Forked Tongues?

Whether you're for tongues or against them, I hope any preconceptions you might have will be challenged by the logic and simplicity of my take on this subject. I believe a new, prayerful and considered look this gift is needed, above all, with open hearts and minds.

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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT TONGUES CEASING?

There is no doubt that the Bible does say that spiritual gifts will cease. Many Christians believe that tongues and other gifts have already stopped. The implication of this statement is that all such manifestations seen today are false. The following Scripture is often used to justify this claim:

1 Cor 13:8-12

Love never fails: 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 spake as 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.

Like every other Bible verse, this passage should not be separated from its context. In this case, Paul is dealing with the misuse of spiritual gifts. He is making a clear distinction between what is eternal and what is only temporary. Love is perfect and eternal and must be the motivation for passing on God's spiritual gifts. However, the gifts themselves are temporary and they are often limited by our human imperfections. Eventually they will come to an end. So Paul is reminding us to get our priorities right. Love is eternal and it is more important than the gifts, which will pass. Paul's point is as simple as that.

The big question remains: does the Bible actually say when prophecy, knowledge, tongues and other gifts will end?

In fact this is very clearly stated more than once: '...whenthat which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.' (My emphasis) This doesn't mean that tongues will cease and then one day, perhaps a thousand years later, something perfect will come along. It means that these gifts will cease as and when the perfect thing comes, this is exactly what it says.

In essence, the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 expands a verse that Paul wrote earlier, in which the timing of the ending of spiritual gifts is even more precise.

1 Cor 1:5-9

…In every thing you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that you come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

My understanding of this passage is that all spiritual gifts will continue during the waiting period, until the day when the Lord Jesus returns, described here as the end. It also indicates that God will not abandon his true people, but will continue to enrich and empower them with all spiritual gifts and knowledge until the revelation of seeing our Saviour face to face. The Day of the Lord's return and our meeting with Him is clearly the perfect thing that will replace spiritual gifts. It also shows that God considers that spiritual gifts are important for His Church. This excludes the possibility that tongues ceased when the last Apostle died, as some say. Was the death of the last living Apostle really the 'perfect thing' that would arrive? I find that hard to believe!



WHAT IS THE PERFECT THING THAT PAUL SPEAKS ABOUT ?

In my experience there are two main contenders amongst theologians for the title of 'That Which is Perfect' in 1 Cor 13:10.

The first view is that the Bible is the perfect thing. I believe that the original inspiration was the directly inerrant Word of God but written down by men, and not necessarily as dictation. I love Scripture and delight in its study, but as it was given to us over a period of thousands of years, it's hard to state exactly when it arrived. The Protestant versions of the combined Old and New Testaments have undergone a long process of authentication, compilation, translation and distribution from the second century AD to the present day and it's still being worked on but, I believe it points us to the perfect thing. So, let us look at the wonderful alternative.

The second contender is 'The Day of the Lord' and it seems clear to me that this is indicated in both of the Corinthian references I've used and also in Joel's prophecy, which Peter quoted to the crowds after Pentecost:

Acts 2 v 16-21

But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days;And they shall prophesy.I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath:Blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness,And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LordShall be saved.’



SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE LINKED TO THE DAY OF THE LORD.

There is no reason to doubt that there could be a second appearance of gifts, even if they had dwindled for a period. The prophet Joel hints at this when he talks about the blessings of the 'former and the latter rain' in Joel 2 :23. In any case his prophecy has not yet been entirely fulfilled because it goes even further into the future than our present time, so we are included in this prophecy along with gifts and salvation.

I want to re-iterate here that I don't believe that we should consider Scripture itself as a contender for the title of 'The Perfect Thing'. God's Word is, I believe, exactly what God wanted and still wants to say to us but, when looking for a specific time and fulfilment for that which is perfect, the Bible itself points us to the prophesied alternative.

Having talked about the perfect thing, in 1 Cor 13:12 Paul goes on to say: 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.

Paul is obviously talking about the same face to face meeting that's mentioned in

Revelation 22:1-5 :

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.

We see here 'That which is Perfect' :

The Day of the Lord

The Throne of the Lord

The Light of the Lord

Seeing Jesus face to face

No sickness or pain

No more curse

No night

Immortality.


The Canon of the Old and New Testaments has been completed and circulated widely, but have all these perfect things happened yet? The answer has to be no, however the Scripture points us forwards to the Day of the Lord. It is interesting to note that since the invention of the printing press, when the Scriptures became more generally available, they also provided us with a widely accessible reference point for testing spiritual things. This in turn led to the Reformation, but still, that was not the perfect thing spoken of in the Bible.

Scripture is the God-given vehicle that transports us to that perfect day, but it's not in itself the perfect destination. In the same way, the Bible is the vehicle that takes us to Jesus.

Despite the claim that the spiritual gifts ended when the last Apostle died, this could not be the case because nothing perfect was there to replace them. Instead of perfection, the Church fell into an appalling decline, exploring idolatry, mysticism, animism, gnosticism, religiosity, the murder of doctrinal opponents, greed for land and property and lust for power and sexual pleasure etc. There were no 'golden years' without the spiritual gifts. No one can say 'Hallelujah, tongues ceased' There is nothing in history to support this view. History does not give us a complete or accurate record of events. Ancient history says very little about the man in the street, it records the big names and the headline events. The interpretation of history is also changed radically depending on the political and religious convictions of writers, translators, editors and, at the end of the line, by the beliefs of their readership. With the passing of time, assumptions can become conclusions and conclusions begin to be treated as unquestionable facts. Because of this, we should not treat Church history and tradition as having the same authority and integrity as God-inspired Scripture. However, in examining the behaviour of the Church over the centuries we can well understand how 'Jesus could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief.'



WHEN DID TONGUES OF ANGELS AND TONGUES OF MEN FIRST APPEAR?

In our wrangling over doctrine, I feel that we have missed the simple and practical reasons for gifts to come to an end. Let's take a closer look at the real reasons why tongues and other spiritual gifts will cease.

Although there will be people from many different nations in Heaven, I can't believe that there will be hundreds of different languages spoken, that wouldn't be perfection. The diversity of languages that we have today are the direct result of a sin, and that was the building of the City and Tower of Babel. This was a vain attempt by evil men to become equal with God, as we read inGenesis 11:5-9. These descendants of Noah also wanted to settle together as a group rather than obey God's instructions to go and populate the whole world. They planned to build a large city for themselves and settle there, in defiance of God's expressed will for them. The resulting punishment from God led to the multitude of languages we have today, it was a curse for their sinful pride. After Babel, men had to start learning to communicate from scratch, because they no longer had the ability to understand God's universal language. The family groups and communities were separated from each other by God and spread throughout the World so they were forced to develop their own languages.

We see this stated in Genesis 11:1-2 'Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.'

Genesis 11 v 9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.


God did not confuse the rebels at Babel by making them speak in tongues, as some wrongly conclude, rather he removed man's ability to understand the heavenly language.

Gen 11:7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. It's clearly stated.


When Adam and Eve were created they were obviously able to communicate without having to learn a language. When God spoke to them, they immediately understood Him and replied to Him. They also spoke to each other. In addition, Satan spoke to them and they understood and talked with him. It might well be said that Adam and Eve were pre-gifted with this heavenly language.

Their single language had been imparted to them by God, and even Satan (a fallen angel) already spoke it. So, we are safe to call this method of communication a heavenly language, or the language of the angels. What is certain is that 'the tongues of men' are the 'earthly', man-made, and constantly evolving languages that we speak in our every day lives. Neither is there is anything in Scripture to support the idea that God gave the descendants of Noah new and different languages like Spanish or English.

We can see that the many different tongues of men, the man-made languages which were the result of God's curse, are the ones that will cease, not the tongues of angels, because this is the language of Heaven where one day God's original purpose of a single universal language will be restored. We will all have the ability to speak the heavenly language, and also to fully understand it, just as Adam and Eve did when walking with God in the Garden of Eden. In Heaven we will have the glorious liberty of understanding each other too, regardless of when we lived, or where we lived.I find it significant that Adam's only contribution to the language is recorded in Scripture. God gave Adam the responsibility of naming the living creatures.


