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The Speaking in Tongues Debate
A CASE FOR CESSATION
No other modern religious phenomenon has swept the church like that of the modern charismatic movement. This movement has had a strong focus on the manifestation of spiritual gifts, especially the speaking in tongues. While many people are shy to address this issue because of the wide spread popularity of this growing movement, it is very important that Christians challenge themselves to see if the contemporary and mainstream views maintained are biblical. While readily recognizing that many of the participants in the modern tongues movement appear to be motivated from a genuine, sincere, Christian motive, it is also easy to recognize doctrinal inconsistencies and even deception among some of the participants in this phenomena. Some charismatics have never biblically wrestled through these issues for themselves and blindly accept by “faith” the teaching of their leaders. Others, however, motivated by a sincere desire to be biblical have entertained doubts regarding the movement. J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, wrote, “Perhaps it is time we charismatics reassess the meaning of the reminder of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:30: ‘Do all speak in tongues?’”. Perhaps other questions need to be asked as well. Does the biblical gift of tongues even exist today? When you evaluate the evidence, you will see that the biblical gift of speaking in tongues has ceased. There are many arguments for cessation of tongues but this hub will mention only four: 1.) the fulfilled promise, 2.) the fulfilled purpose, 3.) the fulfilled prophecy, and 4.) the fulfilled practice. As these arguments are examined a New Testament biblical theology of tongue speaking emerges giving us much insight concerning this gift.
The promise of tongues has been fulfilled
Mark 16:17 A fulfilled promise of a sign
"And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues;" Mark 16:17(NASB)
“σημεῖα δὲ τοῖς πιστεύσασιν ταῦτα παρακολουθήσει· ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι μου δαιμόνια ἐκβαλοῦσιν, γλώσσαις λαλήσουσιν καιναῖς,” Mark 16:17 (NA26)
Debate about the various textual variants of this passage is beyond the focus of this paper. Even while assuming that these words reflect the pen of Mark, insightful observations concerning tongues can be made. The word translated here as tongues is not just a reference to the organ in the mouth. Tongue is a common term for a language. Most people realize that tongues are languages, but what is the new tongue mentioned in this verse? Greek is famous for having exact shades of meanings with its words and here is no exception. Notice the phrase “new tongues”. In the Greek there are at least 3 words that can mean new. The Greek word καιναῖς translated as new here in Mark 16:17 denotes “that which is unaccustomed or unused, not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old.”. New tongues were unused and unaccustomed languages. They were not recently invented, but ones never spoken by these men before. The languages didn’t even need to be new to the hearers, only the speakers. If Mark under the Spirit’s inspiration meant that the languages were to be new as in recent, νέος would have been used (ex. Heb 12:24 “new covenant”). Had Mark intended the concept of freshness like a newly slain animal or freshly picked flowers he would have used πρόςφατος (cf. Heb. 10:20). Mark makes a point that the languages would be unaccustomed, and unlearned to the speakers. Furthermore verse 17 shows that these miraculous manifestations were to be signs. Notice that verse 20 says that these signs occurred.
“And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.] [And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]” Mark 16:20(NASB)
This verse teaches that this prophecy was fulfilled. The teaching in Mark 16 is that God kept His Word by allowing signs (like new languages) to go with his disciples. It is a speculatory assumption to conclude that this passage is a reoccurring promise that would need fulfillment more than once. The signs did follow and accomplished their purpose.
Acts 2 A fulfilled promise of pouring out
“And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me;5 for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5 (NASB)
As it was in Mark chapter 16, so it is in Acts chapter 2. The promise of the Spirit is fulfilled. Beginning in verse 4 a straight forward narrative of what happened is maintained. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:4-5 (NASB). Notice they spoke with other ( ἑτέραις) tongues. These were not new in invention tongues but different earthly languages than they had previously learned to speak. In verse 6 we see “…the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language.” This word language is the Greek word διαλέκτῳ. We get the word dialect from this word and it still has a similar meaning. It means the regional sound of the spoken language. It means that the vocabulary and pronunciation of the men speaking was exactly the same as the ones hearing. It was not like someone who has learned a second language, rather it was like someone who has grown up in the very region where the language is spoken. Not only does this prove that tongues were real languages, but it also emphasizes the true miraculous nature of the gift.
