Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Gifts of the Spirit: The Gift of Tongues (part 5)

[continued from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here]


As we close on the final question as to whether the Gifts of Tongues are truly for today, we must need address two issues; namely the method of answering and the text of 1 Cor. 13.

To Answer the Question

Many charismatics and other sincere "literalists", when apporaching this subject with an 'open mind', would state that proof-texts from the Scriptre are required to show that tongues (and any Gift for that matter) have ceased. After all, since tongues ARE mentioned in Scripture in the New Testament era, and we are still living in this New Covenant era, shouldn't the Gifts carry on unless the Scripture show otherwise? While the user of this approach seeks to be true to Scripture, this approach is NOT the biblical way of answering the question, for this question has already assumed that any of the Gifts of the Spirit are by default permenant for the Church to begin with; it begs the question. After all, although there are some people who believe this, are there any charismtics or 'literalists' who advocate living in community where all believers have everything in common, selling everything they have to give to those in need (Acts 2:44-45)? Just because something is mentioned/described in Scripture does not necesarily mean that such is a permenant arrangement, more so since they are a Gift/Ministry issue and not a theology proper issue. As an aside, there are no proof-texts for the continuation of the Gift of the Spirit either, so the request for proof-texts can run both ways.

In addressing the topic of the Charismata, we must first realize what they are and what are their purposes — why they were given to the Church at that time before answering whether they are for today. For since God gives everything for a purpose, the question of whether the Gifts are for today must need be answered according to the entire Bible (tota Scriptura) and the entire scheme of the Salvation story. The whole idea of treating the question of whether they have ceased as an issue in isolation is not the biblical way to answer the question, as all truths are linked to each other ultimately in Christ. As an example of what is meant, the doctrine of the Trinity is not stated explicitly in Scripture (and no, I am skeptical of the legimtimacy of the Johannine Comma), and therefore we deduce it from multiple texts of Scripture. In the same way, we cannot treat the issue of the Gifts as if they are a single verse/proof-text question. The question must rather therefore be answered according to the entirety of Scripture and its application to our times rather than just demanding one proof-text as if that proves or disproves anything.


1 Cor. 13 is a favorite passage of Cessaionists, an amazing proof-text they use to slam the charismatic position, which unfortunately cannot bear the weight the Cessationists place on it.

In 1 Cor. 13, it is written:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We have previously partially exegeted the texts of 1 Cor. 12-14, on the issue of the Gift of Tongues — its nature and its exercise, glossing over the text of 1 Cor. 13 in the process. As this text is used so many times in an attempt to prove Cessationism, it is imperative that we look at it.

1 Cor. 13 starts off with the hypothetical and hyperbolic arguments arguing for the centrality and necessity of love in verses 1-3, to make the argument that without love being the motivation for everything we do, no amount of exercise of the Gifts in its most "powerful" form will avail us any good. Verse 4 to 7 goes on to define what agape love is biblically, which many people, espeically couples on their marriage day, like.

Verses 8 to 13 is the passage in which Cessationists base their arguments. It is first stated that love never ends, and then it is stated that 1) prophecies will pass away, 2) tongues would cease, and 3) knowledge will pass away. And all three of such occurances will happen when 'the perfect comes' (v. 10), with all of these 3 being stated as being partial. Verse 11 then uses the analogy of a child for this partial state, and that of a man for the perfect state, who gives up the childish state. Verse 13 refocus on what is important, which is faith, hope and most importantly love, as compared to the spiritual gifts.

A key issue here is when will this perfection comes. Cessationists typically points to the closing of the Canon of Scripture as that perfection which comes, while Continuationists argue that the perfect is when the Lord Jesus comes again. Cessationists typically argue that such sign-Gifts such as Prophecy, Tongues and Word of Knowledge are referred here as being that of the partial, which we shall do away with when we are a man, which hereby refers to the maturation of the Church now with its complete Bible. To the continuationist charge that knowledge has not gone away, Cessationists reply by stating that this is not referring to knowledge per se, but the Spiritual Gift of the Word of Knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8).

Seen within the context, Paul uses this argument that the Gifts will one day cease to emphasize that the fruits of which he gave 3 examples: faith, hope and love, are the most important, following on after his exposition on the necessity of serving within the Body of Christ and his rejection of the idea that one gift is superior to the other leading to discrimination within the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor. 12: 12-31, his emphasis on love over and above glorifying in the exercise of the Charismata in 1 Cor. 13:1-3 and the description of love in 1 Cor. 13:4-7. After all this emphasis on the importance of love, Paul then addresses the misuse of the Gifts in 1 Cor. 14, and most especially the Gift of Tongues.

