Speaking in Tongues Debate - 11 - When do they Cease?

Chapter 11 

THE BIG QUESTION: WHEN?

    Let me go back to a point I have already made. According to Paul, speaking in tongues is a sign for the unbelieving Jews and not for Gentiles, for the Holy Spirit said, "I will speak to this people ..." (I Cor 14:2). Having established this point, I did not want to go back and lay the foundation again, but, on the contrary, to start building on it. One thing very naturally led to another and I ended up with a troubling conclusion. The more I tried to clarify my convictions, the more entangled they seemed to become. I thought to myself, "Now that the Church is mainly composed of Gentiles, its universality is no longer an issue. So what is the use of this Sign today and for whom is it given? Centuries have gone by since anyone needed this sign to convince him that salvation is open to People of different tongues-French, Swiss, English, Chinese, Zulu, etc. No one has contested this truth for centuries. So...!?"

    This rigorous logic drove me to the very conclusion I wanted to avoid. Like a trapped rabbit I strangled myself in my furious struggle. Everyone with whom the Holy Spirit has dealt knows that He will not let go until there is surrender. Jeremiah had the same experience. He fought against God until he finally said, "You Persuaded me and I was persuaded; You overpowered me and prevailed" (Jer 20:7).

    The Apostle Paul, master of biblical logistics, who spoke in tongues more than anyone else, who expounded its doctrine and its limits, also had to announce its end. All good things come to an end, at least in this world here below. It is as logical as eliminating secondary railroads when there are no longer any passengers. So Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to write, "if there are tongues, they will cease..." (I Cor 13:8).

    To retain a sign that no longer meant anything to anyone would have been like keeping detour signs on a highway where the road work has long since ceased.

    I found that the New Testament traces a gradual decrease which is both significant and troublesome:

1. In Acts 2-They shall speak in tongues
2. In I Corinthians 12-All do not speak in tongues
3. In I Corinthians 13-Tongues will cease.

That is the Question!

    Yes, tongues will cease, but when? That is the question! Up to this point I had lost a battle or two in fact three. I had ultimately admitted, according to Bible teaching:

That speaking in tongues could by no means be addressed to men, and that when it was, it was counterfeit.
That speaking in tongues was the sign for unbelieving Jews indicating salvation was open to all peoples and that it was given exclusively for them.
That there was only one kind of speaking in tongues, and not two as I had been taught on the basis of superficial exegesis.
    I must say that although these three battles were lost, I now considered them victories, and not as a kind of Trojan horse. Truth does not enslave, it liberates. My discoveries, nevertheless, began to alienate some of my friends, although I still had so many things in common with my brothers that if there had been a Trojan horse I would have sent it back. I was determined to fight to the end with all the ammunition I had.
Saint Augustine

    Meanwhile, I did some research to see what history might contribute, though approaching it warily because of the way it is sometimes written. What I hoped to find in the writings of the early Church Fathers was not to be found. John Chrysostom and Saint Augustine (354-430) both wrote in their commentaries on the Scriptures that the gift of tongues had already disappeared in their day. Here is what Augustine said in his Homilies on the First Epistle of John:

    "They were appropriate signs for that time, destined to announce the coming of the Holy Spirit to humans of all tongues, showing that the Gospel of God should be announced to all the tongues of the earth. This sign appeared to announce something and then disappeared."

    So what had taken me so much time and effort to discover had been written by Saint Augustine some 1700 years ago! His teaching, which I discovered by myself in my own turn, is self-evident. The Early Church and even the Apostolic Church before that, were made up less and less of Jews and more and more of people of different tongues, and consequently were more and more convinced of the universal offer of salvation. Once this had been fully accepted, there was no one left to be convinced of the fact that God so loved "the world", that Jehovah was not just the God of Israel, but also the God of the nations. Therefore the "charisma" (gift) which was a sign of this truth, as well as the practice of this gift, had no more reason to exist. So God withdrew it. He did the same thing with the divinely inspired writers of His Word. More than nineteen centuries have passed since John wrote the Revelation, and no one else has had the "charisma" (gift) of adding to the Scriptures. God withdrew this gift. There are, of course, some stubborn people like Joseph Smith, the supposedly inspired author of the book of the Mormons! Receiving and writing the New Testament was made possible by a gift of the Spirit, and yet it did not continue. Everyone, except for a few illuminated people, is of the same opinion. Everyone, including my Pentecostal brothers.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

