Cessation Of Speaking In Tongues

Cessation Of Speaking In Tongues

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PNEUMA 40 (2018) 489–497

When Will the Cessation of Speaking in Tongues and Revelatory Gifts Take Place?

A Reply to Updated Interpretations of 1Corinthians 13:8–10

B.J. Oropeza

Azusa Pacific University, Azusa,CA boropeza@apu.edu


This article discusses recent interpretations of 1Corinthians 13:8–10, particularly those of biblical scholars Daniel B.Wallace and JamesW. Scott. Both scholars advocate for the cessation of speaking in tongues, and they avoid the classic argument that the “perfect” in this passage refers to the close of the biblical canon and full revelation of Scripture. Rather, Wallace argues from the middle voice in Greek for the early cessation of speak- ing in tongues, and Scott argues from the delayed Parousia for the cessation of tongues and revelatory gifts. This article responds to their arguments and reaffirms that Paul is claiming here that speaking in tongues and revelatory gifts will not cease until the Parousia takes place.


1Corinthians – speaking in tongues – spiritual gifts – cessationist interpretations

First Corinthians 13:8–10 has long been a point of contention between ces- sationists (those who claim that speaking in tongues and other supernatural gifts ceased around the end of the apostolic age) and noncessationists (those who maintain that these gifts have always been in operation). The traditional cessationist view, which is developed from this passage, argues that prophecy, tongues, and spiritual knowledge would come to an end once the close of the New Testament canon, the complete revelation God intended for the church, had arrived. The word for completion/perfection (τέλειος) in 13:10 allegedly

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refers to this.1A major problem with this view is that it is anachronistic. Neither Paul nor the Corinthians could have known about the New Testament canon before it was canonized centuries later. Moreover, to suggest that theydidknow about this because God revealed it to them in advance, even though there is no evidence that they ever wrote about it, smacks of classic special plead- ing. The cessationist interpretation of 13:8, once a prominent strand in Amer- ican Evangelicalism, found its impetus as a reactionary movement against spiritism and religious ecstatic excesses in the nineteenth and early twenti- eth centuries.2 Although the popularity of this interpretation has diminished somewhat in recent decades, certain arguments using exegetical and historical- critical approaches to interpreting Scripture still aim to support it. An argu- ment by Daniel B. Wallace in his standard grammatical work for students of Greek,GreekGrammarbeyondtheBasics, is perhaps the most prestigious exam- ple.3James W. Scott also adds a novel turn to the cessationist argument.4I will address these interpretations below and respond to them.

The famous love chapter from which this cessationist argument arises lands in the middle of Paul’s discussion on spiritual gifts (chapters 12, 14). A number of these gifts are revelatory and perform the miraculous; they can be identi- fied with what modernists call the “supernatural” (12:8–10; 14:24–25).5 In 1Cor 13 Paul presents himself rhetorically as someone who excels in spiritual gifts but fails to operate with love (13:1–3). If he speaks with the “tongues of humans and of angels” but does not have love, his utterances are like lifeless sound- ing instruments that can only produce meaningless noise.6 Such glossolalia is

1 See, e.g., John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit: A Comprehensive Study of the Person and Work of

the Holy Spirit(Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1954), 178–179; Merrill E. Unger,The Baptism and Gifts

of the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody, 1974), 141; Peter Naylor, A Commentary on 1Corinthians

(Durham, U.K.: Evangelical Press, 1996), 272, 276–283; and further supporters listed in James

W. Scott, “The Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease (1Cor. 13:8–12),” WTJ 72 (2010): 267–289


2 See, e.g., Jon Ruthven, “On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic of Ben-

jamin B. Warfield,”Pneuma12 (1990): 14–31.

3 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testa-

ment (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997).

4 Scott, “When Revelatory Gifts Cease,” 267–289.

5 I use the term “extranatural.” On spiritual gifts in these chapters, see further, B.J. Oropeza,

1Corinthians, New Covenant Commentry Series (Eugene: Cascade, 2017), 158–195; Gordon

D. Fee,The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testa-

ment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) ad loc.

