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Have Tongues Ceased?

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

"If there are tongues, they will cease." - 1st Corinthians 13:8

What do you get when you open a can of worms?

Worms!


Answering the question, have tongues ceased, is like opening a can of worms. There are many people on both sides of this issue - those who are adamant that the gift of tongues ceased when the scriptures were completed and those who are equally adamant that the gift of tongues exists today.


Wikipedia defines speaking in tongues as an activity or practice in which people utter words or speech-like sounds, often thought by believers to be languages unknown to the speaker. One definition used by linguists is the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases as part of religious practice in which some believe it to be a divine language unknown to the speaker [1].


One website provides instructions on how to create the right mindset and speak the right words, so that you’ll be well on your way to speaking in tongues [2]. I went through something very similar in 1977 when I was briefly involved in The Way International (its a cult, stay clear). I was going to learn how to speak in tongues. I was sitting in the middle of the room. They laid their hands on me and ordered me to speak. All I could think of is my father ordering our big Saint Bernard, Zoie, to speak. I did finally speak - a big, loud WOOF WOOF! They were all shocked. I got up, said I'm out of here, and never went back. I later heard that there was a barking like a dog movement. I often wondered if I started it.


The word 'tongues' in the Greek is glōssa which refers to the organ in the mouth used for taste and speech.


The tongue is the organ that could experience taste and be quenched of thirst (Luke 16:24). It is also the organ of speech (Mark 7:33). By extension, it could denote a particular language (Acts 2:4) and could thus be used as a distinguishing mark of a people group (Rev 7:9). This noun could also refer to ecstatic speech as part of worship (1st Corinthians 14:2) [3].


Genesis 11 - The Tower of Babel

Prior to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), everyone on the earth spoke the same language (Genesis 11:1). In Genesis 1:28 God told the man and woman He created to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). However this command was not obeyed by those who settled in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11:2). They set out to build a city and a tower that will reach into heaven so as to not be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:4). As you read the narrative in Genesis 11 you will find that God confused their language so that they will not understand one another's speech (Genesis 11:7). Thus they were scattered over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:8) as commanded by God in Genesis 1:28.


Mark 16:17 - Must You Speak In Tongues If You Believe?

These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues."


Mark 16:9-20 is not recorded in the earliest known manuscripts. But I will still address this text. This verse is often used by those who teach you must speak in tongues if you are saved. However, they never say that you must cast out demons if you are saved. They also don't say that you must pick up serpents, drink their deadly poison, and live (Mark 16:18) if you are saved. I will conjecture to say that these verses serve as a commentary about the apostles.

  • They cast out demons (Acts 5:16; Acts 8:7; Acts 16:18; Acts 19:12).

  • They spoke with new tongues.

  • Paul had an encounter with a deadly viper (Acts 28:1-6).


When one of the seven sons of Sceva attempted to cast out an evil spirit, this demon recognized Jesus and knew about Paul, but didn't know this man. And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded (Acts 19:16)!


Are There True Apostles Today?

In a general sense the title 'apostle' means messenger, one who is sent out. You can say that any messenger of the gospel would be an apostle today. However, the apostles we see in the New Testament were disciples of Christ specifically chosen by Him to hold this unique first century office (Luke 6:13-16; 1st Corinthians 1:1). In addition to being chosen by Christ, they had to be eye witnesses of His resurrection (Acts 1:22; Acts 9:17; 1st Corinthians 9:1).


The apostles served as the foundation of the church that Christ is building (Matthew 16:18).


Ephesians 2:19-22 - So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.


The signs and wonders performed by the apostles authenticated who they were and the gospel message they were commissioned by Christ to preach.


Acts 5:12 - At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.


2nd Corinthians 12:12 - The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.


Those who put Christ to death and later arrested Peter and John understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply (Acts 4:13-14).


Those who claim today to have the same apostolic authority that was given to the twelve apostles and Paul are false apostles. Stay clear of them.


