Have Tongues Ceased?
Dave K., the administrator of the Community Chapel Gathering discussion board at the time, posted this on his site a few years back:
At this time in my life, I certainly do not want to begrudge anyone whatever it takes for them to continue to walk with God. If one must start believing that tongues ceased at the close of the apostolic age, then that's what they have to do. None of us is perfect, or even all that strong. I'd like to try to start viewing everyone in a more positive light and realize we are all in this struggle together.
The quotes Dave supplies above of course summarize the belief I had for nearly twenty years that tongues and prophecies didn't cease at the end of the apostolic age when the written New Testament was complete. It's the position against which my experience has led me to react. These quotes formed a part of the very foundation of that belief because, as I began to suspect as I thought about them after reading through them, Dave is giving a verbatim quotation of nearly an entire chapter from Don Barnett's book Speaking in Other Tongues: A Scholarly Defense. These quotes, or very similar ones, were probably also included in the earlier, smaller booklet Glossolalia which I was given shortly after first coming into contact with the Chapel, but now no longer have. So since I've long been familiar with such opinions, it is no surprise to me that the position at which I've now arrived is not the majority position.
On the other hand, the truth is the truth. And since it has recently been asserted that Pentecostals misinterpret 1 Corinthians 13 and that tongues DID cease, I'd like to offer the following observations of mine and the observations of a number of non-Pentecostal scholars.
Steve B. has become quite convinced that present-day tongues speaking is "misguided and serve(s) no good purpose." He goes on to explain that
Steve B wrote:
I'd like to submit that if anyone is twisting the scriptures, this argument is. 1 Corinthians 13 clearly states:
Since coming out of Pentecostalism, I've concluded that as a Pentecostal, I completely misunderstood the role and work of the Holy Spirit. His role was never primarily to produce supernatural "sign" gifts such as tongues and prophecy. Those served only temporarily to validate the preaching of the apostles (and, by the way, the only kind of real apostles are those called personally by Jesus - the original twelve, one of whom fell and was replaced by another, plus Paul) and their message of the gospel before it existed in complete, written form. After that time, attempts to prophesy and speak in tongues are misguided and serve no good purpose. I feel no compunction at all about completely dismissing all modern instances of so-called prophecy and tongues. As you've noticed, and as I completely agree, they've led only to confusion, instability, and disorder among those who advocate them.
... Further, and more importantly, he gave those instructions in a transitory period before the written New Testament was finished. He (Paul) says in the same letter (in chapter 13) that both tongues and prophecies would cease - the "piecemeal" things would be done away when the "complete" comes (both words in quotes are more accurate translations of Greek words for which the KJV uses "in part" and "perfect").
The modern charismatic and Pentecostal movements have therefore introduced much confusion and instability into the church by denying, twisting, or ignoring these Scriptural instructions. It's best to get out of charismatic and Pentecostal churches entirely instead of trying to make sense of their teaching on prophecy and tongues - because it's impossible to do so. Trying to understand and follow their confused notions about the Holy Spirit's work will only lead to increased dissatisfaction and frustration.
1Co 13:9-13 NASB:
Is Paul simply speaking of the completion of the NT? If so, do we now see face to face and know fully just as we also have been fully known?
(9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
(10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
(11) When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
(12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
(13) But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 - Now we know in part (vs. 9), but there is coming a time when the partial will be done away with.
2 - The same is then illustrated with a child becoming a man. Again, the child spoke and reasoned as a child (i.e. knowing in part), but when the child became a man, he did away with childish things (the partial is done away with).
3 - Again, Paul gives a 3rd view; now we see through a mirror dimly (know in part; speak as a child), but then face to face (partial will be done away, the man puts away childish things).
4 - Paul goes one step further to say, "now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."
Why then do we read Paul's writings when we now know fully but he only had partial knowledge?
The perfect coming will result in the partial being done away with and also with us knowing fully face-to-face. This has not yet happened.
Non-Pentecostal scholars agree:
Albert Barnes wrote:
They [tongues] shall cease. Macknight supposes this means they shall cease in the church after the gospel shall have been preached to all nations. But the more natural interpretation is, to refer it to the future life; since the main idea which Paul is urging here is the value of love above all other endowments, from the fact that it would be abiding, or permanent—an idea which is more certainly and fully met by a reference to the future world than by a reference to the state of things in the church on earth.
Arnold Bittlinger wrote:
The gifts are necessary equipment for the pilgrim people of God.... It is not until our pilgrimage comes to an end that the spiritual gifts will cease. "Whoever teaches that they cease before then, is irresponsibly anticipating the end (telos).
