Saturday, June 11, 2011

Did the apostles speak in tongues?

And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans? And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born? […] We have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts of the Apostles 2:6-8,11)
After the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles went forth from their hiding-room and boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples. The word of the Lord was preached, quite literally, to all peoples: To Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians. (Acts 2:9-11)
What is particularly marvelous about this first public act of preaching by the Church is that each of these peoples, from all their diverse cultures, heard the apostles speaking in all the diverse tongues or languages of the nations. As the apostles preached, the Parthians heard Parthian, the Medes heard Median, the Elamites heard their own language, and so forth.
Interpreting this passage, some are inclined to think that, while the apostles spoke only one language (Aramaic), this single tongue was transformed in the ears of the audience into all the diverse languages of the nations – thus, the miracle would not be in the preaching itself, but in the listening (since the one language of the apostles would be heard as multiple languages by the audience). However, as we look closely at the text, we can see that this interpretation is flawed and that the miracle was in the preaching more than in the hearing.

The apostles spoke in multiple languages
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak diverse tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. (Acts 2:4)
As we have mentioned in recent articles, by “speaking in tongues” we do not refer to the modern charismatic practice of random mumblings, but to the Biblical reality of preaching the Gospel in multiple languages through the special inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit. By speaking in tongues, the apostles were moved literally to speak many languages of which they had no previous knowledge.
At the Pentecost after the first Easter, the apostles were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues – and this was not a miracle in the hearing of the audience, but in the preaching of the apostles. When the crowd in Jerusalem states that we have heard them speak in our own tongues, we are not to think that the apostles spoke only one language (Aramaic) and that this single language was transformed into many languages according to the needs of the hearers. Rather, it is clear that they began to speak diverse tongues.
In other words, the diverse tongues is in the speaking and not simply in the hearing. The reason that the crowd heard the apostles speaking each in his own language is that the apostles literally were speaking multiple languages.
We might imaging that St. Jude Thaddeus was speaking Parthian while St. Thomas Didymus spoke Median. Moreover, it is quite likely that each of the apostles began to speak, in rapid succession, many different languages – proclaiming to all the peoples the wonderful works of God.
The charism of interpretation of tongues
The particular charism which is in the hearer and which moves a man to understand a foreign language is the charism of interpretation of tongues. If the apostles had all spoken Aramaic and each of those present understood the speech as though it were in his own native language, the miracle would be in the crowd and not in the apostles.
Indeed, if the first Christian Pentecost witnessed not glossolalia (speaking in tongues) but rather the interpretation of tongues, we would be forced to come to the awkward conclusion that the Holy Spirit was not working in the apostles, but in the crowd!


Dismas said...

Fr. Reginaldus,

By this statement;

"Indeed, if the first Christian Pentecost witnessed not glossolalia (speaking in tongues) but rather the interpretation of tongues, we would be forced to come to the awkward conclusion that the Holy Spirit was not working in the apostles, but in the crowd!"

Are we to conclude that the Holy Spirit wasn't at work in both the Apostles and the crowd? It never would have occurred to me until now that the Holy Spirit was only at work in the apostles and not the crowd as well?

Michelangelo said...

Thank you for the excellent distinction as to the fact that indeed the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the gift of glossolalia, "kathos to Pneuma edidou apofthengesthai autois."
Of course, as a (please God) repentant sinner, this Biblical account builds up my faith that the Holy Spirit does indeed equip the Hierarchy, as well as the rest of us, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, to proclaim and to do the Will of the Father in the Church and in our daily lives if we lovingly live the life He gives us. Your explanation brings the truth to us clearly, and as a good Priest, you feed the sheeps! Now, you being such a good researcher, I'm sure you have the transcripts of what each of the
Apostles said, so please share, Father! Happy St. Barnabas!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, most certainly the Holy Spirit was at work in the crowd as well -- in them, actual graces led them to accept the word of the Apostles and, through the sacrament of baptism, they received the Holy Spirit in sanctifying habitual grace.

