Speaking in tongues

This article/section has been tagged since {{{1}}}.[[Category:Cleanup from {{{1}}}]]|}} Speaking in tongues is one of the manifestations of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. And appears to be the same gift is in Acts 2:4 - "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (ESV). The understanding of this gift differs greatly between Continuationists and Cessationists, and is the probably most controversial issue separating the two camps.

Speaking in tongues is claimed to be is widely practiced today by Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Cessationists on the other hand reject that, and claim that such ecstatic utterances are not the geniune gifts of tongues. They (cessationists) claim that the gift of tongues refers only to known languages, and were available only to the early church.

Cessationist Understanding

The cessationist understanding of the gift of tongues, is that it refers only to known languages (like Greek, Egyptian or Arabic), and not ecstatic speaking. At Pentecost this gift allowed believers to communicate with foreigners in their native languages (tongues) which they did not previously know. These were clearly the existing native languages of the foreigners. Continuatiuonists therefore, who see the gift of tongues listed in 1 Corinthians 12:10 as an ecstatic utterance rather than a known language, must therefore distinguish what Paul is describing in 1 Corintians from the tongues described in Acts 2.

A Cessationist argument from 1 Corinthians

Cessationism, is the belief that speaking in tongues as well as all the other miraculous and supernatural gifts of the Apostolic era have ceased. This view understands 1 Cor. 13:8 to categorically state that at some point tongues will cease and that prophecy and knowledge will pass away. ^[ _citations\ needed_]^

There is much debate regarding the timing of the cessation of the items mentioned in 1 Cor.13:8. In order to see when this occurred, or when it is meant to occur, the word remain in 1 Cor. 13:13 needs to be examined in the light of its connection to the three items in 1 Cor. 13:8 which are said to cease/fade/vanish when that which is perfect is come.

Tongues, prophecy and knowledge will cease before Jesus returns

In 1 Cor. 13:13, faith, hope and love are said to remain. For the word remain to make any grammatical sense, then something else must first be removed. The things targeted to be removed are mentioned a few verses back in 1 Cor. 13:8, namely tongues, prophecy and knowledge. Even after these gifts are removed, faith, hope and love will remain. Considering that the gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:9) will remain with mankind until Jesus returns, then the items of 1 Cor. 13:8 must be gone before this time. As already noted, something must go before something else can be said to remain. It is not possible for the three gifts of 1 Cor. 13:8 to remain along with our faith and hope because that would be saying that the things targeted to cease will actually remain until the things that remain cease. Logic dictates that the items in v.8 have to be gone in order for the items in v.13 to be said to remain so tongues, prophecy and knowledge must cease before Jesus' return.^[ _citation\ needed_]^

Prophecy and knowledge have ceased because the Bible is completed

It can be noted that the coming of that which is perfect (1 Cor. 13:10) is only linked to the in part gifts of prophecy and knowledge and not to any other gifts. The inspired writers of the Bible were given these gifts of futuristic prophecy and special knowledge. Futuristic prophecy, such as in the book of Revelation, was given to these men to foretell the things which God wanted to reveal to man.^[ _citation\ needed_]^ Supernatural knowledge was needed to explain things like redemption, Christian living, church guidelines etc. When 1 Corinthians was written, the Bible was incomplete ... it was in part, and that is why prophecy and knowledge, in 1 Cor. 13:9, were said to be in part. When the Bible was completed, this special, revelatory prophecy and knowledge ceased because all the future prophecy and special knowledge, which God wanted us to have, was now contained in the Bible. The word perfect can be translated complete or finished and these words well describe our completed, that which is perfect Bible. With the completed Bible, the in part gifts of supernatural prophecy and knowledge were done away with and so today no one can add to the Bible.

Face to face

The term face to face in 1 Cor. 13:12 is sometimes interpreted as seeing Jesus face to face.^[ _citation\ needed_]^ However, reading on from the coming of perfection in v.10, we see that v.11 speaks of leaving childish things behind and becoming mature. If this maturing awaits Jesus' return then it means that believers will remain babes in Christ, never reaching spiritual maturity, until that time. Passages such as Jam. 1:23-25, Heb. 5:11-6:3 and Eph. 4:11-15 speak of a believer's growth and maturing in Christ through the Word of God. In 1 Cor. 13:12 the writer explains that now, before the perfect had come, they saw things dimly but then, when the perfect had come, they would know fully. Like v.11, this verse speaks of the growth from immaturity to maturity. Today, with the completed Bible, a believer can mature in Christ, see themselves clearly (come face to face), know themselves as they are Divinely known and know God's full plan and purpose.

