When did the gift of tongues cease?

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Charismatic Movement – Doctrinal Issues 11-16

  1. Are some of the gifts temporary?

Are there some gifts that God no longer gives today? Here are two examples of temporary gifts:

1) The gift of APOSTLESHIP. There are no apostles in the church today, a fact that is acknowledged by most, even by many Pentecostal scholars. The Mormons believe there are still apostles today and so do other fringe groups, but most would acknowledge that the apostles were a very unique and special group of chosen and gifted men of the first century. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 there is an indication that a true apostle was a man who actually saw the RISEN Christ. This could not be true of believers today (John 16:10; 1 Peter 1:8).

2) The gift of PROPHECY. There are no God-gifted prophets in the church today, although there are many false prophets. Most Charismatic people believe that the gift of prophecy is still for today. We will discuss this further under #13. [For a discussion of the temporary nature of many of the gifts, see God’s Gift of Tongues by George Zeller, pages 113-116.]

  1. What is a prophet?

WRONG DEFINITIONS OF PROPHECY:

Prophecy is “the ability to understand and to engage in the exposition of the Word of God.” [Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit, page 139.]

“The gift of prophecy was actually the ability to proclaim God’s Word…The gift (of prophecy), then, is the ability to speak before people, to proclaim God’s Word, sometimes with a predictive element”. [John MacArthur, Jr., The Charismatics, p.164. John MacArthur teaches that God gives some believers the gift of prophecy today but that there are no prophets today. He teaches that the office of the prophet (Eph. 4:11) is no longer to be found in the church today but the gift of prophecy is. See his commentary on 1 Corinthians (pages 322-324) and Ephesians (pages 141-142). Thus a person can have the gift of prophecy and can prophesy, but this person is not a prophet. This would be like saying that a person can have the gift of teaching but not be a teacher, or have the gift of pastoring but not be a pastor.]

These definitions are inadequate and faulty. According to these definitions, any gifted Bible teacher, any gifted pastor would have the gift of prophecy. Every pastor should have the ability to proclaim God’s Word and to engage in the exposition of the Word of God, but this does not make the pastor a prophet.

These definitions fail to make a proper distinction between the gift of prophecy and the gift of teaching. See 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 where a clear distinction is made between those gifted as teachers and those gifted as prophets.

GOD’S DEFINITION OF PROPHECY:

“And thou shalt speak unto him, and PUT WORDS IN HIS MOUTH: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be THY SPOKESMAN unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God” (Exodus 4:15-16).

“And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a GOD to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy PROPHET. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land” (Exodus 7:1-2).

Aaron was to be the spokesman for Moses. As the PROPHET was to GOD, so Aaron was to Moses. What did this mean? Aaron spoke the words of Moses, even as the prophet speaks the words of God. Aaron was to be the MOUTH of Moses even as the prophet is to be the MOUTH (mouthpiece) of God. Aaron was Moses’ SPOKESMAN, even as the prophet is God’s SPOKESMAN, serving as God’s mouth, delivering God’s message (“Thus saith the LORD!”). This is God’s definition of a prophet. Thus prophecy is the God-given gift whereby the person is able to deliver God’s message and speak forth God’s Word. Every true prophecy would have this seal stamped upon it: “For the MOUTH of the LORD hath spoken it!”

There are New Testament passages which help us to understand the gift of prophecy: “For the PROPHECY came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). The prophets spoke (and wrote) as they were moved (carried along) by the Holy Spirit, so that what they spoke (and wrote) was exactly what God intended. It was God’s message, God’s Word. “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying…” (Matthew 1:22). God is the one who spoke it, but how did He speak it? He used the prophet’s mouth (in this case, the prophet Isaiah). It was God’s message and God’s Word, but it was delivered by way of a human mouth.

A prophet had to be 100% accurate (see Deut. 18:21-22). Why? Because God is 100% accurate and the true prophet is God’s mouthpiece. It is God’s message delivered through the prophet’s mouth and it is 100% accurate. This illustrates the difference between a prophet and a teacher. The prophet, when speaking as a prophet, speaks forth the Word of God (“Thus saith the Lord!”) and the message is infallible and 100% accurate. The teacher (or pastor/teacher) explains the Word of God which has already been given. Even the best Bible teacher is fallible and may err.

What is prophecy? Prophecy is inspired speech! It is nothing less than the Word of God in spoken or written form. See Micaiah’s definition of prophecy in 2 Chronicles 18:13.

What is a prophet? A prophet is God’s mouthpiece through whom God spoke and gave His perfect, infallible revelation.

  1. Are there true prophets today?

Many insist that the gift of prophecy is still being given today. Think of the implications of this. This would mean that God is still giving His Word today and that the canon of Scripture is not closed. The Bible we have would thus be incomplete. The 66 Books of the Bible are not enough if added revelation is still being given today by God through modern day prophets. The Bible would be missing vital information and crucial truths which these modern day prophets must supply. The Bible is not enough! We need the Bible plus the new prophecies!

This kind of teaching is a serious attack on the sufficiency of the Bible as our final and only authority for faith and practice. We need to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4) and these words are found in the 66 books of the Bible.

No, the church doesn’t need new revelation from heaven today! We already have a completed Bible and the Holy Spirit of God to interpret and apply it. What the church needs is a new confrontation with the whole counsel of God, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit with authority and love, by men who know their God and who honor His only written revelation. Then, and then only, may we expect our deepest needs to be supplied, and God’s purpose for His Church to be accomplished in our day. [Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Does God Want Christians To Perform Miracles Today? (BMH Books, 1973), pages 12-13.]

There are clear indications in the New Testament that the gift of prophecy was a temporary gift needed in the days of the early church, but no longer needed after the Bible had been completed.

In 1 Corinthians 13:8 we learn that prophecies would be done away, whereas faith, hope and love would remain. This prediction came to pass at the end of the first century. [See our study First Corinthians 13 and Temporary Gifts.]

In Ephesians 2:20 we learn that apostles and New Testament prophets were foundational men: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” A foundation is laid only once at the beginning of the building project. You do not keep laying a foundation. These men were foundational because it was through them that we received the New Testament Scriptures. We do not need to lay the foundation again, but we need to build upon it. It is possible that God’s building project has reached the “steeple stage,” as it were, and soon the last “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5) will be laid in place and Christ will then come to receive the church unto Himself (John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

In 2 Peter 2:1 there is the possible hint that the true gift of prophecy would be done away: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”

Notice carefully:

“there were false prophets”

“there shall be false teachers”

The devil counterfeits the true. When Peter wrote these words there were true prophets and the devil countered with false prophets. After the gift of prophecy was done away there were no longer any true prophets for the devil to counterfeit. There were, however, true teachers, and so the devil countered with false teachers.

  1. When did the gift of tongues cease?

CHARISMATIC ANSWERS:

1) Tongues have not ceased. God is still giving the gift of tongues today just as He did in New Testament times.

or

2) The gift of tongues ceased early in the history of the church, perhaps at the end of the first century. However, in these last days the gift of tongues has reappeared and God is once again giving this gift.

COMPROMISING ANSWERS FROM EVANGELICALS:

Dr. Billy Graham in his book, The Holy Spirit (Word, 1978) says, “I personally cannot find any biblical justification for saying the gift of tongues was meant exclusively for New Testament times” (p. 172). It is significant that in his chapter entitled “The Sign Gifts” in which he discusses the gift of tongues, he does not even mention 1 Corinthians 13:8, the verse where Paul predicts that tongues would cease.

Popular author Hal Lindsey teaches that there is a genuine and bona fide spiritual gift of tongues which God is still giving today. On page 147 of his best selling book, Satan Is Alive and Well On Planet Earth, he writes, “I believe there is a genuine gift of tongues which God is giving today.” His position is that tongues did in fact cease (as history proves) but in these last days the gift of tongues has reappeared (see pages 140-141).

John D. Jess, popular radio preacher on “The Chapel of the Air” speaks of the “ridiculously extreme position that denies the gift of tongues altogether” and which asserts that “the gift of tongues is no longer available to the Church” (p.40 in his book, Divide and Conquer).

THE ANSWER FROM FUNDAMENTAL BIBLE BELIEVERS:

This is well stated by the New England Bible Conference Doctrinal Statement (originally the IFCA Doctrinal Statement): “…speaking in tongues and the working of sign miracles gradually ceased as the New Testament Scriptures were completed and their authority established.”

THE BIBLICAL ANSWER:

“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (1 Cor. 13:8).

Paul predicted that the gift of tongues would cease (stop). God would stop giving this gift. The only problem is that Paul, in this verse, did not tell us when tongues would cease. He did not say, “Tongues will cease in 70 AD” or “Tongues will cease in 1000 years” or “Tongues will cease at the Lord’s second coming.”

There are three approaches that can be followed to determine when tongues did in fact cease. We shall now consider each of these approaches.

1) THE HISTORICAL APPROACH

There is overwhelming historical evidence that the gift of tongues ceased early in the history of the church. Richard Quebedeaux, a friend of the Charismatic movement, admits this very fact:

Evidence for the appearance of glossolalia, at least from the late second century to the eighteenth or nineteenth century, is scarce and frequently obscure….Origen, in the third century, and Chrysostom, in the fourth, both disparaged the accounts of speaking in tongues, and rejected its continued validity. Augustine, early in the fifth century, asserted that glossolalia was a sign adapted only to biblical times. [Richard Quebedeaux, The New Charismatics, pp. 20-21.]

The comment by the great preacher Chrysostom is worthy of note: “This whole place is very obscure [commenting on the references to tongues in 1 Corinthians] but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur, but now no longer take place.” [Homilies, XXIX, 1.] In other words, Chrysostom writing in the 4th century recognized that the gift of tongues described by Paul was something that used to occur in Paul’s day but which no longer took place in Chrysostom’s day. He refers to the “cessation” of this gift.

Cleon Rogers wrote the following: “It is significant that the gift of tongues is nowhere alluded to, hinted at or even found in any writings of the Post Apostolic Fathers.” [John MacArthur, Jr., The Charismatics, p.169.] It is significant to note that the gift of tongues is mentioned in 1 Corinthians, one of Paul’s earliest epistles, but it is not mentioned in any of Paul’s later epistles. This suggests that the gift of tongues may have ceased even before the canon of Scripture was closed.

2) THE CONTEXTUAL APPROACH

This approach seeks to determine when tongues ceased by examining the context of 1 Corinthians 13:8 (“tongues…shall cease”). The main message of this chapter can be summarized as follows:

1) There are three things that will fail (verse 8).
2) There are three things that will remain (verse 13).
3) There is one thing that will never fail (verse 8); it will remain forever (verse 13).

This indicates three time periods:

The time when the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge are in force. These are special revelatory gifts given by God in the days of the early church.

The time when the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge have failed, ceased and vanished away (verse 8) and the virtues of faith, hope and love remain (verse 13). This is the present age.

The time when only love remains but faith and hope do not remain. Faith is replaced by sight (2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1) and hope is replaced by realization (Rom. 8:24-25). This is the eternal state.

Thus the passage clearly teaches that there must be a period of time prior to the eternal state when the gifts of tongues and prophecy are no longer in effect and when the virtues of faith and hope are still in effect. This contradicts the teaching of those who insist that the gift of tongues has been given by God throughout this present age.

For a more detailed study of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, see our paper entitled First Corinthians 13 and Temporary Gifts.