And they were amazed and marveled, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language [διαλέκτῳ]to which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." mean?" Acts 2:7-11
Peter answered and explained that this was the fulfillment of God’s revelation to Joel. That His Spirit would be poured out-- not just to the Jews, but unto all flesh! This was a difficult truth for Peter who was Jewish in culture, proving that he was not running with his own agenda. He concludes with this wonderful verse: Acts 2:21 ‘And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ God kept His promise. He gave the Spirit and the disciples spoke in tongues. There is no need for any more fulfillments. One may purchase a home and make a contract to have the roof repaired. Once the roofer has fulfilled an aspect of his promised work it is faulty to expect that he will repeat the procedure every time he passes by physical location of the house. God has kept His Word. The promise of tongues has been fulfilled. A fulfilled promise points to cessation.
The purpose of tongues has been fulfilled
Acts 10 A sign manifested
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. Acts 10:44-45(NASB)
The same status that God had extended to the Jews was now given to the Gentiles. tongues became the sign that sealed the argument for unbelieving Jews! Notice the aftermath in Acts 11.
“And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 11:2-3 (NASB)
One could almost imagine the conversation. "What are you doing with them Peter! They are Gentiles!" They did not believe-- they needed proof. They needed a sign to know for certain that the Gentiles could be included in God’s work. God graciously gave them a sign. Look at Peter’s response in vv 15-17
"And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning.”And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ “If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?" Acts 11:15-17 (NASB)
Tongues were a sign to unbelieving Jews. In fact this is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22:
In the Law it is written, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe. (NASB)
John MacArthur writes concerning this, “The sign was threefold: a sign of cursing, a sign of blessing, and a sign of authority.” He goes on to say, “Since the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 there has been no purpose for the sign gift of tongues, because that to which it pointed has been reached and passed. Israel has been set aside, the Gentiles have been brought in, and the apostles have given the faith once–for–all delivered to the saints. Tongues as a sign to unbelieving Jews has served it purpose. If the purpose for the sign is gone, can there be a legitimate purposeful use of the sign gift? A fulfilled purpose points to cessation.
The prophecy concerning tongues has been fulfilled
1Corinthians 13:8 A prophesied cessation
“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.” 1 Corinthians 13:8 (NASB). This passage has been a magnet for interpretational debate, but while one perhaps could debate the perfect it is the other aspects of this prophecy that need discussion. Notice that prophecy and knowledge will be abolished (καταργηθήσονται: third person, plural, future, passive, indicative) by the coming of the perfect. Tongues, however, will cease (παύσονται: third person, plural, future, middle, indicative) for themselves without the involvement of a 3d party or event acting as the switch. Like a battery that runs down, the exercise of tongues has ceased to function in the body.
If this understanding of Greek is correct the question that should be asked is not “what is the perfect?”’ but rather “have tongues burned out yet?” The text seems to indicate that once they are gone, they are gone permanently. What we see today is not the same type of manifestation that we saw in Acts. The modern practice of tongues is not in harmony with the regulations of 1 Corinthians 14 nor has the gift continued without interruption through the ages (see Appendix 1). The modern practice of tongues in the church is contrary to the historical records we have as the biblical practice and use of tongues has never been documented since A.D. 70. The prophecy of cessation is fulfilled.
The practice of tongues has been fulfilled
If indeed the prophecy of cessation has been fulfilled and tongues have ceased then the only practical occurrences you would expect to find would be the spurious counterfeit ones. Dr. Robert Gromacki in his classic work The Modern Tongues Movement devotes the entire second chapter to the historical survey of just such uses. He points out that many non Christian religions and heretical sects practiced ecstatic speech—prior too and after Pentecost, but not since the close of the Apostolic era has anyone demonstrated true καιναῖς γλώσσαις. In his book he discusses and documents the claim and counterclaims of many that this gift has continued on without inturruption. His research concludes that that the true manifestation of tongues speaking has been absent for almost 1900 years.
In the three centuries that followed the apostolic era, there are only two references to tongue-speaking (Montanus and Tertullian who was a Montanist). The fact that Montanism reflected a false, egotistical view of pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) can hardly argue for the genuineness of Biblical glossolalia in that period. Therefore, there are no genuine cases of glossolalia in the post-apostolic era. Speaking in tongues had definitely ceased. The testimonies of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine confirm this conclusion.
