History of Speaking in Tongues


Throughout recorded history there have been many occasions where people have spoken in what was called ecstatic tongues. Note most of these accounts predate Pentecost and were of non-Christian origin. Christians therefore cannot say with confidence that every occurrence of glossolalia must be an expression of the will of God even though many do subscribe to this view. Those practising speaking in tongues today portray Pentecost as the supreme example of supernatural tongues; however, the recorded cases of glossolalia go back as far as 1100 B.C. On that occasion a young Amen worshipper attracted historical infamy when he became possessed by a god and began to make sounds in a strange ecstatic tongue.
Seven hundred years later, the Greek philosopher Plato demonstrated that he was well acquainted with the phenomenon of speaking in tongues as he referred to several families who practices ecstatic speech, praying and uttering while supposedly possessed. He also pointed out that these practices had even brought physical healing to those who engaged in them. Plato and most of his contemporaries asserted that these occurrences were caused by divine inspiration. He suggested that God takes possession of the mind while man sleeps or is possessed and during this state, God inspires him with utterances which he can neither understand nor interpret. This does NOT mean of course that one practising speaking in tongues as seen today is possessed or not saved. That of course is just simply not true. When God confused the languages of His people who were rebelling at Babel in Genesis 11, they also spoke in “new tongues” and note this happened without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In the last century before Christ, Virgil described the speaking of ecstatic tongues of the Sybilline priestess on the Island of Delos as the result of her being unified with the god Apollo. This happened while she meditated in a haunted cave amidst the eerie sounds of the wind playing strange music through the narrow crevices in the rocks.
Several of the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world record the same phenomenon of speaking in tongues. Some of those most often listed are the Mithra cult of the Persians; the Osiris cult originating in the land of the Pharaohs, and the lesser known Dionysian, Eulusinian, and Orphic cults cradled in Macedonia, Thrace and Greece. Another indication comes from Lucian of Samosata (A.D. 120-198) who in De Dea Syria describes an example of glossolalia as exhibited by a roaming believer of June, the Syrian goddess, stationed at Hierapolis in Syria. It is also interesting to note that the term glossolalia used so widely today comes from the Greek vernacular which was in existence long before the day of Pentecost. It should be frightening to all Christians that what we see now in the Church today, resembles these occurrences of ecstatic tongues that took place in these ancient cults before the day of Pentecost and that what took place at Pentecost does not in any way resemble these occurrences. At Pentecost, it was undoubtedly and unarguably the speaking of foreign languages.
Believe it or not, speaking in tongues as seen in the Church today is a fairly recent phenomenon in Christianity. It came about in four waves. The 1st wave of speaking in tongues started around 1901 and was founded in the traditional Pentecostal movement by Charles Parham of Bethel College, Kansas. The 2nd wave of tongues speaking, neo-Pentecostalism or the Charismatic movement entered most Churches in the early 1960’s in Van Nuys, California, under Dennis Bennett, Rector of St Marks Episcopal (Anglican) Church. In ten years it spread to all major Protestant families of the world, reaching a total of 55 million people by 1990. It included the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and many others. The 3rd wave, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1967 among students and faculty of DuQuesne University, and by 1993 it touched the lives of over 100 million Catholics in over 238 nations. The 4th wave of speaking in tongues, the Evangelicals started in 1981 at Fuller Theological Seminary with John Wimber. By 1990, 33 million in the world were moving in signs and wonders, though they play down labels such as “Pentecostal” and “Charismatic”.


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