    The teaching that speaking in tongues was an unquestionable sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was shaken to its foundation. The only thing that the sign of speaking in tongues confirmed was that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was truly the entrance of Jews and non-Jews into the Body of Christ. This is what Paul says, "For by one Spirit we were all, both Jews and Greeks, baptized into one body" (I Cor l2:12). Why? This was the question that formulated in my mind. The answer was there, right in front of me. "....Baptized into one body" (I Cor 12:13). To those who did not believe or were opposed to the entrance of the Greeks into the body of Christ, the sign of speaking in tongues confirmed it. I was turned completely around when I saw that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was entirely different from what I had thought. I had been taught, told and retold that access to the gifts of the Spirit was acquired by this baptism.

    Now the only verse in the Bible that speaks of this baptism tells me that it was to place Jews and Greeks together into one body.

Had I Read it Correctly?

    I had to read this verse several times to be sure that I had read it correctly. So it was to this end that the baptism was given, "...baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks" (I Cor 12:13), that is, to form one body of Jews and Greeks. I, at last, understood that by this "baptizing" the Holy Spirit took away the hostility between these people, tore down the separation that divided them and kept them apart. He melted them into a new people, a new body: the Church itself.

    Just as different grapes from different plants can be united in one cup of blessing for the Communion service, so the winepress of the Holy Spirit unites men of different tongues to receive one unique hope (Eph 4:4-6). What a blessing to be a part of these great meetings where people of different races, different colors and different cultures sing together the praises of the Lord. That is what Paul calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit, "... by one Spirit... into one body, whether Jews or Greeks", and I would like to add, whether French or English or Spanish or African... Hallelujah! We were ourselves the sign, the evidence of the entrance of the tongues into God's International Church.

A Jeopardized Duel

    As you can see, I have the nature of a fencer. I like to make points. But in my duel with the Apostle Paul, he was scoring more points than I was. To keep my honor, I could see that I needed to tighten up my defense and make a point or two of my own. As it was, Paul and the "antis" had advanced too far into my territory. It was time to counter attack with my surprise tactics that I reserved for such occasions. I had one more trick up my sleeve and more than one string on my bow. All right, so the Bible does say that tongues will cease, but when? In the same passage Paul says that knowledge and prophecies will also cease (I Cor 13:8). Touche! If the first two have not ceased, why should the third one have disappeared? Touche! Doesn't it seem rather arbitrary to eliminate one and keep the others? Touche! I crossed swords with an "anti" about this and was sure that I would lay him out on the ground. But I was out of luck. He was a real Musketeer. The blow with which I intended to floor him failed and in a minute I found myself skewered like a roasting chicken. He had me over the fire.