3) THE PURPOSIVE APPROACH

What was the purpose of the gift of tongues? If the purpose for tongues is known, then it is possible to determine when tongues ceased. The purposive argument may be thus stated: Tongues ceased when they no longer served the purpose for which they were given.

There is only one place in the New Testament where Paul tells us the purpose of the gift of tongues: “Wherefore, tongues are FOR a sign…” (1 Corinthians 14:22). The preposition translated “for” (eis) denotes purpose. Paul’s explanation in verse 22 concerning the purpose of tongues is actually an inference based upon his words in verse 21. Verse 21 begins with these important words, “In the law it is written…”

In verse 21 Paul cited an Old Testament passage, Isaiah 28:11-12. Paul knew that the key to understanding the Biblical purpose of tongues is found “in the law,” that is, in the Old Testament Scriptures. What does the Old Testament teach concerning tongues? What was the significance and purpose of tongues in Old Testament times? When foreign tongues were spoken, what did this mean?

Isaiah 28 is not the only passage in the Old Testament which deals with the significance of foreign tongues. Several such passages together set forth a very sobering Biblical principle—a principle which has been demonstrated repeatedly in history. As we consider foreign tongues in the Old Testament, a very sobering and sad pattern becomes evident:

GENESIS 11

God has a message for the people (Genesis 9:1,7).

The people refuse to listen to God (Genesis 11:4).

God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment (Genesis 11:7).

Dispersion follows (Genesis 11:8).

DEUTERONOMY 28

God has a message for His people (Deut. 28:1).

The people refuse to listen to God (Deut. 28:15).

God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment (Deut. 28:49).

Dispersion follows (Deut. 28:64-65).

JEREMIAH 5

God has a message for His people (Jer. 4:1).

The people refuse to listen to God (Jer. 5:3).

God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment (Jer. 5:15).

Dispersion follows (Jer. 5:19).

ISAIAH 28

God has a message for His people (Isaiah 28:12a).

The people refuse to listen to God (Isaiah 28:12b).

God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment (Isaiah 28:11).

Dispersion follows (Isaiah 28:13).

COMPARE THE OPPOSITE TAUGHT IN ISAIAH 33

The context is the millennium. God causes tongues to not be heard indicating that Israel would enjoy the blessing of God (verse 19). There would be no more dispersion!

THE PATTERN REPEATED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

God has a message for the people (Matt. 11:28; compare Jer. 4:1; Isa. 28:12).

The people refuse to listen to God (Matt. 23:37).

God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment (Acts 2,10,19, etc.).

Dispersion follows (Matt. 23:38; 24:2).


The gift of tongues served as a sign of judgment for unbelieving Israel. The sign of judgment is no longer needed after the judgment has come. In 70 AD the Romans under General Titus brought the Christ-rejecting nation Israel to its final ruin. Ever since A.D. 70 there has been no question that Israel as a nation is under the judgment of God. Therefore it must be concluded that tongues as a sign gift were no longer needed after 70 AD. The last historical mention of the gift of tongues is found in 1 Corinthians which was written about 55 AD. There is no evidence historically that the genuine gift of tongues ever occurred after 70 AD. Tongues served their purpose, and tongues ceased, even as God predicted through the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Space does not allow for a more detailed development of the above points in this paper, but for a more lengthy discussion see God’s Gift of Tongues by George Zeller.

  1. Can unsaved people speak in tongues?

The Biblical gift of tongues was the supernatural ability to speak in a foreign language which the speaker had never learned. An unsaved person would not have the God-given ability to do this. Spiritual gifts are given to believers at the point of salvation, not to unbelievers.