However, what I meant by the statement was that, if we think the apostles spoke only one language and the people simply heard this one language each in their own language, then there was no charism at work in the apostles but only in the crowd -- which would be very odd, since charisms are given for the benefit of the Church (rather than for the individual) and it was the apostles who were spreading the faith at Pentecost while each member of the crowd received personal benefit through faith and baptism.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You make a good point -- the Holy Spirit is most certainly continuing to guide the Church through charisms given to the hierarchy.
This is encouraging since charisms do not rely upon the personal holiness of the individual but on the power of the Spirit; therefore, even if our priests and bishops are not perfect, God can still use them to shepherd the flock. (of course, personal holiness is still very very important)
Blessings to you ... and I'll get to work on that transcript! +

Kerry J said...

Fr Reginaldus, I am a recent convert and have found the Catholic church has all answers if you seek and have patience in the search.

As a teen, I was confused by charasamatics who spoke in "tounges" as they all did so in what appeared gibberish and when asked what was being communicated was told it was not for our ears but directed towards heaven.

As a Catholic and reading the scriptures, we see that was not the purpose at least in this reading. Your in depth explanation fullfills that the Holy Spirit flows from Christ (His church) outwards but that the idea of a meaningless public display of unintelligable utterings would have only reinforced those in the crowd who thought them as drunkards. I believe personally the new age charisamatics need to refine thier practice - Paul stated every speaker of tounges needed an equivalant translator in order to serve God's purpose. They work together in the same spirit and not alone.

Nick said...

Would the fact the Apostles spoke in multiple languages, and many people converted, be proof (or some sort of proof) that the Gospels were written very early on so people could read what the Apostles were preaching but in their own languages?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am very sad to find that even the Navarre Bible Commentary errs in the discussion of this verse. At first the commentator states that the gift is at work only in the listeners and explicitly denies that the apostles were speaking in tongues
... but then the later quotations from St. Escriva' and the Second Vatican Council (Ad gentes, 4) make it clear that the apostles did speak in multiple languages by the gift of tongues [thus the commentary contradicts itself in the space of two or three paragraphs].

How frustrating it is to see even the more solid and faithful commentaries confused on this point!

Dick Landkamer said...

I think there is some additional evidence in this passage that the Apostles were speaking languages they did not know. The Jews of the Diaspora asked, “Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans?” (Acts 2:7). How did the Diaspora Jews know the Apostles were Galileans? I think the answer is found in Mt 26:73 where we find Peter in the courtyard of Caiphas during the Passion of Jesus. The people who were in the courtyard with Peter knew that he was a Galilean. Not because of the way he looked, or the way he dressed, but because of his accent: “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” It seems likely that the Jews of the Diaspora, on the day of Pentecost, recognized that the Apostles were Galileans for the same reason; their accent gave them away.

That being the case, we need to consider what an accent is. An accent is noticed when two people who speak the same language pronounce the vowels and consonants of that language differently and stress the syllables of the language differently. Now, if two people who do not speak the same language are attempting to speak to each other, neither detects an accent in the other person’s speech, because they do not have a common language as a reference point. Therefore, it seems that those who heard the Apostles speaking at Pentecost were actually hearing the Apostles speak, with their Galilean accent, in the native tongue of the listeners. For this reason, they were able to identify the Apostles as Galileans.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You make an excellent point!

I especially like your connection on the recognition of accent.

When commenting on St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews, St. Thomas Aquinas mentions that the reason the style is different from the other letters is that the Apostle wrote this letter in Aramaic and it was latter translated (St. Luke) into Greek.
I mention this because the Angelic Doctor states that, although St. Paul knew many languages (through the gift of tongues), he chose to write this letter in Aramaic since he had a greater facility with that language which was his mother tongue -- therefore, if the Apostle's writing style varied from Aramaic to the other languages, we might well expect that he would likewise have an accent when he spoke in tongues.
Peace! +

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Your commentary is a joy to read and you are spot on about The Apostles speaking in tongues and that is Tradition.

Here is Haydock's Biblical Commentary (the same is reflected in Dom Orchard's, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture; "The miracle was one of speaking not of hearing")).

"Ver. 4. Began to speak divers tongues. Perhaps the apostles spoke only their own tongue, and the miracle consisted in each one's understanding it as if they spoke it in his language. (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, orat. xliv.) --- But St. Augustine and most others, understand the text literally; though the apostles had not this gift on all occasions, nor on all subjects, and therefore sometimes stood in need of interpreters. See St. Augustine, in Psalm xvii.; Expos. 2.; and Serm. 188. --- The same Father observes, that the conversion of all nations to the Church, and their being united in one faith, all having one language or confession, is a perpetuation of the same miracle in the Church."