Knowledge and Prophecy

    I very quickly came to understand that before the New Testament had been written, when neither knowledge nor Bible prophecy had been sealed in holy writing, a spontaneous word of knowledge (understanding) and an equally spontaneous prophetic exhortation (I Cor 12:8) were often given by the Holy Spirit in the meetings of the Primitive Church. Paul refers to this when he says, "you have heard about...the mystery made known to me.. You will be able to understand my insight (knowledge) into the mystery of Christ..." (Eph 3:3,4). But when knowledge and prophecy were confined to the New Testament writings, these two gifts (charismas) also came to an end. From then on "Knowledge" and "Prophecy" took on another character. They became commentaries, an explanation or an interpretation which cannot add anything to what has already been written. Their "inspiration" is not the same as that of the New Testament writings. Otherwise they would have to be added to the Bible. That is what the Mormons have done with the tablets of Joseph Smith. They are made of gold, if you please! They are authoritative for the Mormons, but only for them. Other religions have their inspired prophets or infallible leaders. That is one of the characteristics of a sect. These writings are placed on the same level as the Bible and even manage to eclipse the Bible's authority and teachings. There are prophets such as Agabus who predicted a famine (Acts 11:22), but they have nothing in common with those that Paul mentioned when he said, you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20). Knowledge and prophecy are part of the foundation to which no one can add anything more. Every Christian can say with Paul that Knowledge and Prophecy will cease. And they did cease when the last line was written by the author of Revelation. Dr. Scofield puts it this way, "The New Testament prophet was not merely a preacher, but an inspired preacher through whom, until the New Testament was written, new revelations suited to the new dispensation were given." This is what is meant by the expression "...when that which is perfect is come..." (I Cor 13: 10). The finished and completed writing of the Word of God is the ultimate of perfection. It is written, "I have seen a limit to all perfection; Thy commandment (Word) is exceedingly broad" (Ps 119:96).

The Blind Leading the Blind

    Along with many others, I was convinced that the end of tongues was linked with I Corinthians 13:10, "But when the perfect is come...". I had heard it repeated so many times that I believed it without checking it out. After all, if it was written, it must be true. It was so evident. But a shadow of doubt came over me and I decided to read for myself what the Holy Spirit had to say on this subject. What a shock! It wasn't my Musketeer who dealt the final blow, but Paul himself. I realized with indignation that I had been duped once again . As a matter of fact, nowhere in the Bible does the Holy Spirit say that the gift of tongues will cease when that which is perfect is come. By simply, unhurriedly reading God's Word, I discovered the error. Everything was clearly written in these verses that are often misquoted and used for dishonest ends. When I reread I Corinthians 13:8-10, I found... well, let's took at it together. First of all, let's take a look at verse 8. "...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." That is very clear. The following two verses will now tell us what will pass away when that which is perfect is come. Let's carefully read verse 9. "For we know (knowledge) in part, and we prophesy in part," But where are tongues? They are not in the verse. I am afraid that we are the ones who put them into this verse in order to believe that they would remain at least until that which is perfect is come. In other words, the disappearance of tongues is not tied as the other gifts with the coming of that which is perfect. Paul never said that. On the contrary, he says, and we have seen it again and again, that the end of the tongues gift has to do with something completely different-the purpose for which God gave it. 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. Here, at the very time that this gift was justified, the one who used it more and better then anyone else was led by the Spirit to say, "tongues ... will cease" or, according to another version "will not continue". These "tongues of fire" went out, not because that which is perfect came but because of a lack of fuel, lack of the presence of "this people" (the Jews), and especially their unbelief which made them oppose the salvation of other peoples. Stars, as everyone knows, are visible and useful only at night. When the sun rises they disappear. So it is with the gift of tongues. it was only 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 tried, as so many others have done, to translate verse 10, "when that which is perfect is come..." by the possibility, "when perfect is come". And perfect for me was the Lord. Supposing this were true, then in the eighth verse that would mean prophecy, knowledge and tongues would not cease until the Lord's return. If this is true, why does the thirteenth verse say, "these three remain: faith, hope and love", contrasting them with the three others which pass away? These three remain, but after what? It is clear that faith and hope will also disappear at the Lord's return (Love is excluded because it is eternal). If prophecy, knowledge and tongues disappear only when Christ comes back, that would mean that faith and hope would disappear with them at the same time. In fact, here is what I made the text to say, "six things abide until that which is perfect is come: prophecy, knowledge, speaking in tongues, hope, faith and love"!

    But the Holy Spirit makes it clear and precise that, on the contrary, of these six, faith, hope and love alone abide and survive the first three. These three will cease before faith and hope, which cease at the Lord's return. So, when? Here is the order.