The modern day phenomena of speaking ecstatic utterances (glossolalia) is something quite different. There are countless examples of unsaved people speaking in tongues. Here are but a few:

1) In the second century the Montanists spoke in tongues. This was a heretical group especially noted for their heresies concerning the Holy Spirit. The following is a description of Montanus and his followers by Eusebius in his History of the Church:

Montanus, in his unbridled ambition to reach the top, laid himself open to the adversary, was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a kind of trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved, and began to chatter and talk nonsense, prophesying in a way that conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation from the beginning. Of those who listened at that time to his sham utterances some were annoyed, regarding him as possessed, a demoniac in the grip of a spirit of error, a disturber of the masses. They rebuked him and tried to stop his chatter, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord, and His warning to guard vigilantly against the coming of false prophets….Then he secretly stirred up and inflamed minds closed to the true Faith, raising up in this way two others—women whom he filled with the sham spirit, so that they chattered crazily, inopportunely, and wildly, like Montanus himself.

According to Eusebius, this practice of tongues speaking was totally contrary to the practice of the Church. Indeed, Montanus and his followers were excommunicated from the Church.

2) Irenaeus wrote the following concerning the second century heretic Marcus:

Marcus to a woman, “Receive first from me and by me the gift of Charis…” Woman: “I have never at any time prophesied, nor do I know how to prophesy.” Marcus: “Open thy mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to thee, and thou shalt prophesy.” She then, vainly puffed up and elated by these words, and greatly excited in soul by the expectation that it is herself who is to prophesy, her heart beating violently (from emotion), reaches the requisite pitch of audacity, and idly as well as impudently utters some nonsense as it happens to occur to her, such as might be expected from one healed by an empty spirit” [Irenaeus Against Heresies].

The orthodox leaders of the early church recognized that such emotional outbursts of tongues speaking were not of God. It was a phenomena encouraged by the heretics.

3) The Cevenol priests who lived in France in the late 17th century also spoke in tongues. They were branded heretics because their prophecies went unfulfilled. [John MacArthur Jr., The Charismatics, p. 169.]

4) The Shakers originated in 1747 by a woman. Doctrinally she was all mixed up and held heretical views especially concerning the Person of Christ. “It is said that in order to mortify the flesh she instituted the practice of men and women dancing together naked while they spoke in tongues.” [Charles Smith, Tongues in Biblical Perspective, pages 17-18.]

5) Examples of speaking in tongues are found within the Mormon church (cult): “Right from the beginning with Joseph Smith, Mormons have accepted tongues as a valid gift for modern times. When their temple was dedicated in Salt Lake City, hundreds of elders spoke in tongues.” [Charles Smith, Tongues in Biblical Perspective, page 18.]

6) The followers of Edward Irving (19th century) spoke in tongues. These people had revelations that contradicted Scripture, prophecies that went unfulfilled and promoted various erroneous teachings. [See John MacArthur Jr., The Charismatics, p. 170 and see also Arnold Dallimore’s excellent biography, Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement–The Life of Edward Irving (Moody Press, 1983).]

7) Today it is a known fact that people who do not even profess to be Christians speak in tongues:

Today shamans (witch doctors, priests, or medicine men) in Haiti, Greenland, Micronesia, and countries of Africa, Australia, Asia, and North and South America speak in tongues. Several groups use drugs to aid in inducing the ecstatic state and utterances. Voodoo practitioners speak in tongues. Buddhist and Shinto priests have been heard speaking in tongues. Moslems have spoken in tongues, and an ancient tradition even reports that Mohammed himself spoke in tongues. [Charles Smith, Tongues in Biblical Perspective, pages 20-21. For further documentation of unsaved people speaking in tongues, look up the article on “glossolalia” in The Encyclopedia Britannica.]

8) Sad to say, there are many people today involved in the modern Charismatic movement who have spoken in tongues and yet they do not have any clear understanding of salvation or the gospel of grace or what it means to be born again. They have had an experience but they do not have eternal life (1 John 5:11-12). [We also recognize that there are people involved in the Charismatic movement who may truly know Christ as Saviour, having trusted Him and Him alone for their salvation. It is possible to be truly saved and yet be doctrinally confused.]