6 With these tongues Paul probably means human languages (Acts 2:1–13) or “new tongues”

(Mk 16:17 [A, TR, etc.]) and heavenly languages (cf. 2Cor 12:3–4; T. Job 48–50). On esoteric-

angelic languages, see further John C. Poirier, The Tongues of Angels: The Concept of Angelic

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the cessation of speaking in tongues and revelatory gifts


doubtless included among the varieties of tongues Paul mentions in 12:10. Wal- lace asserts from 13:1–3 that Paul moves from the actual (the gift of prophecy, for example) to hypothetical (for instance, Paul doesnotunderstand all mysteries and knowledge): “It is therefore probable that Paul could speak in the tongues of human beings, butnot in the tongues of angels(v. 1).”7

Although the hypothetical notion Wallace mentions seems impossible to achieve if promoting omniscience in v. 2, the hypothetical notion in v. 3 is achievable with the gift of sacrificial giving. Hence, this argument is not entirely consistent. Moreover, since the tongues Paul addresses are not understood by humans (see 14:2, 6, 15–16, 18), and other Jews believe that humans could speak in heavenly languages (T. Job48–50; Apoc. Zeph. 8.3–4),8it is more plausible to surmise that Paul thought such languages were not only attainable but that he himself could speak in them (14:18). The upshot of this is that Paul takes the gifts in these verses to the zenith of their potential in order to make their use- lessness without love all the more amplified, and with tongues this includes the extranatural ability to speak in heavenly languages.

When Paul addresses tongues in 13:8–10, then, these utterances would still appear to have an extranatural quality to them; he does not appear to bemerely referring to speaking in known foreign languages (whether known or unknown to the speaker), such as Aramaic, which probably would not be understood by the majority of his Greek-speaking recipients in Corinth.9The type of comple-

Languages in Classical Jewish and Christian Texts, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum

Neuen Testament 2/287 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 81–140.

7 Wallace,Greek Grammar, 698.

8 The former mentions Job’s three daughters given sashes and enabled to speak in “angelic

dialect,”the“dialectof the archons”and the“dialectof thoseon high,”respectively(seeRussell

Spittler “Testament of Job,” in James H. Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [New

York: Doubleday, 1983], 1:865–866).

9 This undermines the view of Robert Zerhusen, “The Problem of Tongues in 1Corinthians 14: A

Reexamination,”BiblicalTheology Journal27 (1997): 139–152, who argues for tongues as known

foreign languages in 1Corinthians. Such an interpretation becomes hard pressed to explain

the “tongues of angels” in 13:1 in light of ancient belief in angelic languages (see examples

in Poirier, Tongues of Angels, 81–140). The original auditors of this letter would very likely

understand Paul’s words in 13:1 this way. Some other problems with Zerhusen’s view are as

follows: 1) Speaking in tongues in 12:10 contextually appears among extranatural gifts, sug-

gesting that it, too, is such a gift. 2) The various classes or “kinds” (γένη) of tongues in 12:10

resists being atomized to one type alone, such as foreign languages. 3) A special gift of inter-

pretation, which also appears to be extranatural (12:10), is needed to interpret the tongues,

and this lends credibility to the notion that both gifts are extranatural (on interpretation of

tongues see further, Robert Menzies, Speaking in Tongues: Jesus and the Apostolic Church as

Models for the Church Today [Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2016], 16, 127). 4) Paul’s exhortation

that those who speak in tongues ought to pray for an interpretation loses its force if the

PNEUMA 40 (2018) 489–497




tion or perfection (τέλειος) mentioned in this passage is one in which the extranatural gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will come to an end. Wallace distinguishes between tongues thatdie out (παύωin the middle voice: παύσονται) and prophecy and knowledge that will be done away (καταργέω in the passive voice:καταργηθήσεται) to suggest that, unlike prophecy and knowl- edge, tongues may die out before the time when the perfection comes.10

This viewpoint is an example of Greek grammar being used in a way that allows for support of a particular interpretation of a text, when the context of that text does not support the interpretation. The argument is not new. Gordon Fee, contesting earlier sources such as T.D. Toussaint’s “First Corinthians Thir- teen and the Tongues Question,”11 addresses essentially the same point about the verb and voice alteration as somehow signifying the possibility of the early cessation of tongues. Fee responds, “The change of verbs is purely rhetorical … Just as one can scarcely distinguish between ‘cease’ and ‘pass away’ when used in the same context, neither can one distinguish between καταργέω and παύω in this context … The middle voice came along with the change of verbs.”12 A change of verbs in relation to tongues as opposed to the verb used for knowl- edge and prophecy, as Bruce Fisk affirms, avoids “tedious repetition.”13 I can add to this that the simple chiastic pattern of the verbs used with prophecy (A), tongues (B), and knowledge (A1) in 13:8 may warrant a stylistic change in verb usage with pointB:14

