CESSATION OF THE GIFT OF TONGUES. Introduction. The discussion of whether the gift of tongues (tongues) is still available today is a

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1 CESSATION OF THE GIFT OF TONGUES Introduction The discussion of whether the gift of tongues (tongues) is still available today is a widely debated area of theological concern. Tongues fall under what is commonly called the miraculous gifts. Miraculous gifts are comprised of those gifts operating in a supernatural manner, as opposed to those which interact with nature in normative way. 1 In this paper we will be discussing why tongues is not a viable gift for today, based not on the inability of God to still empower it s use, but rather His intended purpose of tongues having ceased. As one author put it, The question is not, can God the Holy Spirit still produce the gift of languages? but rather, what has God revealed about the purpose and function of the gift of languages and its limitations? What the Scriptures says, not personal experience is the criterion. 2 Definitions What Is the Gift of Tongues? On the day of Pentecost we see the first instance of the gift of tongues being practiced in Scripture 3. Acts 2:4 states, And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak James F. Stitzinger, Spiritual Gifts: Definitions and Kinds, The Master's Seminary Journal, (Fall 2003), 2 Robert Dean, Jr., Three Arguments for the Cessation of Tongues, Conservative Theological Journal (March 2005), 65 3 The author is aware of the mention of tongues in Mark 16:17 and is also aware of the dispute over the validity of the passages inclusion in the text. This is why the sentenced is phrased with the idea of practice of tongues. 1

2 2 with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 4 The Greek word used for tongue in this verse is glwvssai" which is from the root word glw`ssa meaning literally [the] tongue as a bodily organ and esp. as the organ of speech, any particular language 5 and figuratively, a people who speak their own language. 6 Since context determines meaning, we see in this context that these were known languages being spoken. Those who were hearing them, heard them in their own language, since they said, Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? (Acts 2:7-8). It seems the normative use of this word would always indicate known languages; however, the use of the word glw`ssa in 1 Corinthians 14:2 which reads, For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries raises the question of the consistency of such an assumption. We will address this in our defense later in the paper. What is the purpose of tongues? In Acts 2, we find the men who heard the Apostles speaking in their own language ask this very question, when they ponder, What does this mean (Acts 2:12)? Peter s response seems to be that it is both a judgement and a call to gospel belief, when he states, Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:36). Those who saw this occurrence could not deny the miraculous nature of it and Peter explained it with words from Joel as a fulfillment of prophecy (not 4 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture references in this study are taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by THE LOCKMAN FOUNDATION 5 Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1993), 1:251 6 Ibid., 1:251

3 necessarily fulfilling all of what Joel was prophesying, but at least using it as illustration or 3 partial fulfillment), but also calls them to an account for their actions against Christ in crucifying Him (Acts 2:14-36). Tongues, therefore, was used as a sign of confirmation that what Peter was saying was true. Further evidence that tongues was a sign of confirmation is seen at other places within Acts. In Acts 10:34-48 as Peter is giving the gospel to the household of Cornelius, those who trust in Christ have the Holy Spirit fall on them and they began to speak in tongues, to the amazement of the onlooking circumcised Jews (Acts 10:45-46). These Jews would have needed a sign that this was indeed a work of God, since they would have struggled with Gentile inclusion (Acts 11:17). Also in Acts 19:1-10, we see a similar situation in which those who Paul encounters have the Holy Spirit come on them and speak in tongues at the laying on of Paul s hands. Again, this was unique in that these were disciples of John the Baptist who had not heard the full gospel yet. This could also be viewed as confirming. The other instances of tongue speaking are not narrative, but rather instructive. Paul mentions the issue of tongue speaking in his first canonized letter to the Corinthians. It is wise for us to note that this letter was particularly aimed at correcting the Corinthians in their conduct regarding church. The concentration of this matter is in 1 Corinthians In Chapter 12 Paul is dealing with the grace ministries as a whole and he seems to hint that the reason he is making mention of all the ministries is because they seem to be particularly hung up on the issue of tongues saying, no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, Jesus is accursed ; and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). He lays out all the ministries to show that there is a need for the church to be diverse in its

4 4 ministries to function properly. This says nothing of whether or not tongues will be operative in the future, but is simply speaking to the issue at hand. Paul goes on to prove his point in Chapter 13, when he extols the virtue of love above all gifts, but seems to single out tongues speaking with hyperbolic statements such as, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). Many look to this and claim that there is a heavenly language spoken by the angels and this is a form of tongues. The context does not demand this and Paul is simply using a literary device to make the point that love is greater than all and is the spirit in which any ministry should be exercised. Within Chapter 13 is one of the arguments that tongues has ceased. We will look at this more in depth in our next section. Finally in Chapter 14 we see the purpose Paul gives for tongues. He says it is to be an edifying gift for the whole congregation and that actually prophecy is to be desired above tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1, 4-5, 19). He also sets up a specific order of how this will be edifying for the church (1 Corinthians 14:27-34). 7 In short, the purpose of tongues as laid out in the Scripture seems to be, a sign of judgment to Israel and an opportunity for the gospel to go out in that context, a confirming gift of the early church as well as a gift of edification for the whole church, if dealt with properly. Modern Day Understandings There are basically three modern day understandings of the miraculous gifts. There may be various nuances within these camps, but for our purposes we will deal with the broad scope. 7 We are not so concerned with the order that Paul lays out as we are setting out to prove that the gift has ceased and therefore, there is no need to spend a great deal of time with that which we are trying to prove is no longer valid for today.

