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|“The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep SILENCE before him.”|
Sign to Unbelievers
In 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul says, “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” This is not the first time the gift of tongues is mentioned as a sign. Jesus already said that tongues are a sign in Mark 16:17. A sign functions as a pointer. It seeks to draw attention to something important or significant.
So, what did Paul mean when he said, “tongues are for a sign?” A study of verses 20–21 will yield answers. In verse 20, Paul chided the Corinthians, “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” In other words, Paul was telling them, “Know your Bible! Don’t you see the purpose of tongues?” Paul then drew their attention to the Old Testament. In verse 21, the Apostle quoted verses 11 and 12b of Isaiah 28. Isaiah was, at that time, warning the Israelites of impending judgement. The Israelites had repeatedly and stubbornly rejected the clear admonitions of the Lord through His prophets. Since they would not heed the Word of the Lord spoken to them in their own native tongue, namely, Hebrew, they would now have to hear it in another tongue—the Assyrian: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” (Isa 28:11). They would be taken captive into another country, and would have to learn a new language starting with the ABCs: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa 28:10). It was God’s word of judgement against the unbelieving Israelites.
In 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul was pointing out that the gift of tongues functioned as a sign to unbelieving or disbelieving Jews in the time of the New Testament. The Jews thought that they were the only people to whom God extended salvation. This was a misconception. The gift of tongues was meant to correct this erroneous idea. Consider Peter’s experience in Acts 10. The Lord wanted Peter to preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile. As a full-blooded Jew, Peter would have nothing to do with a Gentile. But the Lord spoke to Peter in a vision commanding him three times to eat the food the Jews classified as unclean (Acts 10:11–16). This was to prepare Peter to minister to Cornelius, an unclean person in the eyes of the Jew. When Cornelius sent for Peter, Peter in obedience to the Lord went to see him, and the Scripture says, “While Peter yet spake these words the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed (ie, Christian Jews) were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:44–46).
When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was summoned by the Council to account for his visit to a gentile home. His fellow Apostles and Elders were angry with him because he preached the gospel to Cornelius —a Gentile. How did Peter vindicate himself? He told them the whole story of how God spoke to him in a vision, and how the Spirit led him to Cornelius’s house. Peter recounted, “As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Peter saw Cornelius and his household gloriously saved. This was evinced by their speaking in tongues just as he and the rest of the Apostles had experienced at Pentecost. Peter went on to say, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift (ie, the Holy Spirit) as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). What was the response of the Jerusalem Council? “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). Herein is the purpose of tongues—a sign to unbelieving Jews. To Peter and the Jewish saints who were at first unbelieving, it was a sign of confirmation that Gentiles are truly indwelt by the Spirit when they receive Christ.
Tongues Have Ceased
1 Corinthians 13:8–10 is a most explicit passage on the cessation of the sign-gifts. Words of cessation, namely, “fail,” “cease,” “vanish away” are used. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will eventually cease to exist. Before we deal with the cessation of tongues, let us deal with the cessation of prophecies and knowledge. Paul said that prophecies “shall fail,” and knowledge “shall vanish away.” The words “fail,” and “vanish away” are the same word in Greek namely, katargeo, which is a very strong word for cessation. It basically means “to destroy” (cf, 1 Cor 15:24, 26). The word katargeo (“to destroy”) is written in the Greek passive. The passive voice indicates that something from the outside will cause prophecies and knowledge to cease. What is this external element? Verses 9–10 give us the answer: it is to teleion—“the perfect thing.” What is this “perfect thing?” It is the completion of the Canon (ie, the 66 books of the Holy Scriptures). When Paul wrote his epistle to the Corinthians, the New Testament was in the process of being written. Once the New Testament is completed—the last book written—the gift of prophecy, and of knowledge will cease. All the truths that God wants man to know concerning Him are found in the Bible. It is sufficient and authoritative. It is God’s complete and final revelation to man (2 Tim 3:16–17, Rev 22:18–19).
