of the manifestation gifts operating in myself over the last 12 years, which Paul talks about in 1Cor.12. For example, I have, at times, been given words of encouragement (words of faith, not just positive talk) meant for a specific person for a specific time and situation, while having no previous knowledge of the person, as well as an unusual amount of faith, and discerning of spirits.

    I believe tongues can be a known human language, I have heard stories of that happening, but the question we have asked ourselves, and what you’ve quoted as St. Gregory above, was the miracle of Pentecost in the speaking or the hearing? I might hear myself babbling, but a person listening might hear his native tongue. The thing that finally led me to accept this “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was, on the night this happened, a woman in the congregation began speaking in tongues and it sounded to me like an actual human language, maybe some type of African. It was more complex in structure, like a real language, than all the “baby talk” I had heard up to that point. If I would have known who was speaking, I would have liked to ask her how she heard herself.

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