5 5 The first is the non-cessation position. Those who hold to this posit that all the miraculous gifts are available today without question and should be practiced extensively. 8 The second position is what is sometimes called "open but cautious." This "allows for the possibility of miraculous gifts continuing throughout the entire church age but remains skeptical of contemporary charismatic practice." 9 Lastly, there it the cessation position that proposes that all miraculous gifts have ceased and that God is no longer operating through these means any longer. Defense Our defense that tongues have ceased in that the purpose of tongues has been fulfilled. In other words, all that God meant to accomplish with the gift of tongues has been accomplished. The only possible modern day application from our understanding of what tongues was for is that of edification of the church. This however, is to be the intended result if the tongues gift is being exercised properly (1 Corithians 14:5).We then need to answer two questions: 1. Is there anything in Scripture that would affirm that tongues has ceased? 2. In what sense has the purpose of tongues been fulfilled? The most common answer to the first question from the cessation position, is that indeed the Scripture does speak to the cessation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away." It is interesting to note that when this passage speaks of the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, they are said to "be done away;" however, tongues is 8 This FAQ page about tongues taken from the official Assemblies of God website is a good example of a non-cessation understanding of the gift of tongues. Accessed October 23, Nathan Busenitz, Now That s the Spirit:Assessing and Addressing Evangelical Charismatics audio.gracechurch.org/sc/2006notes/thats%20the%20spirit,%20busenitz.pdf Accessed October 23, 2009

6 said to "cease." Since context determines meaning, it is important to not only note this, but to 6 investigate the possible reason Paul would choose a different word here. Thomas points out, "Paul strikingly chooses the verb [pauvw] rather than [katargevw] when speaking of tongues cessation." 10 Because of its middle voice pauvsontai could be translated, "they will stop themselves." 11 The question that arises is that of "when will they stop themselves?". If we continue to read in our context it would seem that the demarcation of this self ceasing would occur when "the perfect comes."(1 Corinthians 13:10) This, of course, leads to needing to answer, "What is the perfect?" and "Has the perfect come?". Prefect in our text, can carry the idea of completion. If we take it to mean this, we have already made the case that the purpose of tongues was clear and so we could state that when that purpose was fulfilled, "the perfect" (at least in regard to tongues) had come. Looking at some key verses we discover that the close of the Apostolic era could be (and most likely is) the completion that we are seeking. Ephesians 2:20 states that the "[Household of God was] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets." From this we understand that the ministry of the Apostles of Jesus after his ascension was to include the position of being the foundation for the church. These men played essential roles to the establishment of the church after Pentecost. They preached the gospel, they established congregations and they performed miracles that confirmed their ministry (2 Corinthians 12:12). 10 Robert L. Thomas, "Tongues...Will Cease": JETS (Spring 1974), GREEK NEW TESTAMENT Fourth Revised Edition Interlinear with Morphology, Kurt Aland et al., eds., 26th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1998)

7 7 We need to also look at the other areas tongues was purposed to fulfill. It is clear that the judgement to Israel was given at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36) and was also given as a reason for tongues in the church in Corinth, specifically to unbelieving Jews (1 Corinthians 12:21-22). The purpose of this is to signify that God is doing something new, namely the church. So again, once the church has been established, the purpose has been fulfilled. 12 There is still the question of what is meant by 1 Corinthians 14:2 and what has been in our day coined "the prayer tongue." Grudem (a proponent of non-cessation) believes that since Acts is narrative and 1 Corinthians doctrinal, that the latter carries a greater weight as to what should be practiced today. 13 However, we must keep in mind that Paul is correcting the practices of the church in Corinth and may in fact be drawing a distinction between what was thought to be a better gift (speaking ecstatically) verses what was really profitable to all, that being prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:2-3). Furthermore, if someone wants to make the case from 1 Corinthians 14 that tongues is for today, then they must follow all the prescriptions of Paul, which in most cases is not being done. 14 Conclusion Our goal in this paper has been to see if we can from the text of Scripture, clearly declare that tongues has ceased. While there could be many more objections raised to the claims of 12 John F. MacArthur, Jr. Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), In this author's experience there is only one denomination I am aware of that consistently follows the pattern of 1 Corinthians 14 and that is the Romanian Pentecostal Church, who unfortunately has other theologies that would cause concern (such as an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15 which falesly teaches that women will be spiritually saved by childbirth.)

8 continuation 15 it seems clear from the text of Scripture that the purpose of tongues was fulfilled at the close of the Apostolic era once the church had been established This would be evidence like: as revelation continues to unfold the phenomenon of tongues continues to diminish or that only small maligned clusters of the church seem to practice togues much beyond the first century until 1901 at the Azusa Street revivals.

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