The purpose of tongues

1 Cor. 14:22 says, “Tongues then ... are a sign for unbelievers”. The word then indicates that this verse is referring to the previous verse(s). 1 Cor. 14:21 says that God will speak to this people. The New Testament term this people always refers to the Jews so the unbelievers being referred to in 1 Cor. 14:22 (from Isa 28) were Jews and in Acts it can be noted that whenever tongues was used Jews were present. So, the purpose of tongues was to be a sign to unbelieving Jews.^[ _citation\ needed_]^ One sign was to show that salvation was also for the Gentiles, hence the foreign languages. The book of Acts shows that the Jews did not believe and often fiercely resisted the fact that God's salvation plan also included the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18, 22:17-22). Tongues was also a sign of judgment against the Jews. The quote in 1 Cor. 14:21-22 comes from Isaiah 28:11-13 where judgment was pronounced against Israel (Their Temple was destroyed in 70AD). With the completion of the Bible, speaking in tongues was no longer necessary as it was clearly revealed in Scripture that the Gentiles were part of God's plan of salvation. To sum up, tongues, supernatural prophecy and knowledge were temporary gifts for specific purposes and they were withdrawn when they had served their purpose.

Mark 16:15-18

In Mark 16:15-18, Jesus said that tongues would be one of the signs that followed the evangelists as they went into the world. This was fulfilled, as Acts shows. About 20 years after Jesus said this, 1 Corinthians was written stating that tongues would cease and this occurred some 40 years later, when the Bible was completed.^[ _citation\ needed_]^ 1 Cor. 14 has many rules governing the use of tongues and these rules applied to the church before the gift was withdrawn. The rules were put in place because of the abuse of the gift and had no bearing on the fact that tongues, being just a sign, was to cease at a later stage when the completed Bible made it clear to the Jews that the Gentiles were part of God's salvation plan.

1 Cor. 14:39

In 1 Cor. 14:39 Paul said “do not forbid speaking in tongues” because at that point in time speaking in tongues was still a gift and was to remain so for some 40 more years. He also said in 1 Cor. 14:18 that he spoke in tongues more than anyone. This is because he was on the front-line of evangelism. He travelled widely doing the pioneering work for the Gospel and always went to the Jews first, the very people the sign was for. With this in mind it is easy to see why he spoke in tongues more than anyone else. In 1 Cor. 14:5 he said that he wished all spoke in tongues. Two possible reasons for his saying this are 1) more individuals would be evangelising the Jews and 2) it was edifying to be used of God in such a manner and he wished this edification on others.

Continuationist position

Continuationism is the belief that miraculous gifts have not ceased (1 Cor. 1:7, Acts 2:16-18), and is normative for those who believe and seek (James 5:17-18, Mark 11:22-24, Matt 7:7-11), just as it is taught and shown throughout the bible (2 Tim 3:16-17). Continuationists believe that :

  1. Christians should desire the gift of tongues (1 Cor 14:5, 15)
  2. Christians should not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39-40)
  3. the gift of tongues is valuable in personal worship and edification (1 Cor 14:4, 15)
  4. the utterance of the gift tongues can be languages of men or of angels (1 Cor. 13:1)^[ _citation\ needed_]^
  5. the utterance of the gift tongues is not understandable to the one speaking it (1 Cor 14:13-14) - (unless he/she has the gift of interpretation at the time)

In addition, Pentecostals believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by it (Acts 10:45-46, Acts 2:4, Acts 19:5-6).^ [1]^

Arguments for the gift of tongues

Cessationism is not taught in the Bible

Cessationists use Eph 2:20 :

"having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner {stone,}" (NASB) ... to say that supernatural gifts have ceased ^[2]^. They that once the foundation of a building is laid, there is no need to add to it. Then they say that the "foundation of the apostles and prophets" refers to the bible. Then they say that the purpose of the gift of prophecy was only to enable bible writers to write the bible and give confirmation of it. So they conclude that the gift of prophecy must have ceased (the bible being completed). Then they say that the gift of tongues along with the gift of interpretation, enables revelation from God (just like prophecy) so therefore the gift of tongues must have ceased also (otherwise the bible would be growing).^[3]^

But the context of Eph 2:20 is that Paul was talking about Jews and Gentiles being reconciled in Christ and not about spiritual gifts. Paul simply using a temple analogy to show that the Jews and Gentiles are reconciled and have the same foundation.^[ _citation\ needed_]^ He is not saying at all, that the spiritual gifts will cease when the N.T. is complete. Also, if the foundation refered to is the completed New Testament (of which Paul has no idea of), then his argument fails because the foundation is not there yet. The point of an analogy depends on the context that it is used. It is not hermeneutically sound to put various interpretations on parts of an analogy independent from the context that it is being used. (e.g. Just like some early Church fathers put various interpretation on parts of the parable of the Good Samaritan).

Also, there is no direct relationship between the revelatory gifts and the inspiration of the bible. Not all the biblical writers had the gift of prophecy (e.g. Mark who only recorded Peter and even adds his own comment-Mark 13:14, Luke who only investigated, the compiler of Jeremiah, those who recorded Moses death in the Pentateuch, Tertius who wrote Romans for Paul "in the Lord" (see Greek order) and adds his own greetings- Rom 16:22, etc.) even though what they wrote was the Word of God. And not all prophecies of all genuine prophets were included in the bible, not in the O.T., not in the N.T. In fact, not all of Paul's letters and sermons were included in the Bible, only a few and yet the bible is not incomplete but complete. Of the apostles in the N.T., only a few made contributions to the Bible (Paul, Peter, John, James, Matthew). Philip's four prophesying daughters made no made no contribution at all, nor did Agabus (Luke records him, but he did not write anything that was included). No one from the Corinthian church of whom Paul commanded to desire the gift of prophecy made any contribution. No one who spoke in tongues in Corinth and then translated, made its way to the bible. In fact Paul who boasts that he spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthians, doesn't have a single untterance in tongues that was translated and added to the bible. Nor of the 120 disciples who spoke in tongues at Pentecost. To say that if someone genuinely speaks in tongues, then he is adding to scriptures is not biblical at all.

