Almost invariably for either lashon, or glossa the latter word with the cognates heteroglossos, "of strange tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:21), glossodes, "talkative," English Versions of the Bible "full of tongue" (Sirach 8:3; 9:18), glossotomeo, "to cut out the tongue" (2 Macc 7:4), diglossos, "double-tongued" (Sirach 5:9; 28:13). In 1 Timothy 3:8, however, "double-tongued" is for dilogos, literally, "two-worded." Where "tongue" in the King James Version translates dialektos (Acts 1:19; 2:8; 21:40; 22:2; 26:14), the Revised Version (British and American) has "language," while for the King James Version "in the Hebrew tongue" in John 5:2; Revelation 9:11; 16:16 (Hebraisti) the Revised Version (British and American) has simply "in Hebrew." In addition, in the Old Testament and Apocrypha, the King James Version uses "to hold one's tongue" as a translation for various verbs meaning "to be silent"; the Revised Version (British and American) in the Old Testament writes "to hold one's peace" and in the Apocrypha "to be silent," except in Sirach 32:8, where the King James Version is retained (siopao).

The various uses of "tongue" in English are all possible also for lashon and glossa, whether as the physical organ (Exodus 11:7; Mark 7:33, etc.) or as meaning "language" (Genesis 10:5; Acts 2:4, etc.) or as describing anything shaped like a tongue (Isaiah 11:15; Acts 2:3, etc.). In addition, both words, especially lashon appear in a wider range of meanings than can be taken by "tongue" in modern English. So the tongue appears as the specific organ of speech, where we should prefer "mouth" or "lips" (Exodus 4:10; Psalms 71:24; 78:36; Proverbs 16:1; Philippians 2:11, etc.), and hence, "tongue" is used figuratively for the words uttered (Job 6:30; Psalms 139:4; 1 John 3:18, etc.). So the tongue can be said to have moral qualities (Psalms 109:2; Proverbs 15:4, etc.) or to be "glad" (Acts 2:26); to "love with the tongue" (1John 3:18) is to love in word only, and to be "double-tongued" (Sirach 5:9; 28:13; 1 Timothy 3:8 is to be a liar. A further expansion of this figurative use has produced expressions that sound slightly bizarre in English, although their meaning is clear enough:

e.g., "Who have whet their tongue like a sword" (Psalms 64:3); "His tongue is as a devouring fire" (Isaiah 30:27); "My tongue is the pen of a ready writer" (Psalms 45:1), and, especially, "Their tongue walketh through the earth" (Psalms 73:9).

In Job 20:12, "Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue," the figure is that of an uncultured man rolling a choice morsel around in his mouth so as to extract the utmost flavor. In Psalms 10:7; 66:17 (Revised Version margin), however "under the tongue" means "in readiness to utter," while in Song of Solomon 4:11, "Honey and milk are under thy tongue," the pleasure of a caress is described. To "divide their tongue" (Psalms 55:9) is to visit on offenders the punishment of Babel.


Burton Scott Easton

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'TONGUE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.