Some Questions Concerning Tongues

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These articles are reprinted from “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” magazine, which is issued at two monthly intervals, for the propagation of the Word of God and thus the encouragement and edification of the people of God.


by J. E. Todd

by J. C. M. Dawson

including Questions and Answers
by D. Mowat

by J. B. Hewitt


by J. E. TODD

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 140, Page 123.

“Whether there be tongues, they shall cease;” (1Cor. 13.8). All agree that this statement means what it says, but the question is when will tongues cease? The Scriptural answer is, “When that which is perfect is come” (v10), but there are different opinions as to what the ‘perfect’ is.

We must begin by giving to the word ‘perfect’ its Greek and not its English meaning. Although we read the Scriptures in an English translation, we must remember that the New Testament writers thought and wrote in Greek. In everyday English the word ‘perfect’ carries with it the meaning of superlative quality, quality that is faultless. But the Greek adjective has the meaning of complete. The pen with which I am writing the rough draft of this article is a perfect pen in the Greek sense of the word. It is complete in all its parts, undamaged and fulfils its function. But it is certainly not a perfect pen in the English sense of the word, for it is an old ball point pen which cost only a few pence when new. A perfect pen in the English sense would have (as advertised) a famous name, be of solid gold, studded with diamonds and have a {nice tag of a thousand guineas!

It is because the English meaning leaps to mind when one reads the words, “When that which is perfect is come,” that people’s thoughts are led off to the second coming of our Lord and the end of the age when divine perfection will be revealed.

But what is it that is to be perfected, in the sense of being made complete? There is no need to guess; we are plainly told in the immediate context. It is knowledge and prophecy, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (vv9-10). Paul is looking forward to the time when the knowledge and prophecy will be complete, which at the time of his writing were still in the process of being revealed. When the revelation would be completed, the gifts which produced it would cease to operate.

There is no place here for speculation. The perfect comes when the knowledge and prophecy are complete. In the context there is no mention of the end of the age. “Till He come” (11.26), can hardly be counted as context!

But what are the gifts of knowledge and ">prophecy? The Lord promised these two gifts to the apostles, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come.” (John 16.12-13). The gift of knowledge is the divinely imparted understanding of spiritual truth, “He will guide you into all truth.” The gift of prophecy is to reveal the future purposes of God, “He will shew you things to come.” These two gifts of the Spirit are the means of inspiration (2Pet 1.21).

God has given to mankind the final revelation of Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is not sufficient that Jesus should be born, live, work, teach, die and rise again. The significance and relevance of these events must be understood. This was the purpose of the gift of knowledge, to lead the apostles into an understanding of the meaning of the events, that the truth might be imparted to others (1John 1.1-5). For example it was not enough that our Lord should die, the significance of that event must be revealed by the Holy Spirit to the apostles, hence Paul could write, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15.3). This is the gift of knowledge.

But the consequences of the events of the incarnation are as important as their significance. This is the gift of prophecy, the Holy Spirit revealing to the apostles the consequences of the work of Christ to the end of time and for all eternity. For the second coming of our Lord and all the events associated with it are the direct consequences of His incarnation.

The New Testament is the record of the eyewitnesses of the revelation of God in Christ, recorded either by themselves or those who interviewed them. It is to that generation of eyewitnesses and to them alone that the gifts of knowledge and prophecy must be given to explain the significance and consequences of what they had seen. Succeeding generations saw nothing of the revelation of God in Christ, therefore they saw nothing which could have significance or consequences. It is the succeeding generations who, listening to the voice of Scripture, can by that means alone come to understand the revelation.

As Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian Christians, the process of the work of the Holy Spirit in imparting knowledge and prophetic insight to reveal the significance and consequences of the incarnation was still proceeding. But the apostle looked forward to the day when that process would be complete. The day of completion arrived when the last eye-witness of Christ, John the apostle, received a revelation on the isle of Patmos, and recorded that revelation as the last book of Holy Scripture.

The ‘perfect’ has now come. The revelation of God in Christ has not only been given, but the complete significance and consequences of this event have been made known and recorded. The childhood of the Church’s growing understanding has passed into the full understanding of maturity (1Cor. 13.11). The full truth of the incarnation is now no longer indistinct but clearly seen (v12a). As God has always known the mind of man, so now man can know the mind of God (v12b).

The spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy having completed their work, now cease to operate. The sign gift of tongues passed away with them, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” (1Cor.13.8). The gift of tongues was the sign to the stubborn Jews that God would speak of His salvation to other nations, “For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people (Israel), to whom He said... yet they would not hear.” (Isa.28.11-12). This happened on the day of Pentecost, in the presence of the Jews, when the Gospel was first preached (Acts 2.5-12). It was the sign to the incredulous Jewish Christians that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit even as they had done (Acts 10.44-47). Paul reminds the Church at Corinth that tongues were a sign to the unbelieving Jews (1Cor.14.20-22), by quoting from the above passage in Isaiah.

But does not the apostle forbid the suppression of the gift of tongues? Indeed he does, “Forbid not to speak with tongues.” (1Cor.14.39). Moses also commanded, “In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers” (Ex. 12.3). Some commands are for their own dispensation!

How can one explain all the activity of those who profess to speak in tongues since the apostolic age, if the Scriptures disallow it? But surely the explanations are required from those who behave outside the requirements of Scripture, not those who adhere to it Such explanations must include the use of ‘tongues’ outside the Christian sphere. Also the fact that a quarter of American Pentecostals are members of the United Pentecostal Church which denies the doctrine of the Trinity, and embraces the heresy of Sabellianism, (see ‘Bright Wind of the Spirit’ by Steve Durasoff — Hodder & Stoughton 1973, page 81). Is this the result of being baptized with the Spirit of Truth?

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by the Late J. C. M. DAWSON, M.A., Belfast

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 156, Page 78.

When the kingdom of heaven is set up in glory and power, at the return of the Lord Jesus to earth, Israel will occupy the central position amongst the nations. Then sorrow will give place to joy, disease and sickness will be practically shelved, death will be held in abeyance except for rebellion against the King, and men will speak one tongue (Isa.35.5-10; 65.20; Zeph.3.9). Tongues are for a sign (1 Cor.14.20-22), and the passage quoted (Isa.28.11,12) refers prophetically to Israel in those future days immediately preceding the setting up of the kingdom. Consequently these miraculous sign gifts obviously point to the kingdom.

Matthew in his Gospel presents Christ as the promised Messiah, the King. In chap.3., John the Baptist announces the approach of the kingdom. Then Christ, the King, issues His manifesto in the Sermon on the Mount, and displays His character and power by His miracles, defeating Satan, conquering death, healing diseases, and feeding the hungry. John sent from his prison two of his disciples to ask Him, “Art Thou He that should come?” (i.e. “Art Thou the Messiah?”). The Lord answered: “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matt. 11.2-6). The Lord thus declared His miracles and other works to be His credentials as the Messiah.

Again, later on, when our Lord healed a blind and dumb demoniac, the multitudes were amazed and said, “Is not this the Son of David?” They arrived at that correct conclusion from the miracle. The Pharisees, refusing to accept Him as the Messiah, sought to account for the miracle in another way. Our Lord refuted their charge, and said to them, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” In other words, the miracle pointed Him out as the King, and declared that the kingdom was nigh (Matt. 12.22-28).

Again, He sent forth His disciples to heal the sick and to declare, “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (Lk.10.9).

Notwithstanding that His miracles clearly accredited Him as their King, the Jews despised and rejected Him. They said, “We will not have this Man to reign over us,” and they handed Him over to the Cross.

Raised from the dead, He commissioned His disciples, who were all Jews, to disciple, baptize, and teach (MatL28.18-20). This commission covers more than the Church dispensation, for it lasts until the present age of Gentile domination, and Jewish subjection terminate, by the return of Christ to enter on His reign. We read about miraculous signs in connection with this commission (Mk. 16.15-20), which contains His disciples’ marching orders down to the kingdom, for which the Jews were longing. Those signs were in operation from the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) for a number of years, when they ceased, as we shall presently see, and they will be in exercise again after the rapture of the Church and before the kingdom is set up (Rev. 11.3-6). Consequently those disciples offered the Jews, up to the murder of Stephen, Christ as their Messiah and Saviour (Acts 3.19-21), and, though the offer of die kingdom may have been withdrawn then, Israel had still preferential treatment wherever the Gospel was carried, up to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Lk.24.47; Acts 3.26; 13.26,46; 18.4-6; Rom.1.16). From that time they were placed on a level with the Gentiles, and this will continue until the Church is completed and removed to Heaven.

God, on the other hand, who sees the end from the beginning, knew that the nation of Israel would not accept the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, and He commenced at Pentecost to gather out the Church, though the disciples themselves were ignorant of it. At Pentecost they knew none of the special truth about the Church, but after Stephen’s death God revealed His Son to His chosen vessel, Saul of Tarsus, afterwards Paul the apostle, and through him, while the favoured nation position was still accorded to Israel, He gradually unfolded the truth about the Church, but not in its fulness until the preferential treatment of Israel ceased (Acts 28.28), for it is in Ephesians and Colossians written after this, that we find the highest Church truth.

The miraculous signs lasted until then (Acts 28.3-10), for they were given in connection with the presentation of the Messiah to Israel, and they will be renewed after the Church is taken to Heaven, for God will then renew His dealings with Israel, and in due course the kingdom will be established, to which all such miracles point, and during which disease and death will be practically shelved and the confusion of speech be healed.

There is no Scriptural evidence of any miraculous sign after Paul’s declaration to the Jews in Rome (Acts 28.28). Tongues are last mentioned in 1 Cor. 14., which was written when Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19).  We know that after Paul made this declaration Epaphroditus (Phil.2.26,27), Timothy (lTim.5.23), Trophimus (2Tim.4.20), and Gaius (3John 2) were ill, all godly servants of Christ; but no gift of healing was used to restore them. Epaphroditus was restored in answer to prayer, and Timothy was ordered to take a little wine. It has been said that these sign gifts were not used in the case of believers, and that therefore these instances do not prove the cessation of these gifts. However, Scripture shows that those who had faith were miraculously healed and restored to life. Our Lord, for instance, healed Bartimaeus and the woman with the issue of blood, and He raised Lazarus from the dead. He sent His disciples out to perform miracles in His Name (Mk. 16.17-18). Their works were a continuation of what the Lord began to do (Acts 3.6,16; 4.7-12,30; 9.34). Paul received his sight three days after his conversion (Acts 9.18), Dorcas was raised from the dead (Acts 9.36-41). Again, it was believers who were to be immune from injury by serpents (Mk.16.18), exemplified in Paul’s person (Acts 28.3-6). “Tongues are for a sign ... to them that believe not” (1Cor. 14.22), but they were used for the edification of the Church (1 Cor. 14.5,6,13,27,39). These gifts were signs to unbelievers, but they were used for the benefit of believers. Consequently, since they were not employed to heal Epaphroditus, Timothy, Trophimus, and Gaius, it is manifest that they had ceased to be.

Many people must have wondered why the Acts ends so abruptly. We are told nothing about Paul’s actions while in prison, his trial, release, subsequent movements; his second arrest, trial, and martyrdom. Why is this? Because the book is the history of God’s dealings with Israel until their preferential treatment at His hands ceased, and they woe placed on a level with the Gentiles.

In 1Cor.12., written while Paul was in Ephesus, and therefore years before these miraculous signs ceased, we have a list of gifts, and amongst them ‘tongues,’ ‘healing,’ ‘miracles.’ In Ephesians, written after the event recorded in Acts 28.28, we have the list of permanent Church gifts and all the sign-gifts are absent from it — a plain declaration of their transitory character.

The promise given to Israel in Ex.15.26 is sometimes quoted as giving the believer warrant to expect entire immunity from diseases on rendering full obedience to God. But Israel in the wilderness was a type of the Church under its present circumstances (1 Cor. 10.). Israel’s blessings were earthly, temporal, material; the Church’s are heavenly, eternal, spiritual. Consequently, just as Egypt is a type of the world and Pharaoh, its king, a type of Satan, the prince of the world, so the promise in Ex.15.26, of preservation from the diseases of the Egyptians on certain conditions, typifies our preservation from spiritual diseases on certain conditions. The manna that fed their bodies was a type of Christ our spiritual food. Their shoes and clothes lasted through the journey to Canaan (Deut.29.5), so will our spiritual raiment until we reach Heaven. Unless I am to expect the food for my body direct from Heaven daily, and my bodily clothing to last without any renewal until I make my exit from earth, I ought not to expect to be kept free from bodily diseases.

In conclusion, I would refer briefly to James 5.15-16. This epistle was probably one of the first portions of the New Testament to be written; in any case it was written several years before Paul was carried as a prisoner to Rome, and, therefore, while the sign-gifts were exercised. The sick one was restored in answer to prayer. The word for anoint is not that used for anointing kings — it is practically the equivalent of the modem term massage, and indicates means to be employed. The Christian finds in this passage the best advice for him when ill —that is, bring his sickness to God; He can cure through means or without them, the choice should be left to Him. God hears prayers and works miracles still.

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by D. MOWAT (Finland)

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 264, Page 90; No. 265, Page 109; No. 266, Page 132; and No. 267, Page 13.

In this article we shall examine what the Bible says about the subject of speaking in tongues.

We shall consider the following questions:

  1. What was the gift of tongues?
  2. What was the purpose of the gift of tongues?
  3. Has the gift of tongues ceased?
  4. What about tongues experiences today?

Finally we shall look at some questions commonly asked and seek Scriptural answers.

i) What was the gift of tongues?

The gift of tongues was first mentioned in the New Testament by the Lord Jesus in Mk. 16.17 “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

In the Acts of the apostles, three occurrences of the gift are recorded:

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2.4). “And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” (Acts 10.45-46). “And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.” (Acts 19.6-7).

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions the gift in chapters 12, 13 and 14.

The gift of tongues is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. The above references must form the basis of our understanding of this subject. On examining the passages mentioned above, several points become apparent:

  1. Those who had the gift were able to speak in a language which was not their native tongue and had not been learned. This is the meaning of the word ‘new’ or ‘other’. The ‘tongue’ was new to the speaker and was not his own language. In Acts ch.2 the bilingual Jews who had come up to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost were amazed to hear Galilaeans speaking fluently in their languages: “And they were all amazed and marvelled saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes.” (Acts 2.7-10).
  2. Those who spoke in tongues spoke in a language which could be understood by others, as Acts ch.2 clearly demonstrates. The gift of tongues was not the ability to speak in an ‘angelic language’, ‘spirit-tongue’ or secret prayer-language. See Questions and Answers for further details on this point
  3. It is evident that those who spoke in tongues understood what they were saying. “He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.” (1Cor.14.4). Throughout the Scriptures, edification is based upon understanding. I cannot edify (self or others) apart from understanding. Paul underlines this throughout chapter 14. According to this chapter, the tongues-speaker was able to control the use of his gift. It was to be used intelligently. The Holy Spirit never by-passes the believer’s mind. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” (1Cor. 14.32).
  4. Not every believer spoke with tongues. This is clear from Paul’s rhetorical question “Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (1 Cor. 12.30).
  5. In the Church, speaking in tongues was prohibited unless there was an interpreter present who could give an accurate, literal translation for the benefit of the rest of the Church. “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church;” (1 Cor. 14.28).
  6. Although all gifts given by the Holy Spirit were valuable, Paul points out that the gift of tongues was of limited value. It appears the Corinthians were attaching undue importance to this gift, and this is the reason behind much of Paul’s teaching in chapters 12, 13 and 14. In the two lists of ‘spiritual gifts’ where speaking in tongues appears at all, it is placed at the end of the list on both occasions. (1 Cor. 12.8-10,28-30).

ii) What was the purpose of the gift of tongues?

Paul states the purpose of the gift clearly in 1Cor.14.21-22. “In the law it is written, With [men of] other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear Me, saith the Lord Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying [serveth] not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”

Clearly then, tongues were for a sign to unbelievers — and particularly to Jewish unbelievers. Note that the Old Testament quotation states ‘will I speak to this people’ (Israel).

The Jews expected signs to accompany any new message or revelation from God. This is clearly indicated by several Scriptures, e.g., “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (1Cor.1.22). “They said therefore unto Him, What sign shewest Thou then, that we may see, and believe Thee? what dost Thou work?” (John 6.30).

In the Old Testament, when Moses appeared with a message from God, his message was attested by signs and wonders. (Ex.4.8). Confirmatory signs accompanied the commencement of Israel’s monarchy (1 Sam. 10.9) and during the Lord’s ministry, miraculous signs bore witness to His identity. (John 12.37).

When the apostles began preaching salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, of course the Jews were reluctant to accept this ‘new’ message. They already had a religion which had come directly from God. They already had the Holy Scriptures. How were they to be assured that this new message was genuine? Simply by the signs and wonders (including speaking in tongues) which accompanied the preaching of the Gospel.

The writer to the Hebrews makes this point when speaking about the testimony of the early preachers — “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard [Him]; God also bearing [them] witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2.3-4).

It is particularly important to note that every recorded incident of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts was witnessed by Jews — and their reaction to it is recorded:

“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad the multitude came together, and were confounded because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2.5-11).

“ While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10.44-46).

“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paid having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He scad unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said Unto John's baptism.” [i.e., they were Jews]. “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied And all the men were about twelve." (Acts 19.1-7).

It is also interesting to note that there were many Jews in Corinth (Acts 18.5), hence the use of tongues in that city.

So then it is clear that tongues were for a sign to the unbelieving Jews. When they heard an unlearned person speaking fluently in their own language, it ought to have convinced them that this new message was from God. According to Isaiah 28.9-20, the gift was also an indication of coming judgment — fulfilled by Titus’ destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The gift of tongues was being abused in Corinth. It would appear from chapter 14 that they were using this gift in prayer (v16). They were also using the gift in the Church without an interpreter (v28). They were not exercising proper control in the use of the gift (vv23,27). There may even have been a counterfeit pagan ‘gift’ in operation, (12.2-3).

Paul deals with the subject at length in this letter in order to teach the proper use and purpose of the gift and to stop its abuse by carnal Christians at Corinth.

Many charismatics today believe that the purpose of the gift of tongues is to edify (or build up) oneself. 1Cor.14.4 is quoted to support this — “He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.” (1Cor.14.4). However, a careful reading of the surrounding verses will show that the gifts of the Spirit were never intended for private, personal benefit They were given for the building up of the Church, not the individual. In this section, Paul is contrasting the value of prophecy with the gift of tongues — prophecy builds up the Church: tongues (without an interpreter) builds up no-one but the speaker himself. Far from being the proper use of the gift, this is really the abuse of the gift. The subject is dealt with in greater detail in Questions and Answers.

So, we conclude, the gift of tongues was given by God as a sign to the unbelieving Jews.

iii) Has the gift of tongues ceased?

This is a most important question. Is it possible to have the gift of tongues today? Did God intend this to be a permanent gift or a temporary one?

Let’s examine this subject Scripturally, Functionally and Historically.


“Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was 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 through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.” (1Cor 13.8-13).

In this chapter, Paul is stressing the importance of love (charity). The Corinthians had many spiritual gifts — but love was lacking. They laid great stress on their abilities and gifts, but in this chapter Paul shows them that these things are far inferior to love.

In the verses quoted above, Paul is showing the permanency of love. He names three miraculous gifts (prophecy, tongues and knowledge) which would pass away. In contrast, love ‘never faileth’.

In interpreting the passage it is important to note the following:

  1. The passage does not say that the gift of tongues continues until “that which is perfect is come”. ‘That which is perfect' marks the end of what is described as being ‘ in part' — the supernatural gifts of knowledge and prophecy (v9). Tongues are left behind in v8 and not referred to again in the chapter. This means that, 'that which is perfect has no relationship to the gift of tongues.
  2. This is confirmed by the feet that the same verb is used of prophecy and knowledge in v8 (katargeo), while the verb used in respect of tongues ceasing is different (pauo). Prophecy and knowledge are grouped together: they run concurrently and stop at the same time and in the same manner. Tongues, on the other hand, is on its own.
  3. Not only are the verbs different in v8 but the voices are different. 
    In reference to prophecy and knowledge, the verb katargeo is in the future passive voice. This means that prophecy and knowledge will be stopped by something out with themselves, some action or event. 
    In reference to tongues, the verb pauo is in the future middle voice. This means that tongues will cease by themselves or literally, they will stop themselves. A T Robertson (Word Pictures in the NT) states: “they shall automatically cease of themselves”.
  4. The verb pauo (tongues shall cease) denotes a final cessation. It cannot be understood to mean a temporary lapse.

Much debate has centred on the phrase ‘that which is perfect'. Without going into detail, there seem to be two possible interpretations:

  1. ‘That which is perfect' refers to the completion of Scripture.

    The verb telion (perfect) refers to the climax of a process. It refers to something that is partially here, is presently developing, and will one day reach completion. Telion is used of the Scriptures in James 1:25: “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

    When the canon was completed the need for the supernatural revelatory gifts of knowledge and prophecy ceased. The Word of God was given in a gradual way (see Col. 1:25), and God’s revelation reached its climax with the completed canon.

    If ‘in part’ refers to the transmission of divine truth (through knowledge and prophecy), 'that which is perfect' must refer to the completion and climax of that transmission.

  2. ‘That which is perfect' refers to our final perfection when the Lord comes. According to this interpretation, knowledge and prophecy continue only in a general way, i.e. Knowledge continues in the sense of understanding the Scriptures. Prophecy continues in the sense of preaching the Word.

As we have already noticed, the cessation of tongues is not related to ‘that which is perfect'. Only knowledge and prophecy continue until “that which is perfect is come". The gift of tongues has already ceased automatically and finally.


Let us see if this interpretation holds good Functionally.

As we have already noted, the clear teaching of Paul was that ‘tongues’ were a sign for unbelieving Jews.

It should be noted that after Pentecost, the Gospel was preached to the Jew first God was graciously inviting His people to repent in the early days of the Church age. The Gospel was not being preached to the Gentiles widely at that period — the Jew had priority.

All this ‘special treatment’ came to an end as the Gospel moved out to Gentiles. Through the book of the Acts, the widening ripples of the Gospel can be traced. Acts 1.8 summarises die book: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Ultimately, the nation of Israel rejected God’s offer of mercy through Jesus Christ, and the Gospel moved out to ‘whosoever’. It is interesting that in the last chapter of the book of Acts, Paul says to the Jews ‘‘‘’Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with [their] eyes, and hear with [their] ears, and understand with [their] heart, and should be converted and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and [that] they will hear it.” (Acts 28.25-28).

Today God is not offering the Gospel exclusively to the Jews. That period of ‘special treatment’ has passed — hence the need for accompanying signs for the Jews has also disappeared.

So we can conclude that the purpose for which the sign was given ceased to exist as the Gospel turned toward the Gentiles.


Can we prove Historically that the gift of tongues has ceased?

It is very interesting to note the following:

  1. In Hebrews 2.3-4, the writer refers to miraculous signs in the past tense. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard [Him]; God also bearing [them] witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?” (Heb.2.3-4).

    It is interesting that the writer does not say that God was presently bearing witness to the message by these signs—he is looking back to a time in the past when these events took place.

  2. The epistle to the Ephesians is one of Paul’s later letters. In that epistle he lists gifts given for the benefit of the Church — “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers(Eph.4.11).

    Significantly, speaking in tongues does not feature at all in the list

  3. Seventeen epistles were written after Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Not one of them even mentions speaking in tongues or any other ‘sign’ gift. Tongues are not mentioned at all in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
  4. After die destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus in AD 70 (as prophesied by the Lord Jesus in Lk.19.41-44), there is no further mention of speaking in tongues. The nation of Israel had virtually ceased to exist as a single entity and the Jews were scattered among the nations.
  5. The so-called ‘church fathers’ are unanimously agreed that miraculous signs and wonders (including speaking in tongues) were not operating by the end of the first century AD.

From the above we can conclude that the true gift of speaking in tongues had ceased, possibly by as early as AD 70, and certainly by the time the Scriptures were completed.

As foretold by the Apostle Paul, the gift of tongues ceased automatically and finally. The purpose for the gift of tongues no longer exists. The Scriptural and secular historical records agree that speaking in tongues had ceased by the end of the first century AD.

iv) What about tongues experiences today?

Despite the feet that Scripture teaches the cessation of the gift of tongues, many claim to have the gift today or to have witnessed speaking in tongues.

On close examination, such experiences are invariably at odds with the Word of God.