Knowledge and prophecy cease when that which is perfect is come, which is to say, when the Word of God is fully revealed. The gift of tongues ceases when its purpose is fulfilled, that is, when the Gentiles' place in salvation is assumed and when the judgment, carried by the sign, falls on unbelieving Israel.
Hope and faith do not cease, but remain until the Lord's return.
Love, which is the greatest gift, continues beyond Christ's return through eternity.
The Sinking of the Ship
    This time I understood the dishonesty on my part, quibbling over details as if I were the official defender of that doctrine. For my doctrine was like a ship full of holes ready to sink. Until now my ship was on the sea, but now the sea was in my ship and I was trying to patch up a few small pinholes while the whole other side of my ship was caved in. I knew I had to abandon the ship as soon as possible, but I liked my old craft. Such is the human heart. It resists God and all evidence. I would rather break than yield. But what difference did my defeat make if the Truth of God triumphed? I still would have liked to believe that the end of I Corinthians 13 left some hope that tongues would continue, but I no longer had the heart to do so. I was tired of quibbling and splitting hairs over the Holy Spirit's clear declarations! I knew that the other expressions-"the partial" (verse 10), "when I became a man" (verse 11) and "but then face to face" (verse 12) -were not going to put me afloat again either. Meanwhile, I had become familiar with the Scriptures and their analogies. I had no difficulty understanding that when Paul said, "For we see dimly, but then face to face", he jumped from a present, partial situation to its glorious and remote conclusion, "then I shall fully know just as I have been fully known." We should not be surprised that Paul does so in one sentence. Any assiduous Bible reader is familiar with this practice. When the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue of Nazareth, He read the famous text of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He anointed me... He has sent me to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord..." (Luke 4:18,19). He interrupted His reading there in the middle of the sentence. And He did so intentionally, for between the last word He read and the following one in the same sentence, there are at least 1950 years. The part which He quoted concerned His first coming, while the rest spoke of His glorious return. Would we place Christ's first coming in the twentieth century on the pretext that both events are mentioned in the same sentence? And yet, that is exactly what is done with the gift of tongues by those who pretend that it will continue until we see the Lord face to face-all of that because it is written in the same chapter as the sentence which says "then I shall know fully as I am known". I do not want anything to do with this type of leaping exegesis which is worthy of a Jehovah's Witness. Let the acrobat lovers have it.

Somersaults

    Here is a typical example. A dear friend of mine who became charismatic insisted on defending speaking in tongues. He confided to me, "If the gift of speaking in tongues does not exist today except as a hoax, then it did not exist in the first century either and it was just as false then as now. For," he added, "God is the same yesterday, today and forever." Here we have a perfect example of what is called a sophism. It was just like saying, "If there are no more apostles capable of writing the Bible today, then there never were any!"

    With this kind of reasoning, how can we explain that this God who does not repent of His gifts and who is the same yesterday, today and forever took away certain signs and manifestations even in apostolic times? Remember that at Pentecost three signs accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit:

1. A sound like a mighty rushing wind.
2. Visible tongues of fire which came upon each of them.
3. The ability to speak in tongues (Acts 2:2-4).

    It is obvious that the first two signs did not continue though God never made a formal declaration that they would not continue. Would it be honest to affirm in the name of an immutable God that since the first two signs do not exist today, they never did exist? But it would seem that, according to this astounding feat of exegesis, we should refuse the disappearance of the third sign-the only one God did say would disappear!

A Bit more Bible Knowledge, if you please

    For many the greatest difficulty is to admit that certain gifts of the Spirit, useful to the Church as they may have been, might no longer exist even though the Church continues to exist. They say that if the primitive Church had need of them, how much more does she have need of them in the last days! This apparent logic will not stand up to a minimum of reflection and knowledge of the Scriptures.

    While debating the question with a very dear friend, he cited for me these two verses so often heard, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8), and "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Rom 11:29).

    In his eyes that which the Word of God affirmed was actually for today.

    I asked him why he did not practice circumcision on his baby son, nor the sacrifices prescribed by the Old Testament, nor the offerings of animals, nor the feasts of Jehovah.