Spiritual gifts are here to stay until Jesus returns

1 Cor. 13:8-13

"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. 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. 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. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (NASB) Cessationist claim that "when the perfect comes" refers to the completion of the N.T. scriptures, and "partial" or "know in part" or "prophesy in part" refers to their time because the N.T. is not yet completed (thus they don't have the complete revelation).^ [4]^ When the scripture is complete, the childish things are to be done away with (like gifts of prophecy, tongues) because one can study the bible and be mature.

However that argument doesn't work. For one thing, when the N.T. scriptures were completed, very very few people had copies of it, and of those who had copies, most have only parts of it. It was not until the invention of the printing press during the reformation (approx. 1500 years later) that whole accurate copies of the bible were made available to the middle class in Europe. And even today, millions of Christians don't have a copy of the bible that they can understand (assuming they can read).

Also, even when a Christian has a copy of a complete accurate bible, no can claim to understand it 100%. The very fact that cessationist claim that continuationists (who make up the vast majority of bible-believing born again Christians)^[ _citation\ needed_]^ are wrong, point to the fact that the bible is not easy to understand. In fact even the apostle Peter found some of Paul's writings hard to understand (2 Pet.3:16). To say that because some Christians have the bible today, therefore we know fully just as we are fully known (by God) is not true. To claim that Christians today fully know, even more than Paul who claims to only know in part (even when had personally spoken with the Lord Jesus, and had been taken up to paradise, having heard inexpressible words which a he is not permitted to tell) is just obviously not true.

Also the claim by Cessationionist that because the gift of faith will remain until Jesus returns, therefore the gift of prophecy/ knowledge/ tongues must cease before Jesus returns, is not a logical statement.^[ _citation\ needed_]^ In fact the statement "faith will remain until Jesus returns" (the way it is used in the argument) is directly contrary to the statement "faith will remain forever" (along with love and hope). Also, the gift of faith in 1 Cor.12:9 (whom some Christians have) and 1 Cor. 13:13 (whom all Christians have) are not the same thing.

1 Cor. 13:8-13 more naturally therefore refers to the time when Jesus returns, when all believers recieve the ressurection body (the perfect state) and have intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ (see face to face/ know fully).^[5]^ A time when even Paul's mighty gift of prophecy and knowledge will be no longer needed. A parallel is found in 1 John 3:2 :

"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." (NASB) Christians will see Jesus just as He is, when He appears and not earlier. Christians today necessarily do not know in full, with or without the bible, the apostle John plainly says so.

Therefore if the gift of tongues will cease when Jesus returns, then they must be available today.

The Bible commands not to forbid the speaking in tongues

Jesus said in Mark 16:15-18 ^[6]^ that the sign of tongues would follow the evangelists as they preached the Gospel. The Gospel is still being preached throughout the world and nowhere does the Bible say that the gift will cease before Jesus returns. Also, in 1 Cor. 14:1 we are told to earnestly desire spiritual gifts and 1 Cor 14:29 tells us that speaking in tongues should not be forbidden so it is obvious that tongues is still a gift today. To add to this, we are told that speaking in tongues would edify the believer (1 Cor. 14:4) and that we should pray in the Spirit on all occasions (Eph. 6:18).


  1. ? Church of God in Christ (Doctrines)(see Baptism of the Holy Ghost), Assemblies of God, 16 Fundamental Truths(See The Initial Physical Evidence of the baptism in Holy Spirit), International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (wikipedia article)(see Church doctrines section, "Baptism of the Holy Spirit")
  2. ? Prophecy and Tongues:A Compilation of the Best Cessationist Arguments)
  3. ? The cessationist understanding of the purpose of miraculuous gifts was to reveal the Word of God (N.T.) and to confirm it. Consequently a consistent argument for the cessation of miraculous gifts in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 is the closed canon of the Bible (e.g. Various Miraculous Gifts). Cessationists also closely associate the gift of tongues with the gift of prophecy as a means of divine revelation, which to them is equal to scripture ( Prophecy and Tongues:A Compilation of the Best Cessationist Arguments)
  4. ? http://www.bible.ca/tongues-ceased-perfect-come-1Cor13-8-13.htm Cessation of Spritual Gifts
  5. ? When will the gift of prophecy cease ?, by John Piper
  6. ? This part of the gospel of Mark is subject of textual criticism, some don't believe they were part of the original autograph


  • Robert B. Gaffin Jr., Robert L. Saucy, C. Samuel Storms, Douglas A. Oss, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, Edited By Stanley H. Gundry. Series editor: Wayne S. Grudem. (Zondervan 1996) ISBN 0310201551

See also



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