The following should be carefully noted:

  1. What is claimed to be tongues-speaking today often bears no resemblance to the true gift of tongues which functioned in apostolic times. 

    As we have already noted, the true gift of tongues was the ability to speak in a language unfamiliar to, and unlearned by, the speaker. It was always a structured language which was capable of being understood by others. Acts ch.2 shows this clearly.

    Often today a person will break out in an ecstatic utterance which bears no resemblance to any human language. Often it is no more than a repetition of similar sounds, with no grammatical or logical order. Such ‘gibberish’ is plainly something completely different from the true gift.

    In recent discussions with a group of ‘charismatic’ believers, all had to confess that they were not aware of one single missionary who had gone to a foreign country and had not needed to learn the language because he had the ‘gift of tongues.’

  2. Most of those who claim to speak in tongues, readily admit that they themselves do not understand what they are saying. As we have noted, this is contrary to the use of the true gift, when the speaker clearly understood and was able to control what he was saying.
  3. Often modem ‘tongues-speaking’ is the climax of an emotional experience. The speaker will become very excited — aided by the repetition of certain phrases or rhythmic clapping/singing — until he suddenly breaks out in ‘tongues.’ All this is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture on the subject and would have been more commonly seen in the heathen temples of Bible days.
  4. Many of those who ‘speak in tongues’ in public gatherings are women. The Scriptures clearly teach that in the Church, the women ought to keep silence.

    “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church (1 Cor. 14.34-35).

    “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed then Eve.” (lTim2.11-13).

    Today, women who ‘speak in tongues’ say they are compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak out. We can be sure that the Holy Spirit would not urge a child of God to do something which the Holy Spirit had forbidden in Scripture. The ‘urge to speak’ cannot come from the Holy Spirit.

  5. It is widely taught that speaking in tongues is an evidence of having been filled with the Holy Spirit and is a great step forward in a believer’s spiritual life.

    Paul’s letter to the Corinthians shows clearly that even when the true gift did operate, this was not the case. Many of those who spoke in tongues were described by Paul as ‘carnal’ believers. Corinth had many ‘miraculous’ gifts from the Holy Spirit — yet it was possibly the most carnal Church mentioned in the New Testament. The members tolerated gross immorality. They were split by division and sectarianism. They were taking each other to court. They had corrupted the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s first letter was written in order to correct all the error at Corinth. Far from being super-spiritual believers, they were quite the reverse (1Cor.3.1).

    Even when the true gift of tongues was in operation, it did not signify any special holiness or spirituality in the person who had the gift.

It is important to note that experiences of so-called ‘tongues-speaking’ are not restricted to evangelical Christians. The Newsweek magazine recently carried a report of ‘tongues-speaking’ during a Roman Catholic service in Paris. The ‘spirit’ came upon the people as they were singing the Roman Catholic hymn, ‘Hail, Mary, Mother of God.’ Speaking in ‘unknown’ tongues is a well-known feature of many primitive religions.

If Christians are not receiving this ‘gift’ from the Holy Spirit, where is it coming from?

Today’s ‘tongues-speaking’ originates from one of two sources:

  1. It can be caused by fleshly excitement.
  2. Unfortunately we have to say that Satan can take advantage of believers who leave themselves open to receive ‘power.’ In many cases, the behaviour and actions of those supposedly ‘in the spirit’ leave no doubt as to the origin of the power being experienced. It appears that this occurred even in the early days when the true gift was in operation — “ Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and [that] no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” (1Cor.12.3).

One vital principle must be remembered —

We interpret our experiences by the Word of God; we do not interpret the Word of God by our experiences.

By seeking to answer four questions we have considered modem tongues speaking. However, there are a number of other questions on the subject which are asked frequently. Some of these are now considered in the light of Scripture.

Questions and Answers


1.    In 1Cor.13.1, Paul speaks about “the tongues of men and of angels”. Does this not prove that tongues was an angelic, heavenly language?

As with all Scripture interpretation, it is vital to examine the context in which any statement is made. In this passage, Paul is showing how absolutely vital love is. We can have great abilities, but if we have not love, they are worthless.

In verses 1 to 4, Paul is using hyperbole or exaggeration to make his point. For example in v2 he says “And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” It ought to be obvious to us that no Christian will ever know absolutely everything here on earth, nor be able to physically remove mountains. The context makes it clear that Paul is using hyperbole to express his point as forcefully as possible.

In referring to angels, Paul is speaking of the highest form of creation. Were it possible to talk with the power, authority and eloquence of an angel, it would be completely worthless if love is absent.

To wrench this statement out of its context and apply it to speaking in tongues is a defective interpretation.

2.   You say that speaking in tongues was the ability to speak in a language which was capable of being understood. What does Paul mean when he says “For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: far no man understandeth [him]; how be it in the spirit he speaketh mysteries .” (1Cor.14.2)?