    Taken aback just a bit, he recognized that he had spoken hastily, for even if the Word of God remains eternally, certain of its teachings are not applicable to us today.

    So he said to me, "Certainly in the Old Testament certain practices no longer concern us, but it is not the same in the New Testament which is for us. We must receive it in its entirety and, above all, the words of Jesus Christ."

    I then opened my Bible to the New Testament and asked him to explain to me the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:5 where He sends the twelve apostles with these precise orders, "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles." That means that the Gospel should not be preached to any but Israel. "Do you accept these words of Jesus today?"

    After a moment of silence he said, "I never thought of that.

    Since both of us admitted the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures and that it was not by the will of man that any prophecy was given, but men spoke for God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit of God (II Pet 2:21), I asked him if the gifts of writing pages of knowledge and of inspired prophecy, so useful to the upbuilding of the Church, existed still. Without hesitation he replied, "No."

    "Thus," I said, "you believe that God has taken this gift away?"

    "Yes," was his response.

    "In your opinion, does the Bible say this gift has ceased?"

    "No."

    "And yet you believe it has ceased."

    "Yes.

    "Thus you believe that this gift ceased even though the Bible nowhere says that it would cease. Then tell me, why do you not believe in the ceasing of speaking in tongues when the Bible says, 'if there are tongues, they will cease" (I Cor 13:8).

    NOTE: In error, certain people have used Revelation 22:18 seeking to prove the end to inspiration of the Bible with the completion of the book of Revelation to John. This verse treats only of "the prophecy of THIS book." The same ban is pronounced for the Pentateuch and yet numerous books have been added to that. The reason for the end of revelation must be found elsewhere, but this is outside our present consideration.

Manna, heavenly Bread

    For a long time I was in arms against the idea that God might have withdrawn from the Church one, or several, gifts of the Spirit. But I was forced to surrender to the evidence that it is God alone Who remains unchanged, not His gifts. God gave Jonah the gift of a vine, a living parasol, but later He withdrew it though Jonah felt he still needed it (Jonah 4:7,8). But when Jonah lost his vine, he did not lose His God. Though the Lord may take away His gift, He does not withdraw His presence. Just for the sake of comparison and not as an absolute proof, the history of Israel, wandering in the desert provided a lesson for me. Six days out of seven they received the heavenly gift of manna, bread sent down from above. They did not have this gift in Egypt, in spite of God's presence with them there. In the desert this gift was the sign, the guarantee of the rich harvest that awaited them in Canaan. It lasted forty years. But as soon as they arrived in the Promised Land, the manna ceased to fall (Joshua 5:12). God no longer sent down bread from heaven. Why? Because they had the fruit of the land. The gift which was a sign and a shadow of God's promises stopped when those promises became reality. Let me sum up this comparison in three points:

The manna was not given while the Israelites were in Egypt any more than the gift of tongues was given to the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry.
The manna that fell during the forty years in the desert announced the harvests of Canaan just as the gift of tongues announced to the Jews the harvest of Gentiles (Acts 2:17,21).
The manna did not continue once the Israelites entered into the land of Canaan. In the same way, according to Paul, the gift of tongues does not continue once the harvest of the Gentiles is no longer denied or disputed.
The End
    Leaving the realm of comparison which can be contended, I was irresistibly impregnated with a truth having both a doctrinal and absolute aspect:

The judgment which the gift of tongues (Isaiah 28:11-13) pronounced on unbelieving Israel, dramatically began to fall on the country in the year 70 A.D. when Jerusalem fell and the Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world.
Speaking in tongues also announced the massive entrance of Gentiles into the Church, and parallels with the setting aside and judgment of Israel. The sign was completely fulfilled, as fully as our salvation was accomplished on the Cross. When Jesus cried, "It is finished", He excluded any repetition of this sacrifice. So the Holy Spirit prophecy, "if there be tongues, they will cease" (I Cor 13:8), forbids the perpetuation of this gift.