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Tongues and Other Miraculous Gifts in the Second Through Nineteenth Centuries, Part 1: From the Early Church to the 3rd Century, by Richard M. Riss

In this passage Tertullian was writing in defense of  Montanism, which is often rejected as an early heresy of the late second and early third centuries. It is widely acknowledged, however, that Tertullian became a Montanist in A.D. 206 and wrote many of  his important theological works (including Against Praxeas) after becoming a Montanist. It would seem inconsistent, however, to reject Montanism as heresy while accepting the works of one of its most outspoken adherents as authoritative theological works.

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History

Most of the available primary source materials on Montanism are unfavorable. Eusebius, in his ecclesiastical History, quotes five sources on Montanism, all of which speak very unfavorably of the movement. Part of one of his quotations is as follows:

In Phrygian Mysia there is said to be a village called Ardabav. There they say is a recent convert called Montanus, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, in the unbounded lust of his soul for leadership gave access to himself to the adversary, became obsessed, and suddenly fell into frenzy and convulsions. He began to be ecstatic and to speak and to talk strangely, prophesying contrary to the custom which belongs to the tradition and succession of the church from the beginning.”12

Montanism spread rapidly throughout Phrygia and Asia Minor in the early second century, and the use of the gift of prophecy was its major distinctive.

Whether or not Montanism was heresy (or false prophesy), there is considerable evidence in Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius that prophecy was still in use in the non-Montanist churches during the time that Montanism arose. After a long description of the persecutions in Gaul of A.D. 177-178, Eusebius writes:

Just at that time the party of Montanus and Alcibiades and Theodotus in Phrygia began first to engender among many their views concerning prophecy (for the many other wonderful works of the grace of God which were still being wrought up to that time in divers churches produced the belief that they also were prophets), and when dissension arose about the persons mentioned the brethren in Gaul formulated their own judgement, pious and most orthodox, concerning them, subjoining various letters from the martyrs who had been consecrated among them, which letters while they were still in prison they had composed for the brethren in Asia and Phrygia, and also for Eleutherus who was then bishop of the Romans, and so they were ambassadors for the sake of the peace of the churches.

Irenaeus also, who was at that time already a presbyter of the diocese at Lyons, the same martyrs commended to the afore-mentioned bishop of Rome and gave him much good testimony.”13

Whether or not Montanism was heresy, there is considerable evidence in Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius that prophecy was still in use in the non-Montanist churches during the time that Montanism arose.

Unfortunately, the above passage does not state clearly what judgement was formulated by the brethren in Gaul about Montanus; it merely states that they formulated a judgement. Whether this judgement was favorable or unfavorable, however, Irenaeus was commended, who, as we have already seen unquestionably believed in the operation of the gifts of the Spirit in his day. It is clear, therefore, that if the brethren in Gaul had made an unfavorable judgement about Montanus, they had not judged unfavorably with respect to the continuing operations of the prophetic gifts within the church. This is evident in the above passage from Eusebius, for he states, “for the many other wonderful works of the grace of God which were still being wrought up to that time in divers churches produced the belief among many that they were also prophets.”14 Of course this passage is also vague, for it is not clear what wonderful works of the grace of God were being wrought. Nevertheless, if these works produced the belief among many that they were prophets, it would be logical to assume that the works being wrought were miraculous.  Eusebius also mentions in a favorable light a treatise of the prophesy of Melito, bishop of Sardis, written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180).15 In another passage, Eusebius names several people as prophets. Included are Agabus (who is mentioned as a prophet in the Book of Acts), a certain Judas, Silas, the daughters of Phillip, Ammia in Philadelphia, and Quadratus, the apologist who had flourished during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138)16

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Category: Church History, Fall 1998, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Richard M. Riss (as of Fall 1998) is Assistant Professor of Church History at Zarephath Bible Institute in Zarephath, New Jersey. He holds a Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (1979) and a Master of Arts in Church History from Trinity Divinity School (1988). He is currently finishing a Ph.D. degree in Church History at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Richard M. Riss has authored several books including The Evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1977), The Latter Rain Movement of 1948 and the Mid-Twentieth Century Evangelical Awakening (1987), A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America and with Kathryn J. Riss, Images of Revival (1997).

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