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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: What Are the Arguments That the Gift of Tongues Has Not Ceased but Is Still to Be Used in the Church Today?

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What Are the Arguments That the Gift of Tongues Has Not Ceased but Is Still to Be Used in the Church Today?

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 4

Some people believe the gift of speaking in tongues was limited to first century Christianity. However, not everyone is convinced that the gift of tongues no longer exists in the church. Those who believe the gift of tongues is still to be used in the church today respond in the following way to the arguments against its usage.

There Is No Specific Statement as to When Tongues Will Cease

To begin with, the Bible does not give any specific statement with respect to the time the gift of tongues will cease to exist. This is crucial. While it does indeed say that the gift of tongues will cease it does not specifically say when this will occur. Therefore, the burden of proof is solely upon those who claim the gift no longer operates in the church. Indeed, they have to establish that the gift ceased after the apostolic era.

The Nature of the Gift Does Not Indicate It Has Ceased

Furthermore, not everyone sees speaking in tongues merely as a sign to unbelieving Israel. In fact, Paul also says tongues can be beneficial to believers. We read his words to the church at Corinth about this usage of the gift.

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up (1 Corinthians 14:5 ESV).

Therefore, the gift was not limited as a sign to the nation Israel. It was of benefit to the local congregations.

The Gift of Apostle Has Not Necessarily Ceased

Those who argue that the gift of tongues has ceased because at least one of the gifts, apostle, is no longer with us make a couple of conclusions that do not necessarily follow.

First, it is not certain that the gift of apostle has ceased. While it is true that the qualifications to be one of the “twelve apostles” cannot be met by anyone today, the gift of an apostle was certainly not limited to the twelve. Indeed, it is never said, or inferred, that all of the people whom the New Testament called “apostles” had actually seen the risen Christ.

Even if the gift of apostle has ceased this says nothing, one way or the other, about the gift of speaking in tongues. Everyone admits that some of the spiritual gifts still exist – teacher, ruling, serving, etc. The issue revolves around whether it can be demonstrated that speaking in tongues no longer exists – not whether any other gift may or may not exist today.

The Perfect Is Still in the Future

Tongues will indeed “cease of themselves,” but only when the “perfect” has come. “Perfect,” most likely, refers to the perfect age when Jesus Christ returns. John wrote.

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2 HSCB).

The perfect seems to be a reference to the Second Coming of Christ, not the completed canon. Thus, the idea that Paul had in his mind a completed Scripture when referring to “perfect” is highly unlikely.

In fact, many of those who reject the sign gifts as still existing realize that this argument does not carry much weight.

Paul’s Illustrations Show That All the Gifts Are Still Necessary

The illustrations that the Apostle Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13 also demonstrates the need for all the gifts until Jesus Christ returns. He explained it this way to the Corinthians.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:11, 12 NKJV).

In the first illustration, he speaks of the difference between childhood and maturity. The church, the body of Christ, will not reach maturity until Jesus Christ returns. This is clear from another passage from the writings of Paul.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV).

The practice of spiritual gifts is one of the ways in which the church is brought to this maturity. When the church has reached this point, then the gifts will be of no further use. Until that time the gifts are necessary.

He also used the illustration of a mirror.

Today we see only vague or imperfectly. It is only when we see Jesus Christ face to face that we will fully know all things. Again, there is the need for spiritual gifts until this state is attained.

It Is When Christ Returns That the Gift Will Cease

Paul’s reference to the cessation of prophecies, knowledge, and miracles is not meant to indicate the temporary nature of these gifts during the early period of the church age.

There will be no need for them only when Jesus Christ returns to the earth. Before He comes back, the gifts are absolutely necessary.

It Is Nowhere Stated That the Gift of Tongues Was Temporary

It must be mentioned that whatever the correct answer is to this question, nowhere in the New Testament do we find a statement that the gift of tongues was only temporary. To the contrary Paul told the Corinthians not to forbid people to speak in tongues. If the gift was only temporary then why don’t we find a direct statement in the Bible that says this? This omission has to be explained by those who argue that the gift of tongues has ceased.

We Are to Seek Not, Forbid Not

Although the gift of tongues is not a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit or the baptism with the Holy Spirit, there seems to be no biblical basis for rejecting this spiritual gift. The New Testament appears to be saying that speaking in tongues should neither be sought nor should it be forbidden. Nowhere are believers told to seek the gift of tongues. On the other hand, Scripture says tongue speaking should not be forbidden.

So, dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39 NLT).

Therefore, to many people, the biblical arguments are not convincing that the gift of tongues has ceased. There is every reason to assume that the gift is still operating in the church today. Thus, when it is exercised it should follow the rules set down in the New Testament.

This sums up the response to the biblical arguments against the continuation of the gift of tongues in the church. Those who hold this position, that the gift is still valid, believe that the stronger biblical arguments are on their side.

Of course, those who hold the other position, that the gift has ceased, believe they have the most convincing arguments from Scripture.

The Non-Biblical Arguments Are Not Convincing

Those who believe the gift of tongues is still active in the church today are not convinced by the non-biblical arguments for its cessation. They give the following responses to those who give arguments apart from the Bible that the gift has ceased.

