The Nature Of Corinthian Glossolalia: Possible Options -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:1 (Fall 1977)
Article: The Nature Of Corinthian Glossolalia: Possible Options
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


The Nature Of Corinthian Glossolalia: Possible Options

Vern Sheridan Poythress

Exegetical discussion of the nature of speaking in tongues at Corinth has sometimes been hampered by insufficient clarity about the available options. For example, Robert H. Gundry’s article in J.T.S. confines us to two options: “ecstatic utterance” or “the miraculously given ability to speak a human language foreign to the speaker.”1 But the label “ecstatic utterance” describes the psychological state of the speaker, whereas the description in terms of “a human language foreign to the speaker” deals with the scientific classification of the utterance (the speech product). This is mixing apples and oranges. For a clearer discussion, we need to distinguish at least five different parameters of classification.2 ( 1) What was the psychological state of the speaker at the time of utterance? (2) How far did the speaker “understand what he was saying,” either at the time or afterwards? (3) How (lid Corinthian hearers perceive what was uttered ? (4) What is the classification of the speech product in modern scientific terms? (5) How did the Apostle Paul classify the utterances linguistically? I shall discuss these questions one by one.3

1. What was the psychological state of the speaker at the time of utterance? The alternatives are (a) normal waking consciousness and (b) altered states of consciousness. Altered states of consciousness can be of many kinds: dozing, drunkenness, emotional “high,” self-hypnosis.4 As Cyril G. Williams puts it, “Ecstasy is much too vague a term to employ unless it be abundantly qualified to make clear that there are many degrees of it, ranging from mild dissociation to extreme uncontrollable rapture.”5 1 Cor. 14:28 is indeed an indication that, at least ordinarily, the state of consciousness did not alter so severely that the speaker lost all “self-control.”6 But, nevertheless, it is psychologically improbable that no Corinthian tongue-speakers were ever emotionally stimulated. Their state of consciousness may have ranged from the normal to some kind of emotional rapture. Since different tongue-speakers at Corinth would have different psychological make-up, there is no reason why they might not differ when they spoke in tongues. The data in I Corinthians do not permit us to speak more narrowly.

2. How far did the speaker “unde...

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