In 1987 the Sword and Trowel (no.2) showed the amazing unity of pastor/teachers throughout the last two millennia concerning the cessation of tongues. Notice the strong historical case against the Christian practice of tongues until 1900.
a. John Chrysostom (c 347-407) Concerning the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians: “This whole place is very obscure: 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” (“Homilies on 1 Corinthians,” Vol. XII, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Hom 29:2).
b. John Calvin (1509-1564) “...the gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the preaching of the Gospel marvelous for ever” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk IV:19, 18).
c. John Owen (1616-1683) “Gifts which in their own nature exceed the whole power of all our faculties, that dispensation of the Spirit is long since ceased and where it is now pretended unto by any, it may justly be suspected as an enthusiastic delusion” (Works IV, 518).
d. Thomas Watson (c 1620-1686) “Sure, there is as much need of ordination now as in Christ's time and in the time of the apostles, there being then extraordinary gifts in the church which are now ceased” (The Beatitudes, 140).
e. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) Speaking of the ‘gift of tongues,’ he said, “These and other gifts of prophecy, being a sign, have long since ceased and been laid aside, and we have no encouragement to expect the revival of them; but, on the contrary, are directed to call the Scriptures the more sure word of prophecy, more sure than voices from Heaven; and to them we are directed to take heed, to search them, and to hold them fast ...” (Preface to Vol IV of his Exposition of the OT & NT, vii).
f. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) “Of the extraordinary gifts, they were given 'in order to the founding and establishing of the church in the world. But since the canon of Scriptures has been completed, and the Christian church fully founded and established, these extraordinary gifts have ceased” (Charity and its Fruits, 29).
g. George Whitefield (1714-1770) “... the karismata, the miraculous gifts conferred on the primitive church ... have long ceased ...” (Second Letter to the Bishop of London, Works, Vol. IV, 167).
h. James Buchanan (1804-1870) “The miraculous gifts of the Spirit have long since been withdrawn. They were used for a temporary purpose” (The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit, 34)
i. Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) “After the early church had been established, the same necessity for supernatural signs now no longer existed, and God, Who is never wasteful in His expedients, withdrew them ... miracles, if they became ordinary, would cease to be miracles, and would be referred by men to customary law” (‘Prelacy a Blunder,’ Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, Vol. 2, 236-237).
j. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) Speaking of the office of the apostles, “an office which necessarily dies out, and properly so, because the miraculous power also is withdrawn” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 1871, Vol. 17, 178).
k. Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) “These gifts were ... distinctively the authentication of the apostles. They were part of the credentials of the apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confirmed them to distinctively the apostolic church and they necessarily passed away with it” (Counterfeit Miracles, 6).
The overwhelming concurrence of testimonies from God’s people and the historical record is that the practice of biblical tongues has ceased.
Since so much internal biblical evidence and external historical evidence exists concerning speaking in tongues, it is really surprising that there is any debate over the issue at all. Perhaps an earnest desire to experience spiritual power with a novice’s level of doctrinal depth has caused many to embrace a counterfeit as the genuine gift. The facts, however argue that the biblical gift of speaking in tongues has ceased. Four of those facts continue to speak loudly proving the cessation of the gift. 1.) The promise of tongues has been clearly fulfilled during the first century. 2.) The purpose of tongues has been accomplished, leaving no need for the gift. 3.) The cessation prophecy concerning tongues has come to pass. 4.) The true biblical practice of tongues has not been observed since the Apostolic era. The evidence is clear. The biblical practice i.e. the gift of tongues is no longer present in the church of Christ. Tongues have ceased.
Gromacki’s Tongue History Summarized
100-325 AD Ante-Nicene Period
Montanus- Claimed to be the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. Encouraged women to use the gift of tongues. Was regarded as demon-possessed and heretical by contemporary church leaders.
311-600 Nicene and Post Nicene Period
John Chrysostom- Wrote that tongues "...used to occur but now no longer take place."
Augustine- Wrote that the gift of tongues had "passed away."
In the three centuries that followed the apostolic era, there are only two references to tongue-speaking (Montanus and Tertullian who was a Montanist). The fact that Montanism reflected a false, egotistical view of pneumatology ( the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) can gardly argue for the genuineness of Biblical glossolalia in that period. Therefore, there are no genuine cases of glossolalia in the post-apostolic era. Speaking in tongues had definitely ceased. The testimonies of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine confirm this conclusion.
1. Some of these early church fathers wrote to or from churches where the gift had been practiced. There is no mention of tongues in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome etc.