It must be noted here that both the Cessationist and Continuationist interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:8-13 makes sense within the larger context of 1 Cor. 12-14. The key question of when the perfect comes still is still not resolved. Earlier on, one Continuationist objection is shown to be false. And now, we shall see that the Cessationist position is not so strong either. For the entire interpretation that the prefect here refers to the completion of the Canon is not found in Scripture either. Is there any correlation between the completion of the Canon and the maturity of the Christian Church? Surely not, for the Visible Church is still as riddled with all manners of problems and plagued with heretics and apostates as were the early church, in fact even more so. So why the linkage with the completion of the Canon?

Appeal may be made to the language of 2 Tim. 3:16-17, especially verse 17 which states

... that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17)

The word translated 'competent' here is also translated 'perfect' in the KJV, and therefore it may be said that the 2 Tim. 3:17 informs our understanding of what it means to be perfect in 1 Cor. 13:10, which is to say that when we have all the Scriptures making us perfect to do good works as per 2 Tim. 3:16-17. However, there is a problem with this interpretation. Barring the KJVOnly schismatics, the Greek word translated 'perfect' in 1 Cor. 13:10 is teleion (τελειον), while the Greek word translated 'competent' in 2 Tim. 3:17 in the ESV and 'perfect' in the KJV is artios (αρτιος) and the two are obviously not equal. Teleios refers more to the end (result) while artios refers more to capability, and therefore the Cessationist interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:10 as the 'perfect' referring to the perfection created by the closing of the Canon of Scripture is in error, since the closing of the Canon would make us artios not teleios.

This most definitely strikes a blow at the Cessationist camp who utilizes this passage to support its theory. Nevertheless, Cessaionists hit back with the charge of the leaky canon, which is truly potent. For since the Scriptures have made us artios, to believe in the Gifts giving us new revelation is to undermine the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Undoubtably, there are Charismatics going around making a complete fool of themselves and blaspheming the Word of God while claiming they have certain Gifts like prophecy and tongues and words of knowledge, like the ones on TBN (The Blasphemous Network Trinity Broadcasting Network). But abuse does not mean that the Continuationist position is in error, which must be clearly and carefully examined before such a judgment may be made. As one looks at the charge, the basic question for Continuationists is whether the Gifts can exist and exercised in such a way that is biblical yet without undermining the sufficiency of Scripture. And this we will look at later when discussing the various gifts separately.

So therefore, considering all that we have seen so far, which interpretation of 1 Cor. 13 is more consistent with the text and the context? It can be seen that the difference in both views can be narrowed to when the 'perfect' in 1 Cor. 13:10 occurs. Looking at the Greek, the Cessationist interpretation is not supported and even opposed. Yet the continuationist interpretation is not yet proved, as of yet.

The reason why I am convinced that the Continuationists are right in their interpretation of 1 Cor. 13, besides the Greek word teleois indicating an end perfection, is verse 12 of 1 Cor. 13, which I have ommitted discussing until now. For it is written that now we see in a mirror dimly, but [when the perfect comes] we shall see face to face. What are we said to see dimly, yet later we see face to face, but Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Furthermore, such a clear seeing of face to face can only come about at His Second Coming, never while we are still in this present body of sin on this earth. As Calvin commented:

Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror; but when we shall have left the world, and gone to him, it will behold him as near and before its eyes.

Hence we must understand it in this manner — that the knowledge of God, which we now have from his word, is indeed certain and true, and has nothing in it that is confused, or perplexed, or dark, but is spoken of as comparatively obscure, because it comes far short of that clear manifestation to which we look forward; for then we shall see face to face. Thus this passage is not at all at variance with other passages, which speak of the clearness, at one time, of the law, at another time, of the entire Scripture, but more especially of the gospel. For we have in the word (in so far as is expedient for us) a naked and open revelation of God, and it has nothing intricate in it, to hold us in suspense, as wicked persons imagine; but how small a proportion does this bear to that vision, which we have in our eye! Hence it is only in a comparative sense, that it is termed obscure. (John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians - Volume 1 - 1 Cor. 13:12. Bold added. As accessed here at

Therefore from this passage, it can be seen that the passage of Scripture in 1 Cor. 13 does not teach that the Gifts have ceased.

With all that, let us tackle the original question, which is: Are the Gifts of Tongues for us today?

[to be continued]

No comments: