The Gift Of Tongues: Comparing The Church Fathers With Contemporary Pentecostalism -- By: Nathan Busenitz

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 17:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: The Gift Of Tongues: Comparing The Church Fathers With Contemporary Pentecostalism
Author: Nathan Busenitz


The Gift Of Tongues: Comparing The Church Fathers With Contemporary Pentecostalism

Nathan Busenitza

Though the church fathers, who lived shortly after the apostles, said relatively little about the gift of tongues, what they did say furnishes a helpful comparison with what contemporary Pentecostalism says about the gift. They did not believe that every Christian received the gift, but they believed that the Holy Spirit, not the human spirit, chose who would have the gift. They held that the gift’s ideal use was to benefit the entire community, not the speaker. For them, benefitting others enhanced the importance of interpretation so that others could be edified. In contrast to early views of the gift, Pentecostal writers of the twentieth-century have given a high profile to the gift. In further contrast, modern writers have not limited the gift to messages in actual human languages as did early writers. They further differ with the early fathers in teaching that all Christians should have the gift as evidence of progress in their Christian lives. The Pentecostal view is that speaking in tongues can be a learned human behavior rather than a genuine gift of the Holy Spirit—a further difference from the early fathers. Relief from personal stress and self-edification of the tongues-speaker is the primary purpose of tongues in the eyes of Pentecostals, not the edification of others through interpretation of the tongues message as it was with the fathers. Contemporary Pentecostalism thus differs from ancient Christianity in fundamental aspects in its view of the gift of tongues.

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A question that has been the center of heated debate in the last century of evangelical scholarship is, “When did the gift of tongues cease?” On the one hand, cessationists argue that tongues ceased somewhere after the first century. Pentecostal scholars disagree, contending that the charismatic gifts only declined (or continued sporadically) throughout church history, finally and fully resurfacing in the early twentieth century.

The Perspective of Patristic Writers

To support their views, both sides turn to the church fathers. In citing

patristic literature, they attempt to demonstrate either the cessation or the continuation of the charismatic gifts (depending on their perspective). Yet, because the emphasis is so often placed on when the fathers thought tongues ceased, inadequate attention has been given to what the fathers thought tongues were. The purpose of this study is to discover what the church fathers understood the nature and function of tongues-speaking to be, and then to compare that ...

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