Now, how about tongues? Paul wrote that tongues “shall cease.” The word “cease” here is the Greek pauo which means “to stop.” Unlike the gifts of prophecy, and knowledge, which require an external element to cause their cessation, the gift of tongues will cease by itself (Greek middle voice). It will automatically fade away in the course of time when it has served its purpose. G F Rendal, formerly a charismatic, commented, “This purpose was fully achieved when it was fully admitted that the nations, as well as ‘this people’ (the Jews), benefited from Jehovah’s salvation. When this fact was universally believed, accepted and no longer contested by anyone, this gift was no longer needed. ... Stars, as everyone knows, are visible and useful during the darkness of an unbelieving Israel who opposed the nations’ salvation. The gift faded out very simply when the Gentiles’ calling came to light. This is what finished off the last of my resistance” (I Speak in Tongues More Than You All, trans K Benson and V Dinsmore [Ontario: Believers Bookshelf, 1987], 80–1). The gift of tongues will be withdrawn when it has fulfilled its purpose as a sign to unbelieving Jews (1 Cor 14:22). Is there today a need for God to convince Jews that the gospel is also given to Gentiles? There is no need. No longer are Jews preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, but Gentiles to Jews!
Does history confirm the early cessation of tongues? The famous church father—Augustine—wrote in the fourth century, “In the earliest time the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues, which they had not learned, ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, and to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening and it passed away.” The great sixteenth century Protestant Reformation and Revival, was not characterised by tongues-speaking, but powerful preaching. Luther, Calvin, and Knox did not speak in tongues.
1 Corinthians 13:10 says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” The word “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is not referring to Christ or heaven. How do we know this? We know this by determining how the word is used in its context. Usage determines meaning!
It is very clear from verse 10 that there is a relationship between “that which is perfect” and “that which is in part.” The “perfect” will cause the “part” to cease. The question we need to ask first is: What is “that which is in part”? The answer lies in verses 8–9. Verses 8–9 tell us that the things partial are “prophecies,” “tongues,” and “knowledge.” All three sign-gifts are revelatory. They are supernatural gifts which communicate the Word and Will of God. Paul says that these revelatory gifts will eventually “fail,” “cease,” and “vanish away.” They will one day cease to exist, or be withdrawn from use.
The next question we want to ask is: When will this happen? This will happen when “the perfect” comes. Paul says that prophecies “shall fail,” and knowledge “shall vanish away.” The words, “fail,” and “vanish away,” are written in the Greek passive. By so writing, Paul is telling his readers that something from the outside will cause the gifts of prophecy and knowledge to fail and vanish away. What is this external element? The answer is found in verses 9 and 10, “For we know (ie, the gift of knowledge) in part, and we prophesy (ie, the gift of prophecy) in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which in part (ie, the gifts of knowledge and prophecy) shall be done away.” There is a cause-and-effect relationship between “that which is perfect” and “that which is in part.” It is clear from the context that the gifts of knowledge and prophecy are only temporary gifts, and not permanent. They will be removed once the perfect comes.
Now, what is this which is “perfect” that will cause the gifts of knowledge and prophecy to cease? The word “perfect” here is the Greek to teleion which literally means “the perfect thing.” This perfect thing is inseparably linked to the revelatory gifts of prophecy and knowledge. The cause-and-effect relationship between the perfect and the partial (ie, prophecies and knowledge) clues us to what the perfect is. The revelatory nature of prophecies and knowledge tells us that this perfect thing must of necessity be revelatory as well. It has to do with God’s revelation. The Greek word—teleion—being adjectival functions to describe. Here it describes God’s revelation. The revelatory gifts of prophecy and knowledge are partial, but this coming Revelation is perfect. The “perfect” is thus God’s Perfect Revelation. When God’s Perfect or Complete Revelation comes, the partial will be taken away. God has been revealing Himself to His people part by part through the prophets (cf, Heb 1:1–2), but there will come a time when He will completely reveal what He wants to reveal. When that happens, there will no longer be any need for prophecies and knowledge.
When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was in the process of being written. Prophecies and knowledge will cease when the New Testament is completed. When did this happen? This happened when the last book of the Bible was written and completed, namely, the book of Revelation. God confirmed its completion by issuing a very severe warning in the last chapter of Revelation, verses 18–19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” This effectively sealed and finalized God’s Perfect Revelation—the 66 books of Holy Scripture. JK
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