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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

Other Writing of Tertullian

In addition to Against Praxeas, many of the works of Tertullian contain passing references to the operation of the gifts of the Spirit in his day. In A Treatise on the Soul he wrote:

For, seeing that we acknowledge spiritual charismata, or gifts, we too have merited the attainment of the prophetic gift, although coming after John (the Baptist). We have now amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favoured with sundry gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord’s day in the church: she converses with angels , and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men’s hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies.”17

Tertullian continues the narrative with further elaboration, noting that “all of  her communications are examined with the most scrupulous care, in order that their truth may be probed.”18 With his characteristic relish he states further:

The apostle most assuredly foretold that there were to be ‘spiritual gifts’ in the church. Now, can you refuse to believe this, even if indubitable evidence on every point is forthcoming for your conviction?”19

In his treatise Against Marcion, Tertullian specifically mentions the gift of tongues. In writing of the fulfillment of the prophesy of Joel 2:28,29, he compares Isaiah 11:1-5 with 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. He speaks of each of the gifts in turn, including tongues, where he says:

When he mentions the fact that ‘it is written in the law,’ how that the creator would speak with other tongues and other lips, whilst confirming indeed the gift of tongues by such a mention, he yet cannot be thought to have affirmed that the gift was that of another god by his reference to the creator’s predictions.20

In this passage, Tertullian is referring to 1 Corinthians 14:21,22 where it says:

In the Law it is written, “by men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not for those who believe, but to unbelievers…

Tertullian is referring to Marcion’s gnosticism, according to which matter is evil and therefore created by a god inferior to God the Father of Jesus, a God of love. If this were so Tertullian argued, then how is it that the Creator of whom the Old Testament speaks could speak in tongues, through the mouths of Christ’s present-day followers? That Tertullian was writing of gifts in his own day is certain, for the passage continues as follows:

Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer—only let it be by the spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him; let him show to me also, that any woman of boastful tongue in his community has ever prophesied from amongst those specially holy sisters of his. Now all these signs (of spiritual gifts) are forthcoming from my side without any difficulty.21

One final quotation from Tertullian worthy of mention in connection with spiritual gifts appears in his Exhortation to Chastity, Chapter 4. In a passage which refers to the Apostle Paul, Tertullian writes:

For apostles have the Holy Spirit properly, who have Him fully, in the operations of prophesy, and the efficacy of  (healing) virtues, and the evidences of tongues; not partially, as all others have.”22

Although Tertullian is speaking with specific reference to the apostle Paul, it is interesting that he writes in the present tense in saying that apostles have the Holy Spirit properly who have Him fully. His use of present tense suggests that Tertullian may have believed that there were also apostles in his own day.

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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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