  1. What is wrong with modern day tongues speaking? (A SUMMARY)

1) In Charismatic circles speaking in tongues is set forth as something that everyone should seek, but in the New Testament, tongues was a spiritual gift that was not given to every believer (1 Cor. 12:8-11,30). Tongues was a relatively unimportant gift (listed last in 1 Cor. 12:28), though it did have edificational value if it was used rightly and interpreted properly.

2) The Bible gift of tongues was the supernatural and God-given ability to speak in a language which the person had never learned. The modern so-called gift of tongues is an ecstatic, emotional experience of uttering nonsense gibberish which cannot be translated and which does not have any real language content.

3) There is not one command in the entire Bible which tells a believer to speak in tongues and 24 out of 27 books in the New Testament say absolutely nothing about the gift of tongues.

4) The facts of history indicate that the true gift of tongues ceased very early in the history of the church and there is no verse in the Bible indicating that this gift will reappear in the last days.

5) The gift of tongues was a temporary sign gift which served its purpose and then was no longer needed, and thus no longer given. It served as a sign of judgment to unbelieving Israel and an indication that God was putting the nation Israel aside and beginning a new program, even His CHURCH. There is no mention of the genuine gift of tongues in the Bible or in secular history after 70 AD (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans).

6) As previously discussed, the kind of speaking in tongues that takes place today is a known psychological phenomenon which has been practiced by heretical groups, pagans, cultists and non-Christian people throughout the centuries. “Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is not restricted to Christian experience. Ecstatic utterances of a divinely inspired nature are mentioned in early Egyptian writings. The oracles of Delphi, Dodona, and Epirus among many others, which laid claim to prophecy, sometimes through the spirits of the dead, appear to be related to glossolalia. Plato extolled ‘four kinds of irrational experience, the divine madness of love, prophecy, Dionysian ecstasy, and poetic intuition,’ and both Plutarch and Virgil recorded phenomena similar to glossolalia” [The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John P. Kildahl (Harper & Row, 1972), p. 11].

7) One expert on the psychological phenomenon of speaking in tongues has come to this conclusion:

I am skeptical of the sociological and psychological aspects of tongue-speech as exhibited in public. Too much of it has been harmful rather than helpful when measured by the criterion of edifying the whole group….Tongues-speaking does not look very uniquely spiritual to me after many experiences of watching people teach other people how to speak in tongues. I have observed the same routine everywhere I have been: (1) a meeting devoted to intense concentration on tongue-speaking, followed by (2) an atmosphere of heightened suggestibility to the words of the tongue-speaking leaders, after which (3) the initiate is able to make the sounds he is instructed to make. It is the same procedure that a competent hypnotist employs. Like the hypnotist, the tongue-speaking leader succeeds with some subjects and with others does not. I have reached the conclusion that tongue-speaking is a learned phenomenon. [The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John P. Kildahl (Harper & Row, 1972), p. 74]

It is our thesis that hypnotizability constitutes the sine qua non of the glossolalia experience. If one can be hypnotized, then one is able under proper conditions to learn to speak in tongues. While glossolalia is not the same as hypnosis, it is similar to it and has the same roots in the relationship of the subject to the authority figure. [The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John P. Kildahl (Harper & Row, 1972), pages 54-55].

8) Much of the speaking in tongues that takes place today is found to be contrary to the rules set forth in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 which is another indication that it cannot be of God. Here are some of the regulations set forth by the Apostle Paul:

No more than three people could speak in tongues on any one occasion (1 Corinthians 14:27).

The tongues speakers must speak one after another in succession, not all at once (1 Cor. 14:27).

Whenever tongues speaking occurs, there must also be the interpretation of the tongues (1 Cor. 14:28).

The women were not to speak in tongues in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Go to almost any Charismatic assembly and you will find these rules being violated.

Go to the following chapter

Back to Main Index for the Charismatic Movement–35 Doctrinal Issues

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