Science in Christian Perspective

 Letter to the editor

Disagreements with MeCone

Margaret H. Blorn    Robert S. Burns     Anthony A.Hoekema   Response by McCone

From: JASA 24 (March 1972): 37-39.

Mr. McCone who wrote "The Phenomena of Pentecost" (Journal ASA 23, 83 (1971)) needs to read "They Speak with Other Tongues" by John Sherrill,one of many writings about the factsnot theories-of "Tongues". Sherrill, a sceptic on the subject, spent about four years gathering data on this phenomenon and amassed a great number of case histories on the subject; some dated back through the centuries, many are of recent date. He made tape recordings of people speaking in tongues and also of imitations and had these examined by linguists. The experts easily distinguished the true speech from the gibberish.

Mr. McCone's assumption of four languages only is far fetched. To use a modern analogy, call the hearers Canadians, Filipinos, and residents of Alaska. All of these might understand English but would not necessarily call that "our language". The Canadian from Quebec would be delighted to hear French, from Norway House a Cree tongue, from Tuktoyaktuk an Eskimo dialect. For the Filipino it might be Tagalog, Spanish, Cebuanese, or other. For the Alaskan it might be Tlingit, or any of the Athapascan or western Eskimo tongues.

Acts 2 tells that the one hundred and twenty speaking in "our own tongues" were telling "the mighty works of God". There is no reason to assume that they were giving the news of Christ since Peter was impelled to quell the sound and to give this message in, presumably, the Hebrew language. His message brought conviction following as it did upon the miracle that these people recognized.

If Mr. McCone is a scientist he will (1) examine all the data available, not just some of it; (2) hear a few hundred voices and interview the speakers; (3) "taste and see"; i.e., perform a valid experimenthut only if he is a born-again Christian lest he get himself into real trouble.

To use a quote that Mr. Sherrill used, "Your faith is on ice; ours is on fire".
Margaret H. Blorn Box 113 Palmer, Alaska

Science in Christian Perspective

 Letter to the editor

Disagreements with McCone
Rev. Robert S. Burns 
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church 
Banff, Alberta, Canada

I read with interest the article by Dr. R. Clyde McCone. The recent events of our day have produced a real interest in the Holy Spirit which I believe is good and can only benefit and help Christians living in our complex world.

However, I disagreed with some of the contents of the article and I felt it necessary to reply. I criticize only in the spirit that I would like to clarify a subject which is of particular interest to myself. To the section of the article where Dr. MeCone speaks of "Other Tongues" He mentions that "Luke does not say that the Spirit gave them the ability to speak a language hitherto not known to them." It seems to me that this is not entirely correct because in Acts 2:8, Luke specifically identifies the ability they had to speak in "languages" (dialektas) not "tongues" (glossa). In other words, later Luke does identify exactly what he meant. I do not disagree that they were also given the ability to speak a message (apophtheggosoai).

It seems to me they were given both aspects: message and language (not just tongue as message). I am one of those who has some difficulty accepting the current interpretation of "tongues" as we see it expressed in the Pentecostal movement even though I am sympathetic to their desire to have more of the strength of the Holy Spirit.

In spite of my disagreement of your interpretation in Acts on this point, I appreciated your article.

Science in Christian Perspective

 Letter to the editor

Disagreements with McCone
Anthony A. Hoekema
Professor of Systematic Theology 
Calvin Theological Seminary 
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Professor R. Clyde McCone makes the point that the "other tongues" with which the 120 disciples began to speak on the Day of Pentecost were the "Gentile tongues most familiar to their hearers" rather than the Hebrew language in which they were accustomed to hearing the law expounded. He contends that these "other tongues" were not miraculously induced languages, but simply languages commonly spoken in that day, in which the 120 were already proficient.

By way of reply, I would first of all be inclined to question the assertion that only Hebrew was used at that time in expounding the law. Was not the law expounded in Aramaic in the synagogues already in the first century AD.? Further, the statement, "This fact, plus the sacredness of the temple, demanded that Hebrew be used exclusively on this occasion," assumes that the outpouring of the Spirit took place at the temple. This may have been so, but can we be sure of it? All we read is that the 120 "were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1).