In this passage, Paul is clearly showing the contrasting values of the gifts of prophecy and tongues. The Corinthians were placing an undue emphasis on the ‘spectacular’ gift of tongues. Paul writes to show them that prophecy is far more profitable and valuable. The reason for no man understanding the tongues-speaker in this passage is simply that there is no interpreter present. A man exercising the gift of tongues without an interpreter is not speaking to men — for the simple reason that no-one can understand what he is saying. “In the spirit he speaketh mysteries” refers to the same thing. What he is saying is not understood by those present because there is no interpreter. This does not mean that no human is capable of understanding the gift of tongues, as Acts chapter 2 clearly shows.

3.   Doesn’t Paul teach that the tongues-speaker didn’t understand what he himself was saying? “ Wherefore let him that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that he may interpret For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” (1Cor.14.13-14).

The previous verse is most important: “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual [gifts], seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” (1Cor 14.12). In other words, Paul underlines the importance of benefiting the Church. We can then understand his next statement. A tongues-speaker was of no benefit to the Church without an interpreter. It seems that everyone wanted to

speak in tongues at Corinth, but in order to benefit the Church, there must be interpretation. This verse does not mean that the tongues-speaker did not understand what he was saying, rather Paul is placing emphasis on the importance of interpretation. Instead of everyone wanting to speak in tongues, they ought to place a higher value on the gift of interpretation.

Regarding “my understanding is unfruitfull', Paul is not stating that the man does not understand what he is saying in prayer. The expression ‘my understanding' is in what is known as the objective genitive. It does not mean what I understand when I speak but what others understand when I speak. The speaker understands, but die Church does not, hence the ‘unfruitfulness’. Paul goes on to say, “I will pray with the understanding. ” — i.e., in a language that is capable of being understood by all.

4.    Doesn’t Paul say that the parpose of the gift is to edify oneself? "He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church(1Cor.14.4).

On the contrary, a close examination of this passage shows that Paul teaches the very reverse.

The Holy Spirit gave gifts for the edification of the Church. In ch. 12.7 Paul says, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (or, to mutual profit). Gifts were never intended for personal, private benefit. This is the key to 1Cor.14.

In the opening verses, Paul states that the prophet edifies the Church — this was the proper use of the gift. However, if someone speaks in tongues without an interpreter, this will benefit no-one — apart from himself. He will be the only one who will understand.

Far from being the proper use of the gift, this was an abuse of the gift. A careful reading of these verses will show clearly that Paul is contrasting die profitability of prophecy with the gift of tongues. Prophecy edifies the Church; tongues edify no-one apart from the speaker himself. This is not the proper use of die gift but rather an unfortunate consequence of speaking in tongues without an interpreter.

5.    Was it spiritual or beneficial to pray in tongues?

The short answer is: ‘no’. As we have already noticed, the gift was given to be a sign to the unbelieving Jews. When it was used in the Church then the tongues message was to be interpreted for the benefit of the whole Church.

Paul mentions it in connection with prayer in ch. 14.13-17 “ Wherefore let hint that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified."

Here, Paul shows the absurdity of using the gift of tongues in prayer. If no-one else understands, then it is an unfruitful contribution. How can anyone say, ‘Amen’, if they cannot understand what you are saying? The teaching on this is very clear.

Some claim that tongues was intended as a ‘private prayer-language’, which should be exercised privately. V2 is quoted to support this — “For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth [him]; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” As we have already noted, this verse has nothing to do with prayer. The reason the tongues-speaker ‘speaks not to men, but God’ is very simple — no one can understand the language he is speaking. In the context Paul is saying that he ought to be speaking to men.

It is very interesting to note that the subject of prayer is dealt with thoroughly elsewhere in the New Testament—in not one instance are tongues even referred to. When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, why didn’t the Lord tell them about tongues? In, where Paul gives directions as to prayer in the Church, again tongues are not mentioned. The Lord Jesus never once prayed in tongues. There is no record of Paul himself ever praying in tongues.

The clear teaching of Scripture is that God never intended tongues to be used as a prayer-language.

6.    In 1Cor.13, doesn’t ‘that which is perfect refer to the coming of the Lord? If so, tongues mast continue until that point

As we have already noted, the Scriptures do not teach that tongues will continue until “that which is perfect is come”. According to this chapter, tongues cease at an earlier date, but prophecy and knowledge continue until “that which is perfect is come”.

As we have indicated, there are two possible interpretations of the phrase “when that which is perfect is come.”

  1. The completion of the canon of Scripture.
  2. Our final perfection when the Lord comes.

The following points support interpretation 1:

  1. In v9 Paul says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” These gifts have to do with a supernatural revelation of the mind and will of God. They were given to meet immediate needs and problems of the early Church. Now that we have the full Scriptures, we have in them a full revelation of God’s will for us. The gifts of prophecy and supernatural knowledge do not exist today. They have already ceased.
  2. As indicated, the word perfect (telion) refers to the climax of a process. It refers to something that is partially here, is presently developing, and will one day reach completion. If 'in part’ refers to the transmission of divine truth (through knowledge and prophecy), 'that which is perfect’ must refer to the completion and climax of that transmission.
  3. To say that special gifts of prophecy and knowledge continue today would suggest that God’s revelation is still progressing. The Scriptures form the complete revelation of God needed for this dispensation. Hie teacher of the Word replaces the New Testament prophet (see 2Pet 2.1). The Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph.2.20). In other words, the gift of prophecy was foundational, operating only in the early days of Church history. In the same way that there are no apostles, there are no New Testament prophets.
  4. Some argue that prophecy continues today in the restricted sense of making known the mind of God through the Scriptures. While it may be that Biblical prophecy may have included an element of exhorting from the Word, prophecy cannot be restricted to this function only. Biblical prophecy must involve the possibility of direct, new revelation from God. Such a gift does not exist today.
  5. In the chapter, Paul says that prophecies, tongues and the special gift of knowledge will pass away. He then states that faith, hope and love remain (v13), but the greatest of these is love — it never fails (v8).