F.F. Bruce wrote:
It is true that, according to 1 Cor. 13:8-10, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge are to be done away, but only 'when that which is perfect is come'.... The literature of the period following the apostolic age makes it plain that they (the gifts) did not come to a full stop with the closing of the New Testament canon.
Donald W. Burdick (professor of New Testament at Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary at the time of writing) wrote:
Many have cited I Corinthians 13:8 as proof that tongues would cease, and there can be no doubt but that this verse does explicitly declare the cessation of this gift.... We must notice, however, that this verse does not say that tongues were to cease at the end of the apostolic age. In fact, it allows for the existence of tongues until 'that which is perfect' has come (v. 10), and then 'shall I know even as I am known' '(v. 12).... The general sense of the verse points, not to an experience of this life or this age, but to the time when salvation is complete and we see Christ 'as he is' (I John 3:2). Then there will be no more place for tongues or prophecy for knowledge will be complete. To make I Corinthians 13:8 prove that God intended glossolalia to cease at the end of the apostolic age is to violate the valid rules of biblical interpretation in the interest of a previously determined position.
C.J. Ellicott wrote:
After the parousia [the presence of Christ at his Coming], prophesyings, tongues, and even knowledge itself... will be done away with.
Charles R. Erdman wrote:
The contrast in his Hymn of Love was not between the Apostolic Age and the present time, but between the present age as a whole and the future age which is to be ushered in by the return of Christ.
F.L. Godet wrote:
Such manifestations therefore give evidence of a real faculty latent in the depths of the human soul which a profound religious awakening may call into exercise at any time under fixed conditions, and the creative action of which may yet in our day produce effects similar to those of the first days of the Church. We were not wrong, therefore, in maintaining the possibility of the reappearance of gifts during the whole course of the present economy (see 13:8 )....
Michael Green wrote:
It is simply not the case that healing, prophecy, exorcism and speaking in tongues died out with the last apostle. Still less can a passage like I Corinthians 13:8 ('as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease ...') be adduced to attest the supposed demise of these gifts. They will pass away only when 'the perfect comes,' i.e. at the Parousia—not at the end of the apostolic age or the formation of the New Testament canon! There is in fact plenty of evidence in the sub-apostolic days, and periodically throughout Church history, to show that these gifts did not die out, though they were often viewed with great suspicion by Church authorities.... And it is perfectly evident from the widespread growth of the Pentecostal Church and the neo-Pentecostal movement in the last fifty years that God has poured out these gifts in rich measure on his people, rationalistic and sceptical though we have been about them.
C.F. Kling (Lange's Commentary): wrote:
... Whatever may be the exegesis given this passage, the prevailing belief is that these gifts, especially those of miraculous nature, were destined only for the apostolic period, and have already ceased. But this, certainly, it was not the intention of the Apostle to assert here. The time alluded to is undoubtedly that of 'the age to come,' ushered in by the second advent of the Lord.
Alexander Maclaren wrote:
With regard to the former statement, 'whether there be prophecies, they shall fail, whether there be tongues, they shall cease,' that has been misunderstood as if it amounted to a declaration that the miraculous gifts in the early Church were intended to be of brief duration. However true that may be, it is not what Paul means here. The cessation to which he refers is their cessation in the light of the perfect Future.
Julian C. McPheeters wrote:
In eternity the spiritual gifts needful here and now will be supplanted by higher ways of service.
H.A.W. Meyer wrote:
With the advent of the absolute the imperfect finite ceases to exist, as the dawn ceases after the rising of the Sun.... What Paul means and says is that these charismata generally, as being designed only for the aeon of the partial, and not in correspondence with the future aeon of the perfect, will cease to exist at the Parousia; their design, which is merely temporary, is then fulfilled. With the advent of the Parousia the other charismata too (12:8ff.) surely cease altogether.
James Moffatt wrote:
Great as is the value even of prophecy, knowledge, and 'tongues,' their function is confined to the brief interval till the Lord returns....
Clark H. Pinnock and Grant R. Osborne wrote:
The New Testament nowhere teaches that the gifts were given solely to authenticate the apostles or that they were to cease after the apostolic age.... First Corinthians 13 is a bridge passage between his remarks on the distribution of gifts (chap. 12) and their regulation (chap. 14). In it the apostle indicates that love is the context in which all the gifts must be exercised. The only cessation to which he refers is that which occurs at the coming of Christ (v. 10).
A.T. Robertson and A. Plummer wrote:
The Apostle is saying nothing about the cessation of charismata in this life.... All that he asserts is, that these things will have no use when completeness is revealed; and therefore they are inferior to Love.