My greater difficulties with MeCone's thesis, however, arise from the other two references to tonguespeaking in the Book of Acts. In Acts 10:46 we read that the Jews who had come with Peter to Caesarea were amazed because they heard Cornelius and his household speak with tongues (the same expression is used as in Acts 2:4 except that the word for "other" is missing). On the basis of MeCone's interpretation of tongue-speaking, what was there to he amazed about? In the fact that Cornelius, the Roman centurion, did not speak in Hebrew but in his native Latin? What would he so unusual about that? I have the same difficulty with the tongue-speaking reported in Acts 19:6, where the disciples whom Paul had found at Ephesus are said to have spoken with tongues (the same Greek words are used here as in 10:46). Would there be anything unusual about the fact that these Ephesian disciples did not speak Hebrew?

I also have difficulties with the author's understanding of tongue-speaking as described in I Corinthians 12-14. He understands the phenomenon there described as follows: "Later in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, those who had received the Spirit felt free to pray and witness in the particular language which was most familiar to them" (p. 88). But this view of the tongues in Corinth does not comport with the description found in 14:2, "For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit" (RSV). If the people at Corinth, when they spoke with tongues, spoke "in the language which was most familiar to them," surely there would have been some who could understand! Surely no one would care to contend that each member of the Corinthian church spoke a separate language! An even greater difficulty with this view is based on what Paul says in 14:14, "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful" (RSV). This suggests that when a person speaks or prays in a tongue, his mind is in a state of quiescence. Surely this does not describe a person who was praying or speaking "in the particular language which was most familiar" to him, does it?

Science in Christian Perspective

 Letter to the editor

Replies by McCone
B. Clyde McCone Professor of Anthropology 
California State College Long Beach, California 90801

To Margaret Blom:

My article "The Phenomena of Pentecost" was not an examination of 20th century phenomena. Its focus was on first century events. I did not ass-tune that there were four languages (or less) used on the day of Pentecost. Rather, the article briefly summarized the data that support this conclusion. Sherrill, whose hook I have been familiar with for some time, does not ask the question, "What did happen on the day of Pentecost in term,. of languages?" He assumes, as do many others, that the Galileans upon receiving the Holy Spirit began to speak in many other languages that they did not know. In my article I have made this assumption the object of investigation and have found it to he scripturally and historically without support. What happened on the day of Pentecost is established by the inspired record given to us in the Bible, not by some experience that I may or may not have, or that Mr. Sherrill or anyone else may or may not have. Documented historical data supply the language context in which this event occurred.

Margaret Blom's "modern analogy" indicates that she did not understand the point or the purpose of my analogy. It may also not have been clear to others. Therefore, permit me to briefly restate it. All those who "heard them speak in his own language" were Jews. They were devout Jews who were in Jerusalem for the feasts of Passover and Pentecost. The native languages of these Jews were the national languages of the homes of their dispersion, just as the native language of those Jews living for a number of generations in America is English. In some places in Canada the Jew is bilingual, speaking both English and French, just as on the nay of Pentecost many of the Jews were bilingual, speaking both Aramaic and Greek. Under
certain circumstances a Jew in the United States or Canada might learn to speak Cree or Tlingit, or any other American Indian language; however, the ethnic and socio-economic situation is such that these languages would never become "his language" nor that of his family. If Tagalog in time should become the only nationally used language of the Philippines and Some Jews made this the location of their homes and business, then in a generation or two there would no doubt he Jews who would be native speakers of Tagalug.

My analogy was not given to prove a point, but to illustrate and clarify by giving a modern parallel situation. The fact that there were not more than four languages used rests upon the documented data which I presented, to which Margaret Blom makes no reference.

The extent of my investigation reaches much farther and deeper than this brief article may indicate. I have continued to examine all of the data available to me that time would permit. As a result, I have recently written a much longer article with more extensive documentation.

Finally, regarding the temperature of my faith (I have no judgment to make about the faith of others), it is not on ice, it is not on fire, but it is in the fire, where it is being tried and proven. See I Peter 1:7.

