November 13, 2018

1 Corinthians 13:8 - Tongues Have Not Ceased

When the subject of speaking in tongues comes up, some people will tell you that tongues are no more and that they were just something that was only for the time of the early church. This sounds plausible on first hearing, especially in some parts of the world where there are very few people who speak in tongues. Where I live, in the upper Midwest of the United States, very few people have heard of speaking in tongues and even fewer actually do it. No matter how true it sounds, there are many tens (likely hundreds) of millions of Pentecostals in the world who speak in tongues. This is a significant amount of observable evidence that cannot easily be dismissed. Further, the scripture that the assertion is based upon is easily shown to have been taken out of context.

The scripture that everyone quotes is 1 Corinthians 13:8. Now, as everyone also knows, this is the love chapter. Lots of reference to love here. And that's fine, love is an important topic. Yet, what all of these 'everyone' manage to miss is that the love chapter is part of the three chapters where Paul explains about the gifts of the Spirit. This means that the love chapter is not just about love, but about the importance of using the gifts of the Spirit in love, else they become meaningless. Love is the strongest force in the universe and is primary amongst all others. Hence, even though the gifts of the Spirit are awesome and powerful, they pale in comparison to the power of love.

8 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.

1 Corinthians 13:8

Looking at 1 Corinthians 13:8, we do indeed see that tongues will cease. Of course, we also see that prophecies and knowledge will also cease. I would argue that knowledge hasn't ceased in the world yet (wisdom is another matter entirely) so why would we expect tongues to have either, but the context of the verse tells us that we are dealing with gifts of the Spirit, so that argument doesn't fly here, tempting though it is to make it. Instead, knowing a little about Biblical Hermeneutics, we consider the verse in the context of the surrounding verses. Verse 8 is the first sentence of a paragraph, so we consider the entire proceeding paragraph and see that it discusses the supremacy of love, so that explains the first part, but sheds no light on how, why or when tongues will cease. Looking at the immediately successive verses, we get more useful information.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10

Here, we see that knowledge and prophesy is only done in part. We cannot know everything or prophecy everything, rather we can only know or prophecy what the Lord allows us. Tongues are not explicitly mentioned, but I am strongly inclined to consider them along with knowledge and prophesy as part of the general principle espoused here. Further, we see that these things that are done in part (knowledge and prophesy explicitly and tongues implicitly) will be done away with. The trigger for these things done in part ceasing, is the arrival of that which is perfect. The only perfect thing or being in the entire universe is God and the only way that God is going to arrive on this earth is in the coming of Jesus Christ. Whether that refers to the rapture of the saints or the physical second coming when he lands atop the mount of Olives towards the end of the great tribulation is an interesting question, but given that neither has happened yet, it is a moot point as far as speaking in tongues goes.

It is my conclusion that while tongues will indeed cease, the time for that will be at a point in the future when the Lord returns. This means that we can reasonably conclude that tongues have not ceased yet. Indeed, this conclusion fits well with the observation that the world has many Pentecostal believers who do, in verifiable fact, speak with tongues.

Tags: Church Writings Apostolic Perspectives