Tongues Has Ceased?

pentecost-newOut of all of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the one that often draws the most attention is tongues. There’s a strangeness associated with it that leads to misunderstanding. It’s something that doesn’t seem to make sense to our natural mind, so it’s easy to dismiss.

In the ongoing exchange I’ve had on the cessationist blog that I’ve mentioned previously, several attempts have been made to show that this gift is no longer valid.

The lowest approach used is ridicule – to describe the practice of tongues as “babble” and “gibberish”. Does this tactic offer a valid argument against the biblical validity of tongues? Clearly no – and yet so many people will go sniggeringly along with it.

Then there is the straw man approach, where something irrelevant is introduced and then made an important part of the argument. In this case the term “ecstatic utterance” is brought up and then an argument made that tongues is never described in scripture as an “ecstatic utterance”, as if THAT somehow proves the invalidity of tongues.

Using the same approach an argument could be made against the validity of the Lord’s Supper by saying that scripture never refers to broken bread as “pancakes” and therefore any practice of using bread and wine as a memorial to the Lord’s death can be dismissed as doctrinal error. Silly comparison? Of course – but no more silly than relying on the “ecstatic utterance” argument.

Another argument presented is that tongues in scripture is only ever a known earthly language and that it was only used to present the gospel to people in their own language and was never used as a prayer language.

The only reference that was given to support that claim was Acts 2, the first case of tongues being used, as if that was the ONLY reference to tell us about the nature and purpose of tongues. Now if this WAS the only scriptural example we had of the gift of tongues, the above argument would be reasonable, but subsequent cases of people speaking in tongues aren’t confined to the definition in that argument.

Acts 10 shows us that in the example of Cornelius and his household, tongues was the means by which Peter and his companions recognised that “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God”. This is the same kind of thing that happened to new believers in Ephesus when they received the Holy Spirit “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (Acts 19) The common factor in all of these cases mentioned in Acts, is that speaking in tongues came about as a result of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. When people received Him, one of the results was speaking in tongues.

The book of Acts doesn’t go into any detail about the purpose of tongues. The book presents examples of tongues usage as a historical fact: that people spoke in tongues as a result of receiving the Spirit. For more detail about the purpose and usage of tongues we need to look to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians, and this is where the cessationist’s argument really fails apart, but also where the only possible “proof” of his viewpoint can be claimed.

Firstly, his claim that tongues was never a prayer language is easily blown apart. Regarding tongues Paul writes:

“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God”


“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also”

Clearly, according to those chapters tongues CAN be used for prayer.

I assume the cessationist made that easily refuted claim because he wanted to discredit claimed present-day usage of tongues as a “prayer language”, but again – his reliance on “experience” and trying to discredit the experience of others is NOT the correct approach to take, especially when the situation can be easily cleared up through referring to scripture where we find the foundation of his “tongues is not prayer” argument is easily undermined.

Now for the only scripture reference that he’s been able to draw upon to support his view that the gift of tongues ceased to be valid.

“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.”

Often Cessationists claim that the “perfect” refers to in this verse is the establishment of the canon of scripture. So when the bible as we know it today was compiled, there was no longer need for Spiritual gifts. The man I refer to in these recent posts doesn’t follow that belief, but sees the phrase “when the perfect comes” refers to the return of Jesus.

However, it is clear that Jesus hasn’t returned – so his condition for the ending of the gifts hasn’t been fulfilled, so how does he get around that problem?
Firstly he separates the reference to “tongues will cease” from the passing away of prophecies and knowledge, claiming it is only the latter two that are conditional upon the coming of the “perfect” because they are the only two of the three to be described as partial (“know in part and we prophesy in part”) . Therefore in his own mind he can place the ceasing of tongues at any time he chooses because it is not described as something “partial”, and according to him it is only the passing away of the partial that occurs after the coming of the perfect. [of course this does not explain his cessationist views relating to prophecy and other gifts].

This combination of linguistic and theological gymnastics is the way this man has tried to justify his beliefs – focusing on a manipulation of a couple of verses, while ignoring the rest of the three chapters of scripture that provide the context of his chosen verses.

In those chapters Paul goes to great lengths to inform and instruct his readers about the nature and usage of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit “for the common good” and he ends his teaching on the gifts by saying:

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.

(The above is not intended as a comprehensive look at the gift of tongues. For that I advise personal study. See the following as a starting point: Acts 2, Acts 10, Acts 19 and 1 Corinthians 12-14).

11 thoughts on “Tongues Has Ceased?

  1. This is excellent. May I add : Out of all of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and elsewhere, tongues (better word may be ‘languages’?) is the ONLY one which edifies the one who does it! By edifying ourselves, we open up a whole Holy Spirit world of blessing others with ‘a river of living water’ flowing from our innermost being. Who wouldn’t want that? who would not thirst after this who longs to serve the Lord and his people?

