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A casual survey of opinions concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit will usually result in a rather obvious split between those who believe the gifts ended with the Apostolic age (called cessationism) and those who believe the gifts are still available today (continuationism). My personal experience with these extremes is embodied in two groups: continuationism in the Pentecostal denomination, and cessationism in the churches stemming from the Restoration Movement (the churches of Christ and Christian churches). The distinctive aspects of each: Pentecostalism experiential (based on personal feeling and experience) gifts of the Spirit are available to all gifts of the Spirit (especially tongues) are a sign of salvation following baptism speaking in tongues and healing appear to be a focus, with true prophecy being uncommon speaking in tongues is generally “angelic” – not of any secular (earthly) language
Churches of Christ non-experiential (rejecting any reliance on personal feeling and experience) gifts of the Spirit were for the Apostles and those on whom the Apostles laid their hands gifts of the Spirit are not a sign of salvation and have never necessarily followed baptism during the Apostolic age, all gifts of the Spirit were given without preference speaking in tongues always involved secular languages
It has been my experience that the key passage used to justify cessationism, which happens to be in the middle of the oft-quoted chapter on love, is 1 Corinthians 13:8–10 (note, all Scripture in this work is from the NIV): Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. A cursory reading of this might leave one confused as to how it can be used to justify the disappearance of the gifts of the Spirit with the end of the Apostolic age. If any timeframe at all can be determined from this passage, it would seem to be connected to “when completeness comes.” This is where cessationists pull what may appear to be some fancy footwork to get this passage to justify their position. Completeness, they say, is referring to the completed canon of Scripture, which was given by the end of the first century. What’s peculiar is that the completed canon is anticipated nowhere else in the New Testament. Even Revelation, the book that completed the Biblical canon, makes no mention of this. On the contrary, in Revelation 10, John is told to continue to prophesy “before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” This seems a strange command if the book John was writing was to bring an end to knowledge and prophecy. Of course, we could consider the fact that the Biblical canon wasn’t textually compiled until the third century, by which time, coincidentally, occurrences of the gifts were sparse (if any true examples existed at all), but we must also consider that few, if any, of the New Testament writers ever anticipated that their letters would eventually become as much “Scripture” as the Tanakh (the Old Testament). Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews were instructing and reproving individual congregations while absent, the Gospel writers were merely testifying of what they and others had seen in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and whether or not John knew the Revelation would become canonized is hard to say. Regardless, there is no obvious expectation that God’s Word given through these first-century authors
would become a combined work superseding the Jewish Scriptures. That makes it possible that this interpretation is a bias from hindsight (not to mention an interpretation of convenience). We will look further into that later. On the subject of history, there is some historical evidence for the vanishing of the spiritual gifts. At least up to the time of Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, the gifts were still very much active. However, Chrysostom and Augustine, writing in the fourth and fifth centuries respectively, refer to the gifts as past and no longer occurring. The only exception to this is in a later report by Augustine of a revival of miracles. It should also be noted that many examples of “miracles” following the second century occur almost exclusively in cults and heretical sects, and quite often appear more magical than miraculous. Keep in mind that even the magicians of Pharaoh were able to replicate several of the Lord’s plagues with their own secret arts. Here, we must pay special attention to 1 John 4:1: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We cannot stress this enough. After the fifth century, miracles were mostly a feature of the Roman Catholic Church. It would even seem that, within Catholicism, the miraculous is more often attributed to the Virgin Mary than to the Holy Spirit of God. This, of course, is no less than idolatry, not to mention blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by indicating that such legitimate power is held by anyone other than the Spirit (see Mark 3:20–30). More recently, another group has taken hold of the miraculous and made it central to their work in the name of Christ. At the turn of the twentieth century (100 years after the Restoration Movement), Pentecostalism emerged in the Central United States, built upon the earlier Holiness Movement. Incidentally, the Holiness Movement did not involve the gifts of the Spirit. Instead, the movement, which grew from the teachings of brothers John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Wesleyanism), focused on achieving sinless perfection following salvation through God’s Grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. From this, many people turned to Pentecostalism when it appeared half a century later, which added to Holy Spirit baptism the subsequent outward sign of speaking in tongues. Today, there are more 10,000 distinct denominations within the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Of these, the largest is the Assemblies of God, having over 300,000 churches and 60 million adherents worldwide. In the midst of the Holiness Movement, in 1800, a second movement was getting its own foothold: the Restoration. Surprisingly similar to certain Charismatic denominations, the churches of the Restoration are independent congregations with no central leadership or overarching structure. Unlike denominations, which are generally formed on the basis of some doctrinal distinction, the autonomous churches of the Restoration assert only a return to New Testament principles – especially as found in the book of Acts. They seek only to be Scriptural, not dogmatic on any trivial or otherwise questionable issue, using the first-century Church as their example, in contrast to denominations based on the teachings and experiences of fallible men from later centuries. Many religions begin with an experiential event (most often a vision or angelic interjection), and denominations arise because of difference of opinion and interpretation. The Restoration, however, began separately in several regions of the United States with nothing more than the urge to return to New Testament basics – that is, to restore the Church to its former foundation. There are only two groups (these churches reject the denomination label) among the churches of the Restoration: the churches of Christ and Christian churches. The only difference between these two is the name – a matter of preference among individual congregations. Before continuing on, it should be quickly noted that, today, many people believe in God’s ability to heal, but they give very little thought to the gifts of the Spirit. The two are quite different. Praying for God to heal someone is not a gift (though prayer, itself, is most definitely a gift); it is an appeal to the hand of God. The gifts of the Spirit were an allotment of the power of the Spirit into the hands of certain men of God. Healing, as a gift, was a matter of contact. For example, the one having the gift would lay their hands on the one who was sick (or, in the case of Peter, the one who was sick would merely touch the shadow of the one having the gift) and they would be healed by their faith. This is a very important distinction, and whether or not God does heal is not the subject of this study (though it can be said that, if God so chooses, he can heal whomever he wants, and the prayers of the righteous will certainly be heard).