M.F. Sadler wrote:
It has been made a matter of question what time the Apostle alludes to as the one in which these manifestations of the Spirit shall cease, and some have supposed that the present state of the Church in which prophecy and tongues have ceased is that to which he alludes, but this seems to me impossible. Surely this, our present state, is anything but perfect. It certainly is not perfect in love, for it has declined from the love of the first age. The perfect state is evidently that in which our bodies will be raised in the likeness of Christ's and our faculties of receiving knowledge will not be logged then as they are now by the conditions and limitations of our unrenewed frames, but the body will then answer to the spirit in its highest state.
T.T. Shore (Ellicott's Commentary) wrote:
That which is perfect. - This verse shows, by the emphatic 'then,' that the time when the gifts shall cease is the end of this dispensation. The imperfect shall not cease until the perfect is brought in (See Eph. 4:11-13).
However, being shown that there is a general consensus among Biblical commentators that the Apostle Paul's statements in I Corinthians 13 about the cessation of tongues and prophecy do not refer to the completion of the written New Testament but refer instead to the time of Christ's advent does not sway me very much for several reasons.
First of all, I know that the consensus is not unanimous - and I find an alternate interpretation, i.e., that the time referred to in I Corinthians 13 when tongues shall cease does mean when the New Testament was completed, is more convincing based both on what the text actually says and on my actual experience as a member of churches that tried to make the other interpretation work in real life. I'm fairly certain that few if any of the well-meaning non-Pentecostal scholars quoted by Dave had to do that.
Second, most if not all of the quotations provided simply assert their opinion without really giving a basis from the text for it. They don't give me any sound reasons that effectively counter the reasons I see for believing that Paul means to say that tongues and prophecy are fragmentary impartations of spiritual knowledge which will have no further purpose after believers have the complete impartation in the written New Testament.
Third, one of the commentators notes in passing that "the prevailing belief is that these gifts, especially those of miraculous nature, were destined only for the apostolic period..." This quotation is taken from Lange's Commentary, which was published in the 1880's. It reveals that the "tongues didn't cease" position was the minority opinion up until the Pentecostal movement took a firm hold in the early twentieth century. Though now the majority position, for most of church history the view that tongues had not ceased was in the minority. Prevailing beliefs change and are not necessarily reliable indicators of what the Bible really does mean.
Fourth, and in the same vein, at the time revisiting this question became important to me, approximately eleven years ago now, I still believed in a version of the Oneness doctrine against which there was even a more nearly unanimous consensus among Biblical commentators of all eras. I am sure that the commentators Dave quotes (with Don Barnett's help) on the meaning of I Corinthians 13, would agree even more strongly on the meaning of John 1, a consensus that would mean little or nothing to either Dave or Don. And rightly so. As Dave says, the truth is the truth. Again, one does not decide on the truth or falsehood of doctrine based on how many scholars or commentators or other people believe it, but on whether or not that's what the Bible really teaches.
In other words, concerning the cessation of tongues, I have no problem with admitting my beliefs aren't in harmony with "most Biblical scholars" of today, but that Dave's are. However, concerning the Godhead, my beliefs are in harmony with "most Biblical scholars" of all ages, and Dave's aren't. So why should an appeal to some consensus of scholars be relevant in discussions between us? Operating in the context of past belief that so boldly and explicitly disallowed such a consensus of scholars on other matters of Biblical interpretation, why should such an argument even be a factor in this discussion?
So with that said, I will explain what I believe I Corinthians 13 says in spite of the modern consensus to the contrary. It now seems quite clear and simple to me.
The KJV phrase term "the perfect" which names what will come and make that which is "in part" unnecessary is in Greek to teleion, and is much better translated "the complete thing." It is neuter in gender, which means it cannot refer to Christ. For it do that, it would have to be masculine in gender. It cannot refer to our life with Christ in heaven because Paul is talking of a time when faith, hope, and love are still needed, but when tongues and prophecy have ceased. Hope and faith are no longer necessary once our life on earth is finished and we are with Christ, so that time is ruled out. The text does not say we see "Jesus" or "Christ" face to face, it simply says we shall see face to face without naming a particular grammatical object - it's an expression. We see something, and know it fully, because we are right in front of it looking it in the face. This describes a better way of knowing something in contrast to knowing dimly and in part as it says we know it through tongues and prophecy. If Christ and our future life in heaven are ruled out as the object of these verbs, as I think one must admit one wants to be in honest fidelity to the text, the only thing that makes sense here is the completed New Testament - something believers could not fully know or see right in front of their faces at the time Paul wrote Corinthians.