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Speaking in tongues, did it come from Greek Pagans?

While looking at something else  in Christianity,I came across one account that said that Paul in Corinth would have come across this tradition of speaking in tongues, in the Worship of Apollo.

Apparently what happened was the the oracle sat over a chink in the rock and breathed in some gas until she was intoxicated and would then babble on in a  prophetic way. Someone would then translate the babbling, into a prophetic statement from Apollo!

Apparently the idea had taken hold from this to the church in Corinth and that is supposedly why Paul had to put down rules about speaking in tongues, to maintain order!


Apollo spoke through his oracle: the sibyl or priestess of the oracle at Delphi was known as the Pythia; she had to be an older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants of the area. She sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth. When Apollo slew Python, its body fell into this fissure, according to legend, and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapors, the sibyl would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this state she prophesied. It has been speculated that a gas high in ethylene, known to produce violent trances, came out of this opening, though this theory remains debatable.[20][21]

One theory states that a goat herder fed his flocks on Parnassus. It happened one day the goats started playing with great agility upon nearing a chasm in the rock; the goat herd noticing this held his head over the chasm causing the fumes to go to his brain; throwing him into a strange trance.[22]

While in a trance the Pythia "raved" – probably a form of ecstatic speech – and her ravings were "translated" by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters. People consulted the Delphic oracle on everything from important matters of public policy to personal affairs. The oracle could not be consulted during the winter months, for this was traditionally the time when Apollo would live among the Hyperboreans. Dionysus would inhabit the temple during his absence.[23]

H.W. Parke writes that the foundation of Delphi and its oracle took place before recorded history and its origins are obscure, but dating to the worship of Gaia.[24]

Could this be where the idea of speaking in tongues and being translated comes from, originally?

Jews don't do it, as far as I know.  It doesn't seem to be a Jewish tradition!

There is a bit about it here


Linking the Pagan tradition with speaking in tongues!

Some more things I found out about it

Today, some Christians practice glossolalia as a part of their private devotions and some denominations of Christianity also accept and sometimes promote the use of glossolalia within corporate worship. This is particularly true within the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions. Both Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that the ability to speak in tongues is a supernatural gift from God.
Pentecostals vary in their beliefs concerning the times appropriate for the practice of public glossolalia. First, there is the evidence of tongues at the baptism of the Holy Ghost - a direct personal experience with God. This is when a believer speaks in tongues when they are first baptized by the Holy Ghost. For some, this may be the only time an individual ever speaks in tongues, as there are a variety of other "gifts" or ministries into which the Holy Spirit may guide them (1 Cor 12:28). Secondly, there is the specific "gift of tongues." This is when a person is moved by God to speak in tongues during a church service or other Christian gathering for everyone to hear. The gift of tongues may be exercised anywhere; but many denominations believe that it must only be exercised when a person who has the gift of "interpretation of tongues" is present so that the message may be understood by the congregation (1 Cor 14:13, 27-28).
Within the Charismatic/Pentecostal tradition, theologians have also broken down glossolalia into three different manifestations. The "sign of tongues" refers to xenoglossy, wherein one speaks a foreign language he has never learned. The "giving of a tongue," on the other hand, refers to an unintelligible utterance by an individual believed to be inspired directly by the Holy Spirit and requiring a natural language interpretation if it is to be understood by others present. Lastly "praying (or singing) in the spirit" is typically used to refer to glossolalia as part of personal prayer (1 Cor 14:14). Many Pentecostals/Charismatics believe that all believers have the ability to speak in tongues as a form of prayer, based on 1 Cor. 14:14, Eph. 6:18, and Jude 20. Both "giving a tongue" and "praying in the spirit" are common features in contemporary Pentecostal and Charismatic church services.

Not everyone believes speaking in tongues relates to someone speaking in a foreign human language.

I have heard it described as a language of angels which is what it says here!


Some believe that the unintelligible speech is the "tongues of angels" mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1. Others that it is an "unknown language", a foreign or even ancient language unknown to any of those present. The speaker is often thought to be a channel of Divine communication, and someone else in the congregation may rise to "interpret" what He (or she) is saying. Most who speak in tongues take pride in the fact that they did so, rather than whether or not what they said was meaningful or edifying.

- See more at:

More here


Perhaps one of the most hotly debated topics within the Christian faith is speaking in tongues.  This is especially true in terms of the speaking in angelic tongues or what the apostle Paul has called the tongues of men “and of angels”.

Before I continue I will preface what is written here by saying that I totally and completely stand on the word of God and believe in the biblical speaking of tongues as a spiritual gift as the Spirit gives utterance.  I do not however hold to the doctrines of men which, as it was in the days of the Corinthian church, have perverted the intent and purpose of this gift nor do I subscribe to the belief that speaking in tongues is the sole “evidence” of the Holy Spirit.

First of all if speaking in other tongues was not relevant and or important Paul would not have dedicated as much time as he did in reproving the church at Corinth on the topic.  Secondly it is clear that what was happening in that church was that the gift was either being counterfeited (more on this later) and or that some people were faking the gift because some were apparently claiming that Jesus was accursed (as the Pharisees did when they claimed that the miracles of Jesus were of the devil).

A bit from the Roman Catholics.


What is speaking in tongues?

As discussed above most of us know what speaking in tongues looks like. Speaking in tongues can mean different things to different people. But all people who speak in tongues profess it is not gibberish, although it may appear that way.