A.Prophecy will pass away

B.Tongues will cease A1. Knowledge will pass away

10 11 12 13


language is already allegedly known by the speaker (14:13). 5) Paul affirms that no one (i.e., no other human present) understands the language (14:2; cf. vv. 14–15). 6) In 14:27–28 a possible scenario is presented in which someone speaks in tongues at a gathering and no one, including the speaker, interprets it; again this assumes the language is unknown to both the one speaking in tongues and the other congregation members.

Wallace,Greek Grammar, 422.

BibS120 (1963): 311–316.

Fee,Corinthians, 644n17.

Bruce Fisk, First Corinthians, Interpretation Bible Studies (Louisville, KY: Geneva, 2000), 89.

Our apostle repetitively uses chiastic patterns in this letter, whether for large sections (e.g., gifts chap. 12/ love chap. 13/ gifts chap. 14; sexual misconduct 5:1–13/ court misconduct 6:1– 11/ sexual misconduct 6:12–20) or smaller units (e.g., A.: 10:6/ B.: 10:7/ C.: 10:8/ C1.: 10:9/ B1.: 10:10/ A1.: 10:11). See further examples in Oropeza, 1Corinthians, 23, 65, 82, 88, 97, 114, 118, 122, 140–141, 147, 158–159, 167, 207. Kenneth E. Bailey,Paul through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in Corinthians(Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity, 2011) structures the entire letter through chiasms, but some instances are overstated.

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Tongues stands out as the center of the chiasm perhaps to amplify that this gift, which the Corinthians apparently took special pride in, also will be done away with just like prophecy and knowledge. Another important point is this: If 13:8 is to support the early cessation of tongues as opposed to prophecy and knowledge, then we must assume that Paul knew in advance that tongues would cease before the other gifts would, even though there is no evidence for such a revelation. Moreover, even if the middle voice were to suggest that tongues are to die out, this would not indicate that its final end takes place beforethe time when prophecy and knowledge finally end.

In 1Corinthians 13:10, how does one understand τέλειος (“perfect” BDAG; “whole”TDNT; “complete”NRSV), given that it does not refer to the completion of the New Testament canon? It does not appear to be merely referring to the complete maturity of the believer, whether maturity in love or otherwise, prior to the second coming.We could assume that Paul, a prime example of Christian maturity (2:6), should then cease from operating in such spiritual gifts. Instead he affirms to speak in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (14:18).15Since Paul is vague about what τέλειος is, the chances are that he did not intend to atomize it to refer to one thing only. Hence, it is not merely describing knowl- edge, though that is certainly an important aspect of it.16In this context Paul’s future reference of knowing God in Christ “face to face” is more than cogni-



And if this complete maturity is for the church worldwide, when could that ever take place except at the second coming? See further arguments against canon and maturity inter- pretations in Eckhard J. Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, Historisch- Theologische Auslegung (Witten:SCMR. Brockhaus; BrunnenVerlag, 2006), 775–776; Max Turner,The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts Then and Now (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996) 284– 302.

Emphasizing knowledge, though quite differently, are Richard B. Gaffin andWayne A. Gru- dem: see R. Fowler White, “Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1Cor 13:10: A Com- parison of Cessationist and Noncessationist Argumentation,” JETS 35 (1992): 173–181; cf. various exchanges in Wayne A. Grudem, ed., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost Studies in New Testa- ment Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1979), 110, moves from revelatory knowledge in 13:8 to “ordinary knowledge” in 13:9 to suggest that the latter will remain until “perfect knowledge” in 13:10 arrives at the Parou- sia. Revelatory knowledge, then, allegedly passes away at a time unspecified (which then would allow for the possibility of the cessation of revelatory gifts at a time earlier than Christ’s return). Scott, “TimeWhen Revelatory Gifts Cease,” 283–285 (284) rightly responds to Gaffin that v. 9 explains v. 8 and shows that the meaning for knowledge has not shifted. Revelatory knowledge in v. 8 has not been “left hanging,” and partial knowledge and par- tial prophecy in v. 9 implies that the terminus for both is the same. Consequently, “The flow of the passage is clear and straightforward: Paul first tells us that the revelatory gifts will come to an end (v. 8), and then he explains why and when this will happen (vv. 9–12).”

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tive; it conveys both the ideas of full realization of revelatory knowledge and an intimate relationship with God. We add to this that the most obvious aspect of τέλειος here, with which the vast majority of scholars agree, is that it is fully realized at the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. At some future point in history, the perfect “comes,” and so does Christ (cf. 15:23). This understanding is clearly supported by the context of 13:8–12. The repetitive use of “now” (ἄρτι) and the present-tense verbs, “see” and “know” (“βλέπομεν…γινώσκω”) contrast with “then” (τότε) and the future tense “know fully” (“ἐπιγνώσομαι”). This sug- gests that Paul is imagining two eras in which the present age has these spiritual gifts and the coming age does away with them when Christ returns.

Such gifts are currently only “in part”; Paul focuses on certain revelatory gifts that can only partly disclose God and the things of God. They will no longer be useful in their partial modes when the full revelation of God in Christ arrives at the eschaton. In this regard Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s comment about this state of completion is apropos: “It is unlikely that Paul has in mind some particular perfect or complete thing or person, but the dawning of the age which brings with it the perfect or complete realities to which each of the spir- itual gifts points as very partial manifestation of the same … it appears that [Paul] is waiting for complete or perfect versions of that which is manifested in the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (i.e., perfect communication, communion, and interpersonal knowledge between God and his people).”17 The setting aside of these gifts will be like a child growing up and setting aside his toys.18 At the future culmination of all things, the glorious image of God in Christ will be seen directly, and at that time Paul (along with the faithful) will know the Lord “face to face” (Num 12:6–8; cf. Exod 33:11; Deut 32:10) and “know just as also I am known” by the Lord (cf. 1John 3:2; Rev 22:4). Spiritual gifts, then, inclusive of tongues, are expected to be in operation all the way until Christ returns (see further 1Cor 1:7–8).

A more recent twist on this passage comes from Scott, who acknowledges that perfection here refers to complete revelation that happens at Christ’s return.19But the “key insight is that Paul is speaking about the cessation of rev- elatory gifts in the personal experience of the individuals who possess them, not their cessation in the history of the church … If they die before Christ returns, their spiritual gifts (at least as manifested on earth) will of course cease at their




Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner,TheFirstLettertotheCorinthians, Pillar NewTestament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 656–657.

Καταργέω(“set aside,” “abolish”) describes the ending both of gifts (13:8, 10) and of childish ways (13:11).

Scott, “When Revelatory Gifts Cease,” 280–287 (italics original).

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death. When Paul wrote 1Corinthians, people were still receiving spiritual gifts (as 12:31 and 14:1 imply), but nothing in the epistle says how long that would continue to be the case.”20 The implication here is that the reception of these revelatory gifts might die out long before the second coming takes place. This view, as Scott admits, is not so much an argument in the cessationist’s favor as it is a perspective that has “the effect of neutralizing the seemingly strongest noncessationist passage in the NT.”21 Ironically, this passage has been tradi- tionally championed by the cessationists who want to claim that supernatural gifts ceased about 1,900 years ago, and so we have come a long way if cessa- tionists today claim that this passage is now the main challenge against their view!

All the same, this recent interpretation raises points that I find problematic. First, are we to assume that Paul believed or implied that if Christ didnotreturn within his or his immediate recipients’ lifetime, spiritual gifts may eventually ceasebeforeChristdidreturn?Again,likeitscessationistpredecessors,thisper- spective is not supported anywhere in Paul, let alone the New Testament.22

Second, nowhere in the Pauline corpus can it be shown that the succession of spiritual gifts was not intended to continue to successive generations. On the contrary, Timothy is not to neglect his spiritual gift given to him as one of Paul’s successors (1Tim 4:14). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the gift of the Spirit, presumably with spiritual phenomena attached to the Spirit (given the context in Acts 2), was expected to be passed on to “you and your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38–39). In fact, tongues, prophecy, and miracles are to characterize the new era and last days that were ushered in by Christ’s resurrection, just as that same era is to be characterized by individuals calling on the Lord Jesus Christ for salva- tion (Acts 2:1–22; Joel 2–3; cf. Rom 10:9–13). We can adduce from Acts that the

20 21 22

Scott, “When Revelatory Gifts Cease,” 288.