Returning to the passage in 1 Corinthians 13, it is first of all important to understand the context of what Paul was writing. Read chapters 12 through 14. Paul begins by stating two simple facts: all spiritual gifts are from the same Spirit, and every gift is necessary for the proper functioning of the body of Christ. Paul’s listing of the gifts of the Spirit implies that there are greater gifts and there are lesser gifts (though, again, all are equally necessary), and he tells the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts – presumably prophecy and teaching. Note that, three times, Paul lists the gifts of tongues and interpretation last, after every other gift. He explains this in 14:2, saying, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” The gift of tongues relies on another gift – the gift of interpretation. Otherwise, the speaker is speaking nonsense, even to the point of deterring outsiders (14:23). In fact, Paul here explains that one can pray in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, but even they may have no understanding of what they are saying (14:13–17). Furthermore, Paul says prophecy is the greater gift (14:1–5), because it instructs the Church. What greater purpose is there for these spiritual gifts than the instruction and increase of the Church? Any gift that achieves this purpose is surely of a greater kind. At the end of chapter 12, after telling the Corinthians to eagerly desire the greater gifts, Paul makes an interesting statement: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” Even greater than the greatest of spiritual gifts, there is a “most excellent way.” What could that possibly be? Chapter 13 is dedicated to this most excellent way. Paul writes (13:1–3): If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. The first thing to notice is Paul’s use of hyperbole (exaggeration). The ability to speak in the tongues of men and angels; the ability to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge; faith to move mountains; giving all possessions to the poor; giving over the body to hardship (some manuscripts read “to the flames”). The entire theme of chapter 13 is the imperfection of the spiritual gifts. Paul says “we know in part and prophesy in part” (13:9), and yet here he refers to knowing and prophesying in full. Obviously, he is exaggerating. This means we can conclude nothing from his reference to “the tongues of men or of angels.” This, too, is an exaggeration and cannot be used to justify the “angelic” (also called “ecstatic”) tongues being spoken today. One consistent theme throughout the New Testament is the purpose of tongues: to establish the taking of the Gospel to all peoples, nations, and languages. The Apostles spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost so that they would be understood by the Jews of all nations and dialects (Greek: dialekto, used in Acts 2:6) who were gathered at Jerusalem. And Paul explicitly states the purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:22: “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers.” Speaking in tongues was not meant to be kept among the churches; it was designed to take the Gospel to people of diverse languages – languages the ones taking the Gospel out are unable to speak on their own. Readers of the King James Version will see “unknown tongues” throughout 1 Corinthians 14 and will typically equate that with languages unknown to men (that is, angelic languages). What readers of the KJV need to keep in mind, however, is that the word “unknown” is, in every instance, italicized. Unfortunately, many people – even preachers and teachers of the Word – will see the italics of the KJV and assume it implies emphasis. Actually, it indicates the exact opposite. Any word italicized in the KJV is an editorial addition not found in the original Greek. Also, the word “tongues,” itself, has gained an ecstatic connotation over time, mostly due to the use of the word by the Charismatic Movement. We need to remember that the Greek word translated as “tongues,” glossa, was synonymous with dialekta (dialects). Literally, glossa referred to the tongue (the physical tongue in the mouth), but, because of the tongue’s role in speaking, it was also used metaphorically to refer to languages. Multiple times in the book of Revelation, glossa is used to indicate the peoples, tribes, languages and nations of the earth. If angelic languages were ever the subject, the
Greek would have read glossa angelon – “tongues of angels.” Indeed, this occurs only once, in 1 Corinthians 13:1, which, as we have already seen, was an exaggeration used by Paul to get his point across. At best, Paul’s use of “tongues of angels” can be used to neither argue for nor against the speaking of angelic tongues. And, regardless, every occurrence of the speaking of tongues in the New Testament is a reference to the diverse languages of men. No matter how the Charismatic Movement has come to use the term, its New Testament usage was anything but ecstatic. Paul’s point in writing what he does in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 is to establish the necessity of love in all things. Without love, all other acts are useless. Paul goes on to say (13:8–13): Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Knowing and prophesying was in part. No one knew the mysteries of God in full, and no one prophesied in full, even by the Spirit. Every gift of the Spirit was done in part, having in mind a coming completion. This brings us to the true