To Rev. Burns:

My statement regarding what the Holy Spirit gave is solely a matter of the text. Acts 2:4 reads, " as the Spirit gave them utterance (apophtheggomai)." It does not say, "as the Spirit gave them a tongue or a language (neither g?ossa nor dialektos)." The Galileans did indeed speak in languages with which both they and their readers were familiar but which were "other" than the sacred Hebrew. The purpose Rev. Burns has in the distinction between glossa and dialektos is not really clear to me. It appears to me that he is saying that lie would translate dialeklos as language which a person has the ability to speak, and giosaa as tongue which a person does not have the ability to speak. If this is the point he is intending to make, I would point out that the Greek word glossa is used in three ways which are parallel to the English "tongue." It is a physical instrument in the mouth as in Mark 7:33. It is used as an instrument of expression as in James 1:26. It is also used as a language as in Rev. 5:9 and in six other places in Revelation. Acts 2:8, which is referred to by Rev. Burns reads, "and how hear we every man in our own tongue which we were born?" here the Greek word translated tongue is nlialeiclos. This expression is repeated at the end of the list of areas in Acts 2:11, where it reads "we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." Here the worn translated tongues is from the Greek glossa. Thus dialektos and glossa are used interchangeably and both mean language.

To Professor Hoekema:

Professor Hoekema is quite right in observing that Aramaic may have been used in some of the synagogues as early as the first century AD. In fact, Greek may have been used to some extent in a few. To what extent and in how' many synagogues Greek or Aramaic was used would probably be difficult to establish. However, in some well-defined manner the status of Hebrew' as a sacred language was still maintained even in the synagogues of the Diaspora. Professor Hoekema is also right in saying that the exact location of the Galileaos when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, is not known. However, they were certainly among the pilgrims gathered at Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The center of the feast and of the activities was the temple. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was certainly in some way identified with the feast that prefigured it. Regardless of the exact location, the witnessing of the Galileans was associated with the activities of the day. If the devout Jews reserved any activities for the exclusive use of Hebrew, it was the temple-centered feasts of Passover and Pentecost.

Professor Huekema asks what there was to be astonished at, if Cornelius spoke in his native Latin (or Greek). lie is still assuming that the only thing that could bring astonishment is speaking in a language one had never used before. Four things must he observed in connection with the event at Cornelius' house: 1) Cornelius was a Gentile; 2) he was devout and was seeking to know the God of Israel, .3) there was considerable proselytizing by the Jews of the First Century (Matt. 23:15); and 4) those who were astonished were "of the circumcision which believed" (Acts 10:45). For a Gentile to come to the God of Israel required a certain amount of instruction and some minimal use of the Hebrew language. He, of course, also must he circumcised. These ideas died hard in the church as is indicated in Acts 15. In fact, it took a special vision to bring Peter to Cornelius' house and to prepare him for what happened. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon these Gentiles without any of the ritual requirements of circumcision or use of the sacred Hebrew language. It is true we would not be astonished, but we can only understand their astonishment if we can transport ourselves into the cultural religious context of "the circumcision which believed."

The situation at Ephesus was associated with the synagogue and also is an example of abandoning a ritual use of Hebrew in favor of a spontaneous heartfelt expression in languages most familiar to them.

The language situation among the Gentile believers in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth was much different than that among the devout Jews at Jerusalem. A.H.M. Jones in The Later Roman Empire, Vol. ii points out that particularly among the lower classes through Asia Minor and the other places in the empire, small areas of native languages continued along with the Greek and the Latin. In this case a Gentile from one of these areas moved by the Holy Spirit would speak freely in the language native or most familiar to him. However, if he did, for a majority of the Corinthian congregation, if not all, he would he speaking to God, "for no one understands him." If there were any there who did understand, they were to interpret or translate it so that the group as a whole could understand.

That the mind being unfruitful means that it is in a state of quiescence, does not follow. The mind is involved as the faculty in the meaningful distinctions made by language. This becomes unfruitful in the church when the medium of communication or language is not shared. In fact Paul explicitly states as much in I Cor. 14:19, "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, then ten thousand words in a tongue" (Tongue here is by implication a Gentile language not understood by the hearer). See also I Cor. 14:10 and 11.