In the previous article, we looked at the nature of the New Testament gift of tongues, coming to the conclusion that in all cases it was a public gift of foreign languages which was bestowed by the Holy Spirit on those who had not previously learned them. In this paper we will seek to answer a further two questions about this gift. First of all, why were tongues given and secondly, for how long?
Basic to our understanding of the gift is the fact that it was a sign, Mark 16. 17; 1 Cor. 14. 22. That is to say, tongues were not primarily for the benefit of the speaker (although this was a side effect, 1 Cor. 14. 4) but were given as a token or indication for others. This naturally leads to further questions: for whom was the sign given, and of what was it a token? I believe that the sign was given for non-Christian Jews. In 1 Corinthians 14. 22 we see clearly that tongues were for them “that believe not”. The previous verse links tongues to the word of the Lord in Isaiah 28. 11, which was quite specifically addressed to the Jews, “this people”. When we understand this key concept, everything else falls into place. In Acts 2, although there were over 15 nationalities represented, vv.9-11, all present were “Jews, devout men”, v.5. When tongues were spoken in Caesarea, 10. 46, it was in a Jewish city. In Ephesus and Corinth, the other two localities mentioned in connection with tongues, there were large colonies of Jews to whom the gospel was preached by Paul before he went to the Gentiles, 18. 4-6; 19. 8. 9. If tongues were spoken in other places in New Testament times it would be within the same context.
This sign was given to the Jews for three reasons:
Having shown why the gift of tongues was given, it remains to ask for how long. In 1 Corinthians 13. 8 we read that “tongues … shall cease”. It is clear from the context that this is linked to the period described by “when that which is perfect is come”, 13. 10. This is variously thought to mean the completion of the sacred Scriptures or the coming of the Lord. I believe that the first explanation is the right one. As faith, hope and love “abide” after that which is perfect is come, 13. 13, “that which is perfect” cannot refer to the coming of the Lord as by their very definition faith and hope are no longer needed after the Lord has come. R. E. Harlow has stated, “faith and hope do not go on to eternity. Hope that is seen is not hope, Romans 8. 24, 25. We read of the hope of glory, the hope of eternal life and the hope that is set before us, Colossians 1. 27; Titus 1. 2; Hebrews 6. 18. We need faith to get to heaven but not when we get there. See Hebrews 11. 1. Love is the only one of these three which abides into eternity; love never fails. The greatest of these is love.”1
Tongues were linked with other sign gifts given at the beginning of the Christian dispensation for the establishing of the Church in an era when there was no complete New Testament, and when it was in God’s plan that the Jewish nation should receive abundant proofs of the truth of the new revelation. Those needs do not exist today. It would seem from the New Testament that by later apostolic times these gifts were dying away, and as the canon of Scripture was completed they came to a halt. B. B. Warfield2 and others have shown that “the charismata” did not extend beyond the apostolic age, and that claims to the contrary by various groups do not stand up to impartial investigation. So it is today. If instances of foreign languages being given miraculously as a sign to non-Christian Jews could be proved, we would have to accept this as being from God (having checked the content of the message, naturally). The modern tongues movement shows nothing of this, however, and must be rejected as being unscriptural.
We finish this paper by quoting the wise words of a recent book on Spiritual Renewal’. “The supporters of the charismatic movement sometimes confuse the issue. They demand that doubters shall produce proof that the gift of tongues could not under any circumstances be renewed. But their claim is that the gift has been renewed, and this is what they have to prove. More than once in this book we quote the case of the man who was healed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. The proof was plain. ‘Beholding the man who was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it’, Acts 4. 14. We ask for proof which is as unanswerable as this.”3
Harlow, R. E. The Complete Thing. Toronto: Everyday Publications, 1979, p.16.
Warfield, B. B., Counterfeit M iracles. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1972 edition, pp. 3-69; (1st ed. 1918).
Holmes, Frank Ed., Spiritual Renewal. South Molton: Quest (Western) Publications, 1977, p.67.
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