The word tongues comes from the greek Glossolalia, and is related to the word language.
The Catholic Church teaches glossolalia is an extraordinary charism, that is, an extraordinary grace of the Holy Spirit given for the Church’s benefit and subject to the Church’s discernment. This busts a common myth amongst evangelical protestants who say that speaking in tongues occurs in all people who are filled with the Holy Spirit.

The New Advent Encyclopaedia tells us Glossolalia, the gift on tongues, was designed to aid in the outer development of the primitive Church. One of the best ways to look at what speaking in tongues is, is to look to the bible.

The chap above seems to think it ended.


1 Cor. 14:2 – Paul says “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.”  Describing these utterances as “mysteries” may indicate that such speech was unintelligible.  This type of tongue was also spoken to God, and not to men, which means that the tongue did not have to be in any particular language (God would understand the utterances in the Spirit). This may be similar to the divine “tongues of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1).

1 Cor. 14:4 – Paul says “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”  If the person is speaking a foreign language he cannot understand, then he would not be edifying himself, unless the language would be interpreted for him.  But this may be why Paul required someone to interpret the tongues at Corinth (see 1 Cor. 14:13,27-28).  This, however, does not absolutely mean the tongues were foreign languages.  The gift of interpretation could have been for interpreting unintelligible divine utterances as well.

1 Cor. 14:10-11 – Paul describes the tongues at Corinth as “sound” (in Greek, phonon).  While foreign languages are heard as sounds, this seems different from the tongues which were described in the book of Acts as “language” (in Greek, dialektos).  However, Luke also describes the tongue-speaking of Acts 2:6 as “sound,” even though it was heard as “language.”    

1 Cor. 14:16-17 – Paul says that the tongues at Corinth were spoken to give thanks to God.  While speaking the gospel in a foreign language does indeed give thanks to God, this type of speech may be private communication between God and the speaker, which would not require the use of a foreign language.

1 Cor. 14:23 – Paul says that unbelievers who hear the Corinthians speaking in tongues will conclude that they “are mad.”  This suggests that the Corinthians were speaking in unintelligible utterances, although outsiders would also be tempted to call those “mad” who were speaking foreign languages they did not know (perhaps implying that they were possessed by demons).

This one above I got from a link in the blog of a Catholic priest, so it doesn't have to be in a human foreign language even there!

The connection between the speaking of tongues and Apollo is because Paul was at the church in Corinth so would have been exposed to it!

It sounds like the origins of tongues to me!


I think it is a bit of a stretch to connect the oracle at Delphi with what is described by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians for a few reasons:

    1) The utterances of the oracle at Delphi appear to be specific to that place. So whilst Delphi was dedicated to Apollo, and sanctuaries to Apollo existed elsewhere (like Corinth) I've never read anything that "Delphic" predictions were common to worship of Apollo or happened in any other place of worship except at Delphi (ETA: there was one other, but it was closer to Ephesus and a loooong way from Corinth).

    2) The oracle at Delphi is frequently described as "cryptic", but never specifically as "unintelligible" so that it required translating. On at least one of the articles on Wikipedia (I think the one on "Delphi") it states that the majority of scholars say there is no contemporary evidence at all that the oracle at Delphi spoke unintelligibly.

    3) The sanctuary at Delphi was already long past its prime by the time of Christ, and had been razed to the ground almost a century before St Paul wrote his letter. (

But you have clearly found people who think otherwise, and it's sometimes interesting to see why. There is a tendency among various groups to try and connect aspects of Christian worship/practice with older pagan religions. This is either done to discredit Christianity (or that particular practice within Christianity) or out of a spirit of syncretism: seeing all religions as basically the same.

Often these connections are an overstretch that doesn't bare close scrutiny, or the practices used to link two religions are so universal as to be meaningless. An example of the latter would be some arguments I've heard that candles are "pagan" because pagans used candles and lamps in their worship. However, candles and lamps are pretty much universal in all religions because the symbolism of candles with light and "enlightenment" is universal to all humans.

Linking "glossolalia" with the oracle at Delphi is a bit of both! It is a stretch for the reasons I've given above. But in addition the "allure" of trance-like states in devotion and worship are perhaps common to all people, hence why it found its way into the Church. I believe that, without too much reading-between-the-lines, St Paul's advice to the Corinthians regarding glossolalia is basically a gentle discouragement. Without being overly critical, St Paul is basically saying that speaking in unintelligible words is, at best, harmless and at worst could possibly lead to confusion if no-one is able to translate it into known words. He is basically saying that it might make the person speaking unintelligibly feel really special, but it doesn't help or edify the church as a whole.

And that makes sense. Most descriptions I've heard of speaking in tongues privately talk about "feelings" that confirm the prayers are from the Holy Spirit, yet admitting that the person praying doesn't even know what he/she is saying! From my perspective: Orthodox means "right" (ortho) belief or right worship (as in doxology). Glossolalia..... I dunno.... we could be worshiping God, or we could be praying anything, or nothing at all. It seems to be more about self-centered feelings than praising, petitioning or thanking God. But I don't want to be overly-critical where St Paul remained tactful.

St Paul calls this phenomenon praying in "the tongue of angels", but as I said - I think he is gently discouraging the Corinthians from misplaced zeal. After all, demons are fallen angels, so the description can be taken two ways.

There are many prayers in the Church inspired by the Holy Spirit (the Book of Psalms is a great start) -- we can pray the words of the Holy Spirit more confidently this way, imo.


..apologies for length. Forum Index -> Christian chat
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