Dom Orchard notes what is, to me, even more interesting: That The Jews in Jerusalem, many of them bilingual, would have understood if the Apostles had spoken Greek but the speaking in different tongues signified that the preaching of the Good News was intended even for the Gentiles, every nation under Heaven. (my paraphrase).

Anonymous said...

Father John Hardon's dictionary:

"gift of tongues - One of the preternatural gifts described by St. Luke. Also known as glossalalia, it was the gift of speaking so as to be understood by all (as happened on Pentecost), and the corresponding ability of the hearers to understand a person speaking in a foreign tongue. St. Paul describes a different gift of tongues in the early Church, namely talking in unintelligible speech, but he viewed it with suspicion when those who had the charism lacked the ability to explain what they were saying (I Corinthians 14:1-40). Among Pentecostals in the charismatic movement, the gift of tongues is said to be very active in modern times."

It seems that Fr. Hardon thought the miracle to be both in the speaker and the hearer, not either/or. What are your thoughts?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The quote from Fr. Hardon seems to imply that the single speech of the Apostles was understood simultaneously by many of different languages ... this is contrary to the manifest statement of Scripture: "They began to speak in DIVERSE tongues" (Acts 2:4)
I think that we need to rely on the traditional interpretation of Fathers, Doctors, saints, and theologians -- this is the interpretation I have presented in the above article.

In any case, although on this point it is quite clear that Fr. Hardon is wrong (and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are right), I do think that his dictionary is generally a very trustworthy reference book. Additionally, Fr. Hardon was a very holy priest.

Peace! +

Anonymous said...

Another dictionary reference, this time from Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, put out by Our Sunday Visitor.

"Gift of Tongues - One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit described by St. Luke (Acts 2:4, 18; 19:6) and referred to thirty-five times in the N.T. This gift (glossolalia) enables one to speak so as to be understood (as at Pentecost) and in a manner incomprehensible to the hearers. It is meant to praise God (1 Cor 14:2 ff.) and to communicate the "mind of God" to the listeners. Mentioned in early N.T. documents, this gift is subordinate to charity (1 Cor 14:1) in building up the Mystical Body of Christ (1 Cor 14:5). CCC 2003"

Now, I understand and I think I agree with your position, which you tell me is the traditional understanding of the Church. However, my question to you is why do many modern-day traditional Catholics understand it differently? Is it just that they do not know the traditional teachings on this point, or has there been a modern sway in the understanding here, or what? It seems confusing that the traditional teachers today do not know the traditional teaching on this.

Thanks, JJ.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

As to why so many modern Catholic commentaries err regarding the "Gift of tongues" ...
... I would say that this error is merely a symptom and example of a much larger problem in modern biblical scholarship: These "scholars" (even the Catholic ones) really seem to think that no-one from before 1800 knew anything at all about the true meaning of Scripture.

They completely ignore and dismiss the traditional interpretations of Fathers and Doctors -- I do not say that they "disagree", no, not even that ... they do not even so much as consider the commentaries of the Fathers, Doctors, scholastics, and counter-reformation theologians!
[would that they might disagree, at least this would prove that they have at least read the tradition!]

Even some of the best and most conservative Catholic scholars today are infected by this general bias -- as witness by the quotes you have provided ... I would not be surprised if these men (even Fr. Hardon) had not read more than a few passages of St. Thomas' biblical commentaries, let alone the great commentaries of the counter-reformation period (by theologians like St. Lawrence of Brindisi and Fr. Cornelius a' Lapide).

The Church has indeed fallen upon hard theological times!

Elmer Velasquez said...

The Apostles not only knew the language, but were able to dominate the accent to accomadate different brethern. To make them feel more comfortable and understand the message.

Praise to the most worshipful master of the universe, our lord Jehovah!Praise to his son Jesus Christ!

Anonymous said...

It was languages spoken , that's for sure.. pretty hard to go into all the world and preach the Gospel of Yeshua , unless you are given a gift from The Holy Spirit to be able to communicate TO People in a language that you don't know .. how else would the message be spread ... its all about communicating, eduacatiing, proclaiming the wonderful things Of God and the Grace he gives through the son Yeshua , that totally believing and relying on him , we shall be saved..

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