  2. Thanks Ian, all of the gifts were clearly given for a purpose. The suggestion that we don’t, need them, or that the church today is somehow better equipped without the gifts than the early church were with the gifts seems to indicate more than an element of pride (whether that pride is recognised or not).
    Paul thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthian church and that he wanted all of them to speak in tongues, and yet today, some think they know better. And to me, that attitude plays a significant part in WHY they seem to have so much difficulty comprehending some basic truths. There is a serious need for the edification associated with the gift of tongues.

  3. People who speak in tongues (or languages) or probably who engage in any spiritual gifts or their semblance should be careful about pride. There is a plentiful tendency for those who speak in tongues especially (but if course we see some if this with personalities, large or small, who claim to be healers or to have visions or dreams or whatever else they want attention for) to tout their ability to speak in tongues for not only the proverbial pat on the back (which is already more than just a pat on the back) but… well, I’m not sure what they think others are supposed to do about this except something like know that here is a person to revere. (I say this as someone who has had people approach me with their pride or arrogance both before and after I have spoken in the kind of prayer speak we are addressing, but never thinking I deserved praise or gained or should gain entrance to some desired clique or friendship thereby or should start imposing my “abilities” as it gets termed on others or telling people they aren’t saved.) I think what often happens is that these people are in environments where tongues is being pushed, often even with direct pressure from someone or more than one telling them what should happen. If these people don’t then get the awestruck reaction they hoped for from whomever else they want it from, say from you, then you’ve proven (in their world) you belong in their crosshairs. One such person, while knowing I am not against tongues per se, still couldn’t hear that while he may have spoken “in tongues” he needed to seek greater things like love, honesty, understanding, regard for decency and so on. That was almost ten years ago. I’ve heard him speak in this style recently, but he remains a person who lies and behaves hatefully (while smiling and handling the perception of others as manipulation requires).

  4. It just now occurred to me that I should share a detail of history. The time that I prayed and was clearly healed instantly was years, even probably a whole decade before I spoke in tongues. So, not only is tongues not required for being saved, it’s not an entry level (or something like that) into other gifts. I was alone when I prayed for healing, and no one else who would imagine praying for healing knew what I had been dealing with (and no one at all really knew or cared what was going on with me in that moment, not even the person to which I was married… which is not to say he was out drinking or anything like that). There was no personality or authority or charismatic praying for me.

  5. I think a lot of the present cessationist argument is based on a faulty argument that goes something like this:

    The practice of charismatics is wrong, therefore the gifts of the Spirit and miracles are no longer valid.
    The issue SHOULD be – does scripture support the ongoing validity of Spiritual gifts and miracles. If so then we have the responsibility of seeking God for the experience of those gifts: which is exactly what Paul said in 1 Cor.

  6. It is very reasonable to conclude that those who represent (or claim to represent) something like miracles (especially when the primary or only “miracle” claimed is what appears to be — and, frankly, may often or even usually be — gibberish, and could at times be worse than gibberish) are making things up or believing ancient bologna for whatever reason they may have that motivates them to do so. Beyond miracles along the line of a “charismatic” list, there is the evidence of the soul that is often lacking (in Christians who push themselves into view and are more lacking in proper love and sound minds than the general population).

    Whatever is going on with anyone, there is still each person in the universe grappling with truth. Some don’t care about any truth other than some set of things that get them through each day without evaluating themselves or life (among these, any flavor of Christian or any other religion). But a person can ask for truth (within oneself and of The Creator more so than of anyone or any place), seek truth in love and see truth, one foot after the other. In the process, one might read this and that and go here and there and just think and pray. There is a context that can’t exactly be explained. No one even preaching the Bible has the truth for you.

  7. John 7:37-38

    On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who BELIEVES IN ME, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

  8. “The practical consequences of such teaching appear in the story of Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector with whom Jesus stayed in Jericho (19:1-10). The Mishnah suggests that tax collectors were under suspicion of being impure in such a way as to transfer their impurity to whatever they touched ([it.] Tohoroth 7.6).[…Cf. Forkman, [it.] Limits of Religious Community, 90.] When Zacchaeus, however, becomes a follower of Jesus, not a word is said about the purity issue. He promises rather to give half of all that he owns to the poor and to compensate anyone he has defrauded four times over. Jesus’ response is that “Today there has come to be salvation for this household, for he, too, is a son of Abraham” (19:9). This resolution of the story is perfectly in tune with the principle Jesus had previously enunciated: “Give the contents for alms and, behold, all things are clean for you” (11:41). [Luke] L. William Countryman, DIRT, GREED, & SEX (p. 79-80) [I don’t recommend this book unless you are very well versed in the Bible and even related history. Although I have appreciated some aspects of it, I perceive the author to be often mistaken in some conclusions.] I love this Bible story. The middle name of one of my sons is Zacchaeus.

    “He went on to say, ‘What comes out of the human being — that’s what renders the person unclean. For out from within, from the human heart, come evil designs, harlotries, thefts, murders, adulteries, acts of greed, evils, deceit, license, evil eye, blasphemy, arrogance, foolishness. All these evil things come out from within and render the human being unclean” (7:20-23). [Mark]

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