19 June 2008

More on the gift of tonuges

You may recall a post some weeks back in which I commented on Francis X. Gumerlock's article, "The Interpretation of Tongues in the Middle Ages."

In my comments I wondered how the gift of tongues was understood by the Church Fathers. Dr. Gumerlock kindly sent me his article, "Tongues in the Church Fathers," published in Reformation and Revival Journal 13:4 (Fall 2004): 123-38.

The style and argumentation of the article is not the same - as might be expected - as his article concerning the Middle Ages. This article is more of a compilation of quotations from nineteen Church Fathers, several of whom I had never heard.

Dr. Gumerlock again reminds us that "one of the most common minsunderstandings about the gift of tongues is that the miracle is an ability to speak a prayer language of which only God knows the meaning."

Many Pentecostal groups will use Romans 8:26 and I Corinthians 13:1 and 14:2 to provide evidence for this mistaken notion of the gift of tongues. However, as Dr. Gumerlock wisely points out, Romans 8:26

cannot refer to the gift of tongues because the passage speaks of unutterable (alaletois) groanings, or groanings which the KJV says "cannot be uttered." Furthermore, when I Corinthians 14:2 is interpreted in the context of its chapter, it yeilds a completely opposite meaning than that of unintelligible sppech. Paul's whole argument is that tongues were not a means for private edification, but a gift to be used for communicating doctrinal content to others.
What, then, is the gift of tongues if not some unintelligible language?

When looking at the Scriptures we see that the gift of tongues is, as Dr. Gumerlock puts it, "a supernatural deposit into the mind of the recipient of a human language or languages that the recipient had not previously learned in the natural manner such as through enculturation or study." This is clear enough in Acts 2:8-11.

After demonstrating this, Dr. Gumerlock reminds us that

the earliest Pentecostals at the beginning of the twentieth century believed that the gift [of tongues] involved intelligible languages such as Chinese and Hindi. However, when the discovered that Chinese and Indian people could not understand the "tongues," they by necessity had to change their understanding of the gift to unintelligible speech.
Curious, isn't it?

From here, Dr. Gumerlock offers a series of passages culled from the Patristic authors relating to the gift of tongue. He concludes the article, saying, "In harmony with Scripture, the earliest interpreters of the New Testament understood the gift of tongues as a supernatural enablement to intelligibly speak another human language."

The article is well worth a read.

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