Glossolalia In The New Testament -- By: Bastian Van Elderen

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 07:2 (Spring 1964)
Article: Glossolalia In The New Testament
Author: Bastian Van Elderen


Glossolalia In The New Testament

Bastian Van Elderen

It is obvious to even the casual reader of the New Testament that the phenomenon described by the term “Glossolalia” played a significant role in the early church. Some of the questions that immediately come to mind as one analyzes this phenomenon are: (1) What experiences of the early church are to be included in this category? (2) What is the significance and relevance of these experiences in the life of the early church? (3) How are these experiences to be evaluated in terms of their present-day possibility? Such questions have given rise to our current discussions on Glossolalia. We shall seek to deal with the first two of these.

1. The Material to be Included in Glossolalia.

The term “Glossolalia” is an English word constructed from two Greek terms: the noun γλωσσα (tongues) and the verb λαλειν (to speak). The fusion of these two Greek words is proper since in the New Testament these are the words used to describe a distinct phenomenon. This phenomenon is described by only these two terms. The verb λαλειν is used with the noun γλωσσα in the dative case (dative of means, instrument). This construction occurs 16 times — 12 times with γλωσσα in the plural (γλωσσαις), and 4 times in the singular, γλωσση.

The term (γλωσσα) literally means “tongue,” the organ of speech. In Greek, as in English, an extended meaning of the term is “language” or “dialect.” The verb λαλεω is generally translated “to speak.” It is the only verb used with γλωσσαι to describe the phenomenon under consideration — a fact of no mean significance. The New Testament has other words to describe the act of speaking: λεγω, ειπον, ψδεγγοναι — but none of these occur with the noun λγωσσα in either dative or accusative case. The verb λαλεω occurs throughout the history of the Greek language. Its general meaning “to speak,” “to talk,” but basically it conveys the idea of chattering, a kind of inarticulate speech. This appears to be present onomatopoetic-ally in the verb itself λαλεω λα-λα-λα. The relative rare noun λαλλαι (pebbles) is related to this verb, from the prattling of pebbles in a stream. Similarly, the verb λαλαγεω...

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