PMT 2014-069 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In this concluding article I will show that tongues have ceased. The evidence is found in the revelation of God, not the experience of man. And Scripture trumps experience.
1 Corinthians 13
First Corinthians 13:8-10 reads: “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. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” This passage, properly understood, points to the providential completion of the New Testament canon as that which renders tongues (and other revelatory gifts) inoperative. Tongues, prophecy, and knowledge are specifically designated as having a joint terminus: each will be rendered inoperative at some future date (1 Cor. 13:8). What affects one gift, will affect all three.
Furthermore each of the three gifts mentioned as temporary is a revelatory gift of the Spirit. Who would dispute the claim that prophecy is a revelational gift? We saw earlier in our study that tongues is revelatory. And that “knowledge” is a supernatural, revelatory gift and not merely human rationality, is clear in light of the following: (1) It is specifically designated a “spiritual gift” in its context (1 Cor. 12:28). Mundane human rationality or knowledge is not a spiritual gift for the redeemed; it is a “natural” endowment for humanity. (2) The gift is here bound up closely with tongues and prophecy, which both are revelatory. (3) To view “knowledge” here as human rationality is absurd because the context warns that “knowledge” will one day be done away with (1 Cor. 13:8d). Who would teach that in the eternal state (or whenever) there will be no rationality?
Now to the point of the transience of tongues as related in this passage. Verse 9 speaks of these revelatory gifts as piecemeal — they are, by the very nature of the case, fragmented and incomplete revelations: “We know in part (Gk., ek merous), and we prophesy in part (Gk., ek merous).” The idea here is simply that during the period between Pentecost and the completion of the canon God gifts a variety of believers in various churches with these revelatory gifts. But these gifts are sporadic in that they give a revelation here and one there, but do not weave a total, complete New Testament revelatory picture. The various prophetic revelations offer at best partial insight into the will of God for the Church.
But verse 10 speaks of something coming which will contrast the piecemeal, bit-by-bit (Greek: ek merous) revelation of that transitional age. That which supersedes the partial and renders it inoperative is something designated as “perfect” (Gk., to teleion): “But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” It is difficult to miss the antithetic parallel between the “partial” thing and the “perfect” (complete, mature, full) thing. Since the “partial” speaks of the sporadic revelatory gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, then it would seem that the “perfect” — which supplants these — represents the perfect and full New Testament Scripture, in that modes of revelation are being contrasted. The final inscripturated word is not piecemeal — it is perfect (James 1:22-25). Thus, it equips the man of God adequately for all the tasks before him (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
This understanding of the intended parallel between piecemeal revelations and the perfect revelation is supported by the following verses. Verse 11 illustrates the matter by analogy from Paul’s own physical growth. “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became A man, I did away with childish things.” Notice that in verse 10 the contrast is between that which is partial and that which is perfect, whereas in verse 11 the contrast is between childhood and adulthood: In verses 8 through 10 those things which demonstrate the partial state are three revelatory gifts, whereas in verse 11 he mentions three means of knowledge in the child. A purposeful parallel exists between the three-fold reference to each of the two states of partiality and childhood: Tongues are equivalent (in the analogy) to “speak as a child,” knowledge to “understand as a child,” and prophecy to “reason as a child.”
The analogy thus presented is this: When Paul was in his childhood he thought as a child, but when he became a mature man he naturally put away childish thought modes. Similarly, when the Church was in her infancy stage, she operated by means of bit-by-bit, piecemeal revelation. But when she grew older, she operated by means of the finalized Scripture. Thus, tongues are related to the Church’s means of “knowing” in her infancy stage (cp. 1 Cor. 14:19-20).
In verse 12 Paul employs another analogy to illustrate the matter: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Paul here is teaching the Corinthians that “now” (Gk., arti), “just now, at this present moment”), before the completion and availability of the New Testament canon, they are limited to sporadic, inspired insight into the authoritative will of God. They simply do not know all that God is going to reveal yet. They are looking in a dim mirror. But when they have before them all the New Testament Scriptures, then they will be able to fully see themselves as God sees them, they will know themselves as they really are.
Thus, 1 Corinthians 13 offers important teaching regarding the transience of tongues: both by express reference and by analogy. Tongues are by design intended to serve the Church only during its inter-testamental period while the new covenant revelation is being organized.
In summary, the argument against the continuation of tongues in the Church today is two-fold: First, the gift of tongues is given for a specific dual purpose. It serves as a sign of confirmation for the apostolic message and as a sign of covenant curse upon unbelieving Israel for rejecting that message about the Messiah. As this two-fold purpose is realized in the first century, tongues were rendered inoperative. Second, the gift of tongues is given a specific terminus ad quem in the very passage which deals most extensively with tongues-speaking in Scripture. First Corinthians 13 teaches that all partial revelational modes are supplanted by the perfect, final revelation—the completed word of God.
Much more needs to be said regarding the modern tongues phenomenon. The three main issues I deal with in this series, however, are certainly among the more crucial matters for grasping the import of tongues in redemptive history. The exegetical evidence is clear: Tongues were miraculous endowments of foreign language bringing inspired revelation from God to the first century Church and warning to the Jews of the judgment to befall them in A.D. 70. Tongues served an important — though temporary — function in their time. Biblical tongues no longer exist.