Scott, “When Revelatory Gifts Cease,” 289.

Hebrews 2:3–4 is not evidence that tongues and other extranatural gifts would cease in the apostolic age. The text does not claim that signs and wonders willnotbe present with suc- ceeding generations of gospel proclaimers (rightly, Turner, Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 284). The situation in the Hebrews congregation may help explain why the miraculous is attributed especially to the earlier generation of believers. This church had become spir- itually sluggish and dull of hearing the word proclaimed at their gatherings. Their lack of fervency, along with external pressures, reached a point in which they were now in dan- ger of falling away from faith. Hence, if they lacked operating in signs and wonders, this would seem to be viewed as something negative that they should want to correct. If the word was confirmed with spiritual power through the earliest apostles and missionaries, this not only confirms to them its authenticity but also becomes an implicit challenge for them to emulate such power.

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“last days” era is to continue until Christ returns, which is inclusive of our own era today. Even if these supernatural gifts, spiritual phenomena, and miracles, signs, and wonders, were evidenced less frequently in Christian writings after the first century, they did not die out completely but are evident in the ebb and flow of church life throughout the centuries.23

Third and finally, Scott’s stress on individualism (italicized in his quote above, note 20) misses the purpose of these spiritual gifts. They are not primar- ily for the purpose of the “personal experience” of the “individual” who operates in them; they are for the purpose of building up others in the church, the cor- porate body of Christ (1Cor 12, 14). If Paul’s expectation is that spiritual gifts will continue among the Corinthians until Christ returns, a delay of Christ’s return changes nothing with regard to these gifts. The church, the collective body of Christ that never ceased to exist since the first century, will continue to need edification, and the variety of spiritual gifts is an important way it is supposed to receive that edification. The parallel passage of Ephesians 4:8–13 stresses this particular role for the gifts.24 This corporate body of believers in Christ is to be equipped this way until the Lord returns, regardless of which individuals or generation might comprise its visible existence on earth at the time of that return. This is where love fits in. As David Garland rightly asserts regarding 1Corinthians 13, “Paul’s discussion of love is not intended to persuade the Corinthians to abandon their prized spiritual gifts but is meant to convince them to employ the gifts with love. Unless they are governed by love, they are spiritually barren.”25

Prophecy and speaking in tongues, as Paul says respectively, should be ear- nestly desired andnot forbidden but operated with discernment, accountabil- ity, and in an orderly manner that both edifies fellow believers and encourages




See examples in, e.g., Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011); Stanley M. Burgess,The Holy Spirit: AncientChristianTraditions(Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984); Russell P. Spittler, “Glossolalia,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 335–341; C. Mel Robeck, “Prophecy, Gift of,” in Dictionaryof PentecostalandCharismaticMovements, 728–740.To me it seems presumptu- ous to deny every testimony of this sort in an effort to claim that supernatural gifts ceased after the apostolic age. I am in no way accusing Scott of this; to his credit (“Time When Revelatory Gifts Cease,” 289), he writes that the issue of cessation “must be decided on the basis of other considerations—exegetical, theological, and historical.” And those consid- erations to me clearly point in favor of noncessationism.

A passage in which complete maturity is tied to the eschaton (cf. Schnabel, Erste Brief des Paulus, 775).

David A. Garland, 1Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 622.

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unbelievers to come to faith (14:1, 22–33, 37–40). I suspect that some of our churches today have missed the mark of spirituality God intends for them when tradition gets in the way of Scripture with the result that ministers do virtually the opposite of what Paul commands and do forbid church members from prophesying and speaking in tongues. One must wonder what theologi- cal, denominational, and ideological biases motivate them to do so. One must also wonder what biases motivate the perpetuity of interpretations that pro- mote cessationism in a discipline that traditionally takes pride in doing careful exegetical work in Scripture.

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