2. These early church leaders wrote on every major New Testament doctrine-- but tongues is never once said to exist.
3. When commentaries about tongues were written it was clearly seen as an earthly language, never once an angelic tongue or a prayer language
590-1517 AD the Middle Ages
Hildegard - Called the Sybil of the Rhine. A seeress and Prophetess. Spoke in tongues. No professing Christian claimed to have the gift during this period. pagan continued to be pagans and spoke in a strange "unknown" language as part of their paganism. This was nothing new and had been carried over from old paganism as seen by the following:
1. The Report of Wenamon- Written about 1100 BC. Describes a possession of a young pagan worshiper who spoke in an ecstatic language.
2. Plato- Wrote in the Phaedrus about families that prayed in ecstatic languages to pagan deities. They did not know what they said and were in need of someone to interpret. Plato mentions several others examples in many of his dialogues.
3. Virgil- In his Aeneid described a priestess who when united in spirit with Apollo spoke with tongues.
(Note: Even today the Eskimos of Greenland have been observed speaking in similar tongues. The occurrence is also reported as happening to some involved in Islam. More examples can be seen in the Post Reformation Period following.)
1517-1648 AD The Reformation
Again, no professing Christians claimed the gift of tongues in this period. However, claims were made by some that some church heroes had the gift as an effort to canonize them as a saint by the Roman Catholic church. What we do see is a return to the authority of the Scripture and diligent scholarship, this is evident in the work of men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox etc.
1648-1900 AD post-Reformation Period
As Protestantism advanced so did the false teaches and sects. The groups below can be considered the start of the tongues movement that we see today.
Jansenists - (Cornelius Jansen) Experience not reason is the guide to faith. Opposed to justification by faith. Spoke in tongues.
Quakers- ( George Fox) "Innerlight" is in everyone. The Scripture was to be second to the "innerlight". Spoke in tongues.
Irvingites- (Edward Irving) originally a Scotch Presbyterian, held the heresy that Christ's Body was sinful (reminds me of the Gnostics that said the physical had to be sinful- therefore Christ was sinful when he was physical). Eventually they became a tongue speaking sect.
Shakers - ("Mother" Ann Lee) Spoke in tongues and believed:
1. God, Angles, and spirits were both male and female.
2. Jesus was NOT the incarnate God-man
3. The second coming was fulfilled in Mother Ann
4. Christ's Kingdom began with the Shaker church.
Mormonism - (Joseph Smith) Their 7th Article of faith states that they "... believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing..." Mormonism also:
1. Denies salvation by grace.
2. Denies the Trinity.
3. Denies the absolute authority of Scripture.
4. Denies the reality of Hell.
1900AD Endless Confusion Abounds
The phenomenon of speaking in tongues is not unique to the Christian religion. Occurrences among pagans have been recorded in the Report of Wenamon, the Dialogues of Plato, and the Aeneid of Virgil. The pythoness of Delphi and the adherents to the mystery religions are alleged to have spoken in tongues. In the Twentieth Century, it has been seen among the Mohammedans, Eskimos, and the pagans of Tibet and China. Since God is not the source of this counterfeit glossolalia, these instances show that the phenomenon can be duplicated by Satanic or human effort.
The intense spiritual and doctrinal revival in Europe (the Reformation) produced no instances of speaking in tongues.
The rash Post-Reformation tongue-speaking occurrences appeared in the extreme sects and cults. These cannot be seen as being in harmony with Biblical doctrine, experiences, or regulations.
 J. Lee Grady, What Happened to the Fire? Rethinking the Blaze of Charismatic Renewal. (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1994), 79.
 W. Vine & F. Bruce, Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan: Revell, 1996) electronic edition. Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, & Bauer write that it is new in the sense of something not previously present, unknown, strange or remarkable.
 John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians. (Chicago: Moody, 1984), 381
 Ibid. 383
 Joseph Dillow, Speaking Tongues: Seven Crucial Questions. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 113.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids,: Zondervan) 1996, p. 422.
 Robert g. Gromacki, Th.D, The Modern Tongues Movement (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967) 17. Appendix 1 of this paper gives a more detailed summary of his research.
 Sword and Trowel (1987 No. 2), http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/have-tonguesceased.html (April 2005).
 Robert G. Gromacki, Th.D, The Modern Tongues Movement (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967) 5-31.