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CHAPTER 2-section 1

Tongues in History

Throughout recorded history there have been many occasions where religious people have spoken in unknown tongues—glossolalia. Most of the known accounts predating the Pentecostal experience are of non-Christian origin. Therefore most Christians would hardly take the position that every occurrence of glossolalia must be an expression of the will of God. Yet there are glossolalists who subscribe to this view. As a rule, the charismatics allude to Pentecost as the supreme example of supernatural tongues; however, the recorded cases of glossolalia go back as far as 1100 B.C. At that time a young Amen worshiper made ancient headlines and attracted historical notoriety when he suddenly became possessed by a god and began to emit sounds in a strange ecstatic "tongue." In the "Report of Wenamon," a text giving the oldest account of glossolalia known to man (originating in Byblos, a temple city in historical Lebanon), we find the scanty details:

"Now, when he sacrificed to his gods, the gods seized one of his noble youths, making him frenzied, so that he said, 'Bring the god hither! Bring the messenger of Amen who hath him. Send him and let him go.'"—George A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (Philadelphia: American Sunday School Union, 1916), page 353.

Seven hundred years later, the Greek philosopher Plato also made mention of the "gift" in his time. In his Phaedrus, he demonstrated that he was well acquainted with the phenomenon, for he referred to several families who, according to him, practiced ecstatic speech, praying, and utterings while possessed. Continuing further, he pointed out that these practices even brought physical healing to those who engaged in them. Plato, together with most of his contemporaries, asserted that these occurrences were caused by divine inspiration. To support this view, he suggested (in Timaeus) that God takes possession of the mind while man sleeps or is possessed, and that during this state, God inspires him with utterances and/or visions which he can neither understand nor interpret.

Virgil, too, during the last century before Christ, described in Aeneid the activities of the Sybilline priestess on the Island of Delos. He attributed her ecstatic tongues to the result of her being unified with the god Apollo, a state that enveloped her while she meditated in a haunted cave amidst the eerie sounds of the wind playing strange music through the narrow crevices in the rocks.

In speaking of the Pythoness of Delphi, Chrysostom, a church father, wrote: "This same Pythoness then is said, being a female, to sit at times upon the tripod of Appolo astride, and thus the evil spirit ascending from beneath and entering the lower part of her body, fills the woman with madness, and she with disheveled hair begins to play the bacchanal and to foam at the mouth, and thus being in a frenzy to utter the words of her madness."—Chrysostom, "Homilies on First Corinthians." (Italics supplied.)

Many of the mystery religions of the Graeco-Roman world undoubtedly included the same phenomenon. Among those most often listed are the Osiris cult originating in the land of the Pharaohs; the Mithra cult of the Persians, and the lesser known Eulusinian, Dionysian, and Orphic cults cradled in Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece. The basis for this opinion is that their entire system of belief and rituals centered around spirit possessions. Another indication comes from Lucian of Samosata (A.D. 120-198) who in De Dea Syria describes an example of glossolalia as exhibited by an itinerant believer of June, the Syrian goddess, stationed at Hierapolis in Syria.* (Interestingly, the term glossolalia, so widely used today, comes from the Greek vernacular which was in existence long before the day of Pentecost.)

Moffatt's New Testament Commentary says of these manifestations: "Oracles of the great 'lord' at the Shrine of Delphi, as Heraclitus put it, were revelations of the god's will through ecstasy, not through sensible words. So were the Sybil's unintelligible cries. A priest or priestess, seized by sudden trances of the spirit, uttered mystic sayings, which were held to be all the more divine as they were least rational or articulate. [Italics supplied.] Philo in Alexandria had taken over the Greek notion, arguing that such ecstasy, when the mind or unconscious reason was superseded, was the highest reach of the human soul in its quest for God."—Commentary on 1 Cor. 14, p. 214.

It was into this suffocating world of heathen superstitions, pagan rituals—besides Jewish indifference—that Christ was born.

For a short while the world seemed to be on the road to spiritual restoration, but then it happened. The Jewish hierarchy decided on a series of countermoves. Aided by one of His own disciples and using the Roman power as executioners, they quickly moved in and bloodily erased their only Way to salvation, killing the King of the universe on the one world He loved most.

Confusion reigned, and His disciples spent anxious hours. Encouraged by His resurrection, they were greatly strengthened by Christ's promise to send them the Holy Spirit.

*Ira J. Martin III, "Glossolalie in the Apostolic Church," (Berea, Ky: Berea College Press, 1960, page 80); cited by Robert G. Gromacki, "The Modern Tongue Movement" (Philadelphia, Pa.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company), 1967, page 8. (return to text)

But ye shall receive power …

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