battleground: just what is this completion? In the Greek, the word for “completion” is teleion, and it occurs 6 times elsewhere: Romans 12:12 (“perfect”), Ephesians 4:13 (“mature”), Colossians 1:28 (“complete”), and James 1:4, 17, and 25 (“perfect”). In addition to this, other forms of the word are used in 1 Corinthians 14:20 (“Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”) and 1 Corinthians 2:6 (“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature”). These should help make the usage of the word obvious: it signifies development. With that in mind, let’s focus for a moment on Ephesians 4:11–13: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Here we see that God gave leaders for the Church so that it might become unified in the faith and knowledge of Christ, and that it might become mature (teleion). Moreover, the leaders were to be given “until” these things were achieved (though this doesn’t necessarily mean that the leaders would be subsequently done away with). This is very much like what we read in 1 Corinthians 13, except Paul is speaking of leaders rather than the gifts of the Spirit. Still, we have the fact that, in both, knowledge was in part, but that it would be in full at some future time, whenever the teleion would come. What we have, then, is a growing list of things that would become obsolete when the teleion comes: knowing in part prophesying in part/prophets apostles evangelists pastors (elders) teachers
Now, compare the Church to a growing person. At first, that person is a child, and they must be fed milk until they can handle solid food (Hebrews 5:11–14). It is when that person is mature enough that they
are ready for solid food. In this case, milk represents the most basic teachings about Christ. The writer of Hebrews refers to the issue of staying in this state of immaturity when he says, in Hebrews 6:1–7, Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. In this passage, the word “maturity” is the Greek word teleioteta, a noun from the same root as teleion (you could say, someone who is teleion is in a state of teleioteta – that is, someone who is mature is in a state of maturity). What the writer of Hebrews is speaking of here is a trap that churches today easily fall into. We spend a lot of time focusing on the Gospel and on the “elementary teachings,” but how much time is spent on the greater things, like applying God’s Word and proclaiming it in our lives? Much of the blame for this falls on our bringing of outsiders (nonbelievers) into our church gatherings. With nonbelievers present, we force ourselves into an obligation of preaching the Gospel to them; however, preaching the Gospel is not the purpose of the church gathering. The Gospel is to be preached through evangelism. Church services are for worshipping our Lord and remembering his sacrifice. Unfortunately, far too many people take the lazy route, dragging nonbelievers into their church services instead of taking the Gospel out into the world and allowing a natural flow of new believers into the Church. It still remains to determine what was in mind when the New Testament authors spoke of the maturity. There are a number of possibilities, including: the completion of the canon of Scripture the maturity of each individual Christian in their life in Christ the maturity of the Church as a whole at some specific time in history the spiritual perfection achieved at the coming of Christ and resurrection of the dead
1 Corinthians 13:8–10 reveals something else of interest. There is a distinct difference between what happens to prophecies and knowledge (the greater gifts) and what happens to tongues (the lesser gift). Also note that, by contrast, love never fails. In the Greek, the word for “fails” is piptei, which means to fall down. What happens to prophecies and knowledge is described as katargethesontai, a passive verb meaning to be made ineffective or useless by some outside force. The fate of the gift of tongues, on the other hand, is described by the word pausontai, a verb in the middle voice (between active and passive) that means to be hindered or restrained by one’s own actions. Certainly, if Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians is any indication, we might conclude that the action that caused the gift of speaking in tongues to be restrained was its misuse by the Church. In order, therefore, to be justified in the socalled modern revival of this gift, today’s Pentecostal denominations have to assert that their use of the gift is more proper than that of the church at Corinth. Can this possibly be a realistic claim? We can determine four things from this passage. First, love is eternal, being called the “most excellent way” (greater than all the gifts of the Spirit). Second, the gift of tongues would end because of the actions of those who received it. Third, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge would fade because they would no longer be useful. And, ultimately, that which is complete would replace the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, which were in part. There is also something in the context of Ephesians 4 that could help determine what the complete is. Six times in writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul refers to a “mystery.” What is this mystery? In Ephesians 3:6, he states plainly, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” In 6:19, Paul refers to this mystery as the Gospel, and in 1:9 he says that the mystery of the will of God was “purposed in Christ.” Elsewhere, in Colossians 1:26–27 and 2:2, Paul refers to the mystery as Christ himself, as he also does in 1 Timothy 3:16. In its entirety, this is the mystery: that the Father would send his Son to redeem for himself a body of righteous servants from all peoples, tribes,