2nd Corinthians 11:12-15 - But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.


Where there are false apostles, there are also false signs and wonders - Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. They even invoke the name of Christ while performing their false miracles.


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 cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’


But what does this have to do with speaking in tongues? If there were still true apostles today, then we would expect to see the same kinds of signs and wonders that accompanied the apostles of the first century church.


Acts 2:1-13 - Pentecost

Pentecost (Greek pentēkostē) is a Jewish festival that takes place fifty days after the Passover. It is also known as the Feast of Weeks. Acts 2 is the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. This one was different from all of the previous Pentecost festivals that were held in accordance with the Law (Leviticus 23:15-16). This Pentecost ushered in the promised Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; John 16:5-15). It was the first day of the church that Jesus said He will build. Thus it was a singular, unrepeatable event in history. Jews from every nation who were living in Jerusalem heard the apostles speak in their own language (dialect).


Acts 2:3 - And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.


The term "as of" indicates that tongues of fire did not literally rest over the heads of the apostles, but looked enough like fire that this was the best description that Luke, the author of Acts, could give.


Fire in the Old Testament often indicates the presence of God, especially in his burning holiness and purity, consuming everything that is impure (see Exodus 3:2; 13:21; 19:18; 40:38; Isaiah 4:5; Ezekiel 1:4). These tongues may therefore portray both the purity and the power of the speech of these disciples as they proclaimed “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), as well as the holy presence of God [4].


Acts 2:4 - And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.


The word 'utterance' in the Greek is apophthengomai which literally means the ability to speak out, to prophesy, to speak one's opinion. This word is also used in Acts 2:14 (But Peter... declared to them) and Acts 26:25 (Paul said... but I utter words of sober truth).


Thus the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to boldly speak out and declare truth in the languages of those who were present in Jerusalem during Pentecost. This event occurred in A.D. 33.


Acts 10:34-48 - The Household of Cornelius

Jews were present at the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ. The narrative of Acts 10:34-48 was a type of Pentecost for the Gentiles that occurred around A.D. 40. While hearing the gospel message from Peter (a Jew), the circumcised believers (also Jews) witnessed the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Gentile believers who were speaking with tongues and exalting God (Acts 10:44-46). Those of the circumcision (Jewish believers) required uncircumcised Gentiles to be circumcised, otherwise they would not be accepted. Tongues was a sign to these Jews that God accepted uncircumcised Gentiles.


Acts 19:1-7 - Paul at Ephesus

While on his third missionary journey (around A.D. 53), Paul visited Ephesus. While there he found believers who were baptized into John's baptism, a baptism of repentance, but they never received the Holy Spirit and never even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.


In this case, speaking with tongues and prophesying confirmed to Paul that these twelve men (more than likely Jewish believers) received the Holy Spirit.


1st Corinthians 12 - The Use of Spiritual Gifts

Paul wrote this first letter to the Corinthian church in A.D. 56 while living in Ephesus during his third missionary journey. He received a report about a division that had arisen over several issues that were taking place in this church. In chapter 12 of this letter, Paul provides instruction on the variety and proper exercise of spiritual gifts within the body of Christ.


1st Corinthians 12:10 - and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.


1st Corinthians 12:28 - And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.


How many "kinds of tongues" were there when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians? We don't know the answer. However, if someone was given the gift of tongues then someone else would be given the ability to interpret what was spoken. Paul addresses this issue in 1st Corinthians 14.


1st Corinthians 12:30 - All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?


As stated earlier, there are those who use Mark 16:17 as proof that everyone who believes must speak in tongues. However Paul makes it very clear that not all speak with tongues just like all are not apostles, prophets, teachers, and workers of miracles (1st Corinthians 12:29).


1st Corinthians 13 - Does This Passage Teach That Tongues Ceased?

Paul starts out this chapter with the following: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.