Church History Is Not a Reliable Guide

While it is important to see what has happened in the history of the church, it is not an infallible guide to truth. There may have been good reasons as to why the gift of tongues was not used for long periods of time in the church. The fact that the gift fell into lack of use does not necessarily mean that it was withdrawn. Other factors may have been involved.

Speaking with Tongue Has Not Been Limited to Heretics

It is wrong to assume that all instances of speaking in tongues have been limited to those who are heretics or cultists. Clearly there have been godly men and women in the history of the church who have attempted to exercise the gift in a biblical way. This is certainly still true today. Therefore, it is wrong to conclude that only cultists, heretics, or biblical illiterates are the ones exercising the gift of speaking in tongues.

Satan Counterfeits the True Gift

The fact that we find counterfeit tongues in non-Christian religions and cults does not speak against the genuineness of the gift. In fact, it can be used to prove just the opposite. A counterfeit is only made of something that is real. The fact that the gift is counterfeited only proves there is a genuine gift of tongues that is functioning today. Why would Satan counterfeit a gift that no longer exists? Indeed, he would not. He would only counterfeit something which was genuine.

Spiritual Men and Women Have Spoken in Tongues

While many of the great names of the faith may not have spoken in tongues this does not mean that only spiritually immature people have attempted to exercise this gift. There are many godly men and women who sincerely believe that God has given them the gift of speaking in tongues. Whether or not they are correct in their assumption, it is clear that nobody should doubt their spiritual maturity.

Excesses Do Not Prove the Cessation of the Gift

All will admit that there are excesses among those who claim to have the gift of tongues. Indeed, this is beyond any doubt. However, this only proves immaturity on the part of some Christians. It has nothing to do with the main issue – does the Bible say that tongues have ceased? One can find examples of every spiritual gift abused – teaching, pastor, giving, faith, etc. The fact that the gift of speaking in tongues has been abused is not at all relevant to the discussion. The issue is what does the Bible have to say about the permanence or lack of permanence of the gift?

Division Is Caused by Sin, Not by Speaking in Tongues

The fact that speaking in tongues has resulted in division in some churches cannot be blamed on the gift. There were divisions in the Corinthian church over the proper use of tongues. Yet Paul nowhere blamed the gift of tongues for these divisions. The problem was with the people. The same holds true today. If a congregation is divided over speaking in tongues it is because there is sin in the lives of people who allow this gift to divide.

In sum, there are a number of responses which are given by Bible-believers who hold that the gift of tongues is still a valid spiritual gift today and should be exercised by the early church.

Summary – Question 4
What Are the Arguments That the Gift of Tongues Has Not Ceased but Is Still to Be Used in the Church Today?

While there are arguments that the gift of tongues of speaking in tongues has ceased to be a spiritual gift that presently operates in the church there are many who believe the gift still functions. They believe the biblical and non-biblical arguments given to prove the gift has ceased are not convincing. They respond to the objections in the following manner.

First, it is argued that the burden of proof is on those who argue that the gift has ceased. Since the New Testament does not specifically that any gift will stop operating before the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, an airtight case must be made for the cessation of the gift before believers should stop using it. Those who believe the gift still operates are not convinced by the arguments that are given. They believe that each one of them can be given a reasonable answer.

For one thing, there is no specific passage that says the gift of tongues has ceased. If the gift was only to be temporary then why don’t’ we find such a passage? Furthermore, the Apostle Paul explicitly says “Forbid not to speak in tongues.” Why would he say this is the gift was only to last a few more years?

Also the nature of the gift does not indicate it has ceased. While the gift was indeed a sign to unbelievers this was not the only use of the gift. Therefore, it should not be assumed the sign-value of tongues was the main reason, or the only reason, the gift was given.

The gift of Apostle has not necessarily ceased therefore the gift of tongues has not necessarily ceased. Even if this gift has been withdrawn it says nothing about whether or not any other gift may or may not exist.

The word perfect, or perfection, in First Corinthians speaks of the return of Jesus Christ. Tongues will continue until that time. In fact, Paul illustrated how all the gifts are still necessary in the church. There is nothing stated about the gifts being only temporary.

The biblical way to deal with the subject of tongues is seek not, forbid not.

The non-biblical reasons for the rejecting of tongues are not convincing either. Church history, while helpful, is certainly not a reliable or an infallible guide. There may have been good reasons as to why the gift fell into disuse.

However, we find the gift was not limited to heretics or fringe groups – many godly people have spoken in tongues in the past and godly men and women continue to speak in tongues to this very day.

We must also remember that Satan always counterfeits God’s truth so we are not surprised to find non-Christian groups speaking in tongues. In fact, we should ask why Satan would counterfeit a gift that no longer functions in the church. You only counterfeit something which is genuine.

In addition, abuses of the gift prove nothing as to its value. Other spiritual gifts are also abused. The real issue is whether the Bible says the gift still exists.

Finally, the divisions that we find in some of the churches are not because of speaking in tongues, it is because of sin and immaturity on the part of some believers.

When all things are considered, it is argued that the evidence shows that the gift of tongues is still necessary in the church today.

Why Do Some Believe the Gift of Tongues Has Ceased? ← Prior Section
What Did Paul Mean by the Statement, "When the Perfect Has Come the Imperfect Will Be Done Away?" Next Section →
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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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