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This chapter deals with the history of interpretation. Why is the phenomenon of “tongue(s)” in the New Testament understood today as ecstatic speech? In the history of interpretation, there are two major modes of reading the phenomenon of speaking in tongue(s) in the New Testament: the “missionary-expansionist” and the “romantic-nationalist” modes of reading. The earliest readers of the New Testament up until those of the mid-nineteenth century commonly understood the phenomenon of tongue(s) as a miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages—often called xenolalia—for the purpose of expanding Christianity and preaching the gospel. The shift in understanding began to take place in the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century. German biblical scholars began to introduce the idea of tongue(s) through the romantic and nationalist lenses. It results in the idea that tongue(s) is the ecstatic unintelligible phenomenon often called glossolalia.


Originally published in Oxford University Press. 2022. Chapter 1 of Contesting Languages: Heteroglossia and the Politics of Language in the Early Church by Ekaputra Tupamahu. Pages 12-48.