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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

Premiere Issue: Pneuma Review Fall 1998

Evidence for the operation of the gifts of the Spirit throughout the Church Age.

cloven tonguesIn the early history of the church, the gift of tongues was very closely associated with prophesy. The second century author Irenaeus, for example, in quoting Act 10:46, substituted the word “prophecy” where the Biblical passage specifies tongues.1  This association of tongues with prophesy is also evident in the book of  Acts. When the apostle Paul was at Ephesus he found some disciples who said that they had been baptized into John’s baptism. He baptized them in the name of Jesus, and when he laid his hands on them, we are told in Acts 19:6 that they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

This early association of tongues with prophesy should be borne in mind, since there is always the possibility that various early accounts of the manifestation of spiritual gifts refer to both when only one is mentioned, or even to one when the other is mentioned, as in the case of Irenaeus.

The miraculous gifts in general tend to be associated with one another, and accounts of tongues and prophesy are often included in accounts of healings, miracles, revelations, and visions.

The Epistle of Barnabas

Most of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers contain reports of the operations of the gifts.

While most of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers contain reports of the operation of the gifts,2 one of the earliest and most important is that of the Epistle of Barnabas, written sometime between 70 and 132 A.D. Barnabas opens his letter with a greeting and says, “I rejoice with an exceeding great and overflowing joy at your blessed and glorious spirits; so innate is the grace of the spiritual gift that ye have received. Wherefore I the more congratulate myself  hoping to be saved, for that I truly see the Spirit poured out among you from the riches of the Fount of the Lord.”3 In this passage the spiritual gift to which he alludes is the Holy Spirit. The early church Fathers characteristically refer to the Holy Spirit as a gift who manifests Himself in a variety of ways throughout the congregation. Prophesy is specifically mentioned toward the close of the letter of Barnabas, where he says:

Wherefore God dwelleth truly in our habitation within us. How? The word of His faith, the calling of His promise, the wisdom of the ordinances, the commandments of the teaching, He Himself prophesying in us, He Himself dwelling in us, opening for us who had been in bondage unto death the door of the temple, which is the mouth, and giving us repentance leadeth us to the incorruptible temple.4

Justin Martyr

After the time of the Apostolic Fathers, one of the earliest Christian writers was Justin Martyr, the apologist of the early second century. His Dialogue With Trypho is a narrative of Justin’s conversation with a learned Jewish man, Trypho, and some of his friends. In Chapters 81 and 82 of this work, he cites the passage in Isaiah 11 which refers to gifts conferred by the Spirit of the Lord, and he says:

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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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