languages, and nations, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female (see Galatians 3:28). To put it even more succinctly, the mystery of God is the Word of God, which was spoken through the prophets, made flesh in Jesus Christ (see John 1), and realized in the Church. But there is more. Not only do we see the revelation of this mystery in the life and work of Christ and his Church, we also see the completion of this mystery. Revelation 10:7: “But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” In fact, the word here translated “accomplished” is etelesthe, which is a form of teleo, while teleo is the root of the adjective teleion found in 1 Corinthians 13:10, our verse in question. Essentially, having the same root, these two verses have similar meanings – 1 Corinthians 13:10 is speaking of something that is complete, and Revelation 10:7 is speaking of the completion of the mystery of God. What does the completion of the mystery of God entail? Since the mystery of God is the Word of God, what Revelation 10:7 speaks of is the accomplishment and completion of that Word. And here it must be recognized that the completion of God’s Word is emphatically not the completion of the canon of Scripture. Much more than that, the completion of God’s Word is the fulfillment of everything God has revealed – the ultimate goal of the Church. The timing of this event is the seventh seal of Revelation 10, which, in context, coincides with the victory of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of the world. What was the kingdom of the world? It was none other than the Roman Empire, the force of wickedness and darkness responsible for the persecution and slaughter of the followers of Christ, and even of Christ himself. Following one final attempt to eradicate the Christian population by Emperor Diocletian at the end of the third century, the Kingdom of God, embodied in the Church, was victorious over the Roman Empire and became the dominant power in the world. It was at this time that the Church became both fully mature and fully unified, having overcome its oppressor. We must now discern if this truly satisfies the conditions of 1 Corinthians 13:8–10 and Ephesians 4:11–13. We see that love was to continue no matter what, which fits any of the four possibilities mentioned earlier. The gift of tongues was taken away at an early stage (likely at some point during the first century) due to its misuse among the churches. The gift of prophesy would have become useless as the fulfillment of God’s Word at the fall of Rome meant the will of God was complete; the only thing remaining is the final judgment of the dead. The gift of knowledge would have also become useless as everything that had been partially revealed through this gift, for the understanding of God’s Word, became reality. The fading of the gifts of knowledge and prophecy fits historically, as well, as outlined above. The Apostolic age ended in the early second century with the death of John, the one who had received the Revelation of Jesus Christ – the very book that pictured the completion of the mystery of God. Evangelism became a limited work as the Gospel had now been taken to the whole world; works of evangelism after this could go no further. And finally, the pastor/elder and teacher positions have persisted, though not with anything even near the capacity they once had, mostly due to the removal of the gifts of the Spirit; these appointed positions were strengthened by prophesy and special anointing through the laying on of hands, which no longer occur. If anyone insists that this statement – that prophecy and the anointing through the laying on of hands no longer occurs – is a circular argument, it would be wise to recall that it is Scripture that determines the occasion on which these things ceased. Scripture has already established that the gifts of the Spirit were to end with the fulfillment of God’s Word. It follows that this removes our authority to anoint our leadership. This is all the more reason to rely on Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Leader, not a man who has received no explicit spiritual anointing. In conclusion, we are long since past the time when the Word of God has been fulfilled and the Church has achieved maturity and unity. As a result, we are also long since past the time when the gift of tongues has ceased and the gifts of prophecy and knowledge have been made obsolete. Revivals of these gifts have always been claimed. Before the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, there were men, claiming to be men of God, who worked with dark and secret arts to convincingly reproduce the acts of God, even doing so in his holy name. Men prophesied in the name of God; they worked wonders in the name of God; they spoke to spirits in the name of God. All of these were acts of
deception done in the name of God. How much more do these acts of deception occur today? Even in the name of God and of his Son. In the words of Christ (Matthew 7:22–23): “Many will say to me on that day, „Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?‟ Then I will tell them plainly, „I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!‟”
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