© 2003 by Wesleyan Episcopal Assemblies Pentecostal a California non-profit association. All rights reserved.
Once upon a time two apologists were arguing over the validity of miraculous tongues. One, an evangelical preacher and critic, was aggressively pounding out his understanding that tongues should cease. In mid sentence, as he utters the words of 1 Corinthians 13:8, “Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease'”
His opponent, a Pentecostal preacher, interrupts to say, “Do you like ice cream cones?”
Startled from his tirade, the critic responds, “Yeah they’re pretty good. Why?”
The preacher continues, “So, do you eat one with your teeth?”
The critic looks puzzled as he says, “I do some, but mostly I lick the ice-cream till it’s gone.”
“Really?” The preacher responds, “Then what do you lick it with? Do you use your nose or your teeth?”
The critic answers suspiciously, “No, I generally use my tongue.”
The preacher responds smugly, “Really, you eat ice-cream by speaking English at it?”
The critic snarls disgustedly as he responds, “No! That’s not what tongue means in this context!”
This story is, of course pure fiction, but it illustrates an important point about context. Obviously, the word glossa, which is the Greek name of the oral appendage called the tongue must be understood in light of the surrounding text. Its use by a Greek speaker to refer to a spoken language was idiomatic in the first century just as it is today.
In 1 Corinthians 13:8 the surrounding context refers to knowledge and prophecy as things that would be made obsolete by the arrival of “that which is perfect.” A common interpretation of the perfect referred to here, by critics of supernatural tongues is the arrival of the written cannon. The mistake in this line of thinking is two-fold.
Firstly, the Canon itself reaffirms the need for scholarship. “Study to show thyself approved, a workman that need not be ashamed.” This is a clear imperative for the believer to gain in knowledge during the Christian Era. So long as there is a Canon there is a source for knowledge. This clearly demonstrates that the perfect, which causes the absolution of knowledge, has not yet come.
Secondly, the canon cannot precipitate the cessation of prophecy. The scripture of the old Covenant is a collection of three bodies of literature. The Mosaic law (Torah), the writings of the major and minor prophets (Nevyim), and the Poetic writings (Ketuvyim). Prophecy is best defined as God’s contemporary instructions and predictions concerning the outcome of obedience or disobedience of those instructions. Jesus himself informed us that all scripture is beneficial for teaching Godly faith and practice, therefore it qualifies as prophecy which is the revelation to man of God’s will. Another way that prophecy enters the arena of Christian and of Jewish experience is in the body of sermons, inspired by the spirit of God. Preaching is a synonym for prophesying, and is used quite frequently in the Old Covenant writings to refer to activity of God’s prophets. Jesus himself, informed us that not one small letter [from any word] of the prophecies of Old Testament Canon shall pass away until they are fulfilled in their entirety.
The Bible contains many apocalyptic, or end of time predictions. According to Jesus, the canon and its body of prophecy cannot pass away until the apocalypses contained within it have been fulfilled. To put it simply, Prophecy cannot cease till the End of Time. Therefore, that which is perfect cannot arrive; by Jesus’ own testimony, until Time has concluded. Prophecy, tongues, and knowledge shall persist, until Time has been concluded.
Now what does tongues really mean in this context? Opponents of tongues have committed a serious faux pas by linking the tongues in this passage to the gift of tongues. This passage, when viewed in light of the testimony of Jesus Christ, would say that tongues shall cease, when time has concluded. For all practical purposes, they have proven the case that tongues is intended by God to be normative within the church. However to be fair I must point out that it is quite reasonable to believe that the tongues referred to in this passage must be the oral member. Read in this way, this passage would read, “Love never fails, even if prophecy withers, tongues pause, and knowledge fades.”
Clearly, this is a hyperbole intended to illustrate the durability and power of Godly Love (Agape). Any intellectually honest interpretation of this passage will conclude that it is in no way a reference to a historical period where the scripture is present but God’s miraculous power has ceased to work in the lives of his faithful.
Join with me in seeking whatever God has to offer. Anything God offers can only be a benefit in the life of a believer. The measure of a believer’s devotion, is his ability leave behind the norms and presuppositions of the World becoming gradually more conformed to the pattern of biblical life. Let’s not allow fear and prejudice prevent us from taking hold of the gifts. Let us all get our eyes off the form and formula and focus on the giver of these gifts. When we are thoroughly committed to allowing God to work in our lives in any fashion he sees as appropriate and focus all our attention on mimicking Christ and improving our relationship with his sweet Spirit, we can forgive him for choosing a mode of expression that we might find embarrassing. Real faith is trusting God even when he doesn’t meet our human sense of propriety.
God bless you and keep you in his holiness.