In other words, four stages are envisaged.

In stage 1, these three gifts exist

In stage 2, tongues have ceased, but prophecy and knowledge still operate.

In stage 3, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge have passed away, and faith, hope and love remain.

In stage 4, love alone remains.

At the present day, we are living in stage 3. When the Lord comes, faith will be replaced by sight and our hope will be realised in Him To say that the miraculous gifts are with us until the Lord comes would mean that faith and hope still are exercised after His coming.

We should add that whichever view is held, it does not change the fact that the gift of tongues ceases before “that which is perfect is come.”

7.    Jesus Christ is “'the same yesterday, and today, and foreverDoes this not mean that He works in the same way today as He did in the beginning?

The Lord Jesus is certainly the same and unchanging through the ages. However, God does work in different ways in different times. For example, God provided the Church with apostles. Where are the apostles today? There are no apostles now. In the infancy of the Church, God provided certain foundational gifts and ministries which are no longer necessary or available today.

Yes, the Lord is the same, but He does work in different ways.

8.    How do you explain the fact that many sincere, genuine Christians claim to experience ‘speaking in tongues’ today?

Many sincere Christians have been taught to expect these experiences and have sought them without even consulting the Word of God. Invariably, such experiences are not in accordance with the Word of God and the ‘tongues’ which are spoken bear no resemblance to the original gift

Sadly, many sincere Christians can be deceived by their own emotional and ‘spirit’ experiences into accepting and glorying in something which is contrary to the Word of God.

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by the Late J. B. HEWITT, Chesterfield

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 199, Page 137.

There is much confusion in the minds of many believers regarding speaking with tongues.

The Pentecostal group of churches holds that speaking with tongues is the necessary accompaniment and evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit

There are only four passages in the N.T. where this is found and it is significant that three of these are in the Acts 2.1 -4; 10.44-46; 19.1-7and 1Cor.12.10 and chapter 14. In each incident the ‘sign’ character of the gift of tongues is emphasised (1Cor.14.22; Heb.2.4).

  1. Notice that the gift on the day of Pentecost was characterised by intelligibility (Acts 2.7,8); whereas in 1 Cor. 14.2, the characteristic was unintelligibility.

    The languages these disciples spoke were not ‘unknown’ tongues. They were existing languages understood by the people who gathered, no interpreter was needed. The Greek word translated ‘tongue’ is ‘dialektos,’ the same as our word ‘dialect’ translated ‘language’ in v6.

    This gift was given to convince the crowds that they were in the presence of the supernatural. Neither the disciples nor Peter preached the evangel in other tongues. Peter preached in his own language with which the majority present would be familiar. Tongues were evidential of the wonderful works of God, rather than evangelistic in purpose.

  2. Caesarea has Gentiles in view. The gift of tongues was rendered necessary by the reluctance of Peter to take the Gospel to Gentiles (vv45,47).

    God demonstrated to Peter that the SAME Spirit had been given to the Gentiles as to Jewish believers at Pentecost in Acts 2. Note Peter’s words in Acts 11.15-17. There are no ‘tarrying meetings.’ The Spirit was neither prayed for nor sought. It was bestowed on the assembled company here, and in Ephesus, NOT on selected or specially prepared individuals.

  3. At Ephesus the Jewish disciples of John had heard nothing of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 19.1-11). Here is an indication of the progressive nature in God’s ways with His people. The old, once in order is now replaced and superseded by the dispensation of the Spirit.

    There are significant omissions of tongue-speaking in the book of Acts. There is no mention of the 3,000 converted at Pentecost; nor the 5,000 later, nor of the great company of priests.

    The majority of those converted came to faith in Christ but did not speak in tongues.

  4. The gift of tongues dispensed by the Spirit in 1Cor.12.10 is discouraged in chapter 14 unless interpretation follows, w4,5,9,27,28.

    The bestowal of the gift is temporary and selective, only certain spoke with tongues. They were for a sign to them that believe not (v22); it could bring reproach and shame (v23).

    Tongues and prophecies edified in an interim period, and were discontinued when the holy canon of Scripture was complete (1Cor.13.8,9).

    I have met many godly, gifted missionaries to whom this gift would have been most useful on the foreign field. Some spent years in learning the language of the people.

Any gift that produces confusion rather than order, is evidence that it is spurious, for God is not the author of confusion (1Cor.14.33).