Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13)

Charismatic Tongues - Part III

Thursday, January 11, 2007
when sign gifts ended...

Before I begin this post, let me make something clear: I refuse to debate historical facts. The exact same way I don't give Holocaust-deniers any time, I will not give any time to anyone who will debate the historical facts cited in this post. If I get a whiff of it in my comment box, the comment will disappear... I promise.

"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. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

In the above passage of Scripture, we have an undeniable assurance that prophetic utterances, tongues and knowledge will come to an end. We are told that both prophecies (in native tongue or foreign) and words of knowledge are incomplete in nature; they are in effect, somewhat lacking. Finally, Paul wraps it up by saying that "something perfect" will come, which will replace the incomplete or lacking prophecies and words of knowledge.

Two questions then come up:

-When did or will the gift of tongues be replaced by this "that which is perfect"?
-What is this perfect thing which has or is to come?

Let's begin by answering the second question, first. Some (mostly charismatics) interpret "that which is perfect" as the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The problem, of course, is that the perfect thing spoken of in v.10 is definitely a "thing", not a person. The Lord Jesus Christ is always referred to in the masculine in the Bible, never the neuter. Now think about it: someTHING perfect to replace incomplete, lacking prophecies...

I submit: it is the Bible, the written Word of God. Some of you may disagree, but just stay with me for a moment. Let's test my answer for question #2 by applying it to question #1. If the Bible is the perfect thing which came in and replaced prophetic tongues, what we need to know is: did this indeed happen?

History tells us that all the books of the Bible were written before the end of the first century (Revelation, the last book of the Bible, was written somewhere between A.D. 94-96). We also learn from historical accounts that the Bible was compiled together somewhere between A.D. 170-350. So between the second century and the forth, the written word of God was not only in the world, it was complete and compiled together.

Now the Scriptures themselves testify that there were prophetic tongues in operation before the second century. That is clear. After that, things get fuzzy. By the second century, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr (early church writers), both confirmed that prophetic tongues were still in operation. For example:

"For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time… Now it is possible to see amongst us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God." (Justin Martyr)

"For this reason does the apostle declare, 'We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,' terming those persons 'perfect' who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages… whom also the apostle terms 'spiritual,' they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit." (Irenaeus)

Whether the word of these men can be counted on (their word isn't infallible), I just don't know, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. What is interesting though, is that by the forth century, the fuzziness disappears; all mentions of prophetic utterances (in an unknown or native tongue) have completely ceased. Theologian John Chrysostom, who lived around 349 to 407 said:

"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."

"But now no longer take place." This was the reality in this time period and indeed, it would remain that way for over 1500 years. Oh! there were some references of prophetic tongues, here and there throughout history, but all of it's occurrences between the forth and twentieth century were from heretical groups like the Gnostics, the followers of Montanus, and the Cevennol prophets. Never were these occurrences associated in anyway with the Church of God (more on this in part IV of this series).

So, wrapping all this together: we have a passage of Scripture which states that when SOMETHING that is PERFECT comes, the gifts of prophetic tongues will cease. Before the year 400, a PERFECT BOOK was put together: the Bible. During the same time period, all evidence of the practice of prophetic tongues in the Church of God vanished. Friends, there really is no need to over-think this. 1 Corinthinans 13:8 says that the spiritual gift of tongues would cease and 1600 years ago, IT TOTALLY DID!!! And it just happens to coincide with the compilation of the Bible.

Quite a coincidence, wouldn't you say?

to be continued...