It is clear that the tongues of men is in reference to known languages spoken by men. But what about the tongues of angels? One thought is that Paul is recalling the time when he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak (2nd Corinthians 12:4). Another thought is Paul is saying that angels spoke in the same languages as men. We see this throughout the Old Testament. In the New Testament an angel spoke to Philip (Acts 8:26) and later to Peter (Acts 12:7-8).


1 Corinthians 13:8–12

8 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.

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part;

10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.


Paul ties prophecy, tongues, and knowledge together in this passage. All three were present when he wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church. Whatever prophecy and knowledge was revealed up to this point, it was partial, not complete - For we know in part and we prophesy in part.


What does when the perfect comes mean? This phrase is tied to the previous verse - we know in part and we prophecy in part. Thus the perfect must be in reference to knowledge and prophecy, which was partial (incomplete) during the time when Paul wrote 1st Corinthians.


The word 'perfect' in the Greek is the gender neuter word teleios which describes something as complete, mature, or fully developed. If this text is referring to the second coming of Christ, it would read "when He who is perfect comes." But Paul makes no mention of Christ and His second coming in this chapter. He briefly discusses the second coming of Christ in 1st Corinthians 15:20-25.


Prior to 1st Corinthians, only four other books of the Bible were written: James (A.D. 45), Galatians (A.D. 49), and 1st and 2nd Thessalonians (A.D. 51). Since what prophecy and knowledge God up to this point was only partial, Paul and the believers at this time could only see in a mirror dimly. The word 'dimly' literally means "in a riddle" - there was still more prophecy and knowledge to be revealed. They looked forward to the completion of God's divine revelation to the New Testament church - now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. The doctrine for this is called Progressive Revelation -

Progressive revelation is the teaching that God has revealed Himself and His will through the Scriptures with increasing clarity as more and more of the Scriptures were written. In other words, the later the writing the more information is given. Therefore, God reveals knowledge in a progressive and increasing manner throughout the Bible from the earliest time to later time [5].


Paul wrote Romans in A.D. 56 near then end of his third missionary journey. There were still twenty-one more books to be written after Romans - from Mark (A.D. 58) to Revelation (A.D. 95). The gift of tongues is not mentioned in James, Galatians, and the two epistles to the Thessalonian churches. Of the twenty-two books written after 1st Corinthians, only Mark and Acts mentions the gift of tongues, and it is questionable whether or not Mark 16:17 was ever included in the earliest known manuscripts.


The New Testament was written over a period of fifty-six years in several locations throughout the known world at that time where communication was very slow and limited. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament would not be completed until John finished writing Revelation. With the exception of Mark and Acts there is no mention of the gift of tongues in the four New Testament books written before 1st Corinthians or in any of the remaining twenty books that were written after 1st Corinthians. It would take nearly four centuries before the New Testament books were canonized by the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397).


Since the scriptures today are complete, there is no need for prophecy, tongues and additional knowledge that is outside the inerrant and infallible written Word of God. If we did need additional knowledge, then where does that leave the Bible and who do we go to in order to hear the latest prophecy from God?


So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

-- 2nd Peter 1:19 --


Closing Remarks

1st Corinthians 14:18-19 - I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.


There is no denying that the apostle Paul spoke in tongues. But his emphasis was instructing others in words they could understand so that the church may be edified (1st Corinthians 14:12).


It is not outside the realm of possibility for God to give the gift of languages to a missionary who travels to a foreign country and, having never spoke the language, is able to quickly communicate with the residents of this country and share the gospel with them.


Believer beware:

Matthew 7:15 - Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.


1st Timothy 4:1 - But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.


2nd Peter 2:1-3 - But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.


1st John 4:1 - Beloved, 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.


But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

-- Galatians 1:8-9 --


References

[2] https://www.wikihow.com/Speak-in-Tongues

[3] Jonathon Lookadoo, “Body,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[4] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2082.

[5] https://carm.org/about-doctrine/what-is-progressive-revelation-and-is-it-scriptural/


Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.

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