The distinct meaning of the phrase 'the tongues of men and the tongues of angels' is thus firmly established in Scripture from the very beginning.


Our native languages will clearly not be allowed in Heaven, it states in Rev 22 there will not be any curse present. We will all speak in the tongues of angels. It's important to note here that there are two parts to speaking in tongues; speaking and understanding, they are two separate spiritual gifts.

The Apostle Paul also confirms that there are distinct tongues of men and tongues of angels when he pleads for believers to walk in God's love:

1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.


So yes, I believe that after the Day of the Lord, the tongues of men will cease because they are in an earthly language, but the spoken language of Heaven will continue for eternity. The implication is that speaking in the tongues of angels is the only oral spiritual gift that is eternal. Let me reiterate this more clearly: When referring to the spiritual gifts; (a) the 'tongues of men' is when someone speaks by divine unction in an understandable earthly language which they have never learned. (b) The 'tongues of angels' is when someone speaks in the Heavenly language. This can sometimes be understood if, by the unction of the Holy Spirit, someone interprets it.



THE RAPTUROUS CHANGE WHEN THE TONGUES OF MEN CEASE.

In 1 Cor 13:12Paul continues to explain the differences between the earthly and heavenly things:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

This can legitimately be interpreted as saying: 'then I shall understand fully, even as I am fully understood.' This indicates a common tongue, so no curse like a language barrier in Heaven. I believe that this is part of what Paul is saying here. I look forward to having a conversation with Paul, but I fear that the queue might be very long!

Those who speak in tongues today, in an earthly language that they haven't learned, but which turns out to be a language of men, (1 Cor 14 v 22) are giving a sign to unbelievers. (This still happens today and I expand this further in my notes, which I encourage you to read.) Those who speak in tongues privately, as Paul recommends in 1 Cor 14:2, are speaking to God in the language of Heaven as they worship and pray in the Spirit. Paul makes it clear that he uses tongues in his private prayer more than anyone.

Using the gift of tongues in our own personal prayer and worship before God is a precious and powerful foretaste of Eternal life. No wonder that some call it the ecstatic gift. God gives this to us for our benefit and delight!



THE END OF PROPHECY.

1 Cor 13:8

Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Paul also mentions prophecy coming to an end. The reasons for this are practical and obvious too. Prophecy is the result of our eternal God stepping into the realm of time and space and revealing something about the future. After the Day of the Lord, God's people will no longer live in time and space, but in eternity. We will be given a full and clear understanding. It is only mortals who need prophecy. Take a look at the rest of the spiritual gifts for yourself and you will find that most, become redundant when we become immortal beings. Therefore when we all speak and understand the common language in Heaven, the use of oral gifts in our native tongues can cease, fail and vanish. All our different human languages will be redundant.

It's not the case that God actually withdraws any of the spiritual gifts, God's calling and gifts are without repentance, as we read in Romans 11:29, but they will be transcended by something more glorious and eternal! This is why their departure is described in such terms as: they will fail, cease or vanish. The same thing happened with the arrival of the New Covenant, it transcended or superseded the Old Covenant with something that was far better. The Old Covenant was referred to as obsolete. It would vanish away. Spiritual gifts will be obsolete too, when we are clothed with immortality.


IS SPEAKING IN TONGUES A SIGN OF A SUPERIOR CHRISTIAN?

I've spent a total of 35 years in churches where tongues were accepted and 27 years in Churches where they were not welcomed. I must say that both of these streams of Christian belief contain mature and also immature Christians. Maturity is not indicated by whether someone speaks in tongues or not. Maturity is rather the result of a profound and steady relationship with God, which in turn produces spiritual growth, fruit and holiness in our lives. The aim being that we should be so empty of self that we have room to be full of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the division among God's people about tongues, arises from man-made arguments on both sides, which are not based on humility and love.

No matter what the stage is of your Christian walk, speaking in the language of Heaven can only be an encouragement, a strength, a resource, and a blessing to you. However, while we wait for Jesus to return, we must be careful that spiritual gifts are used in a submissive, loving and Biblical way. We need to be aware that Satan has made counterfeits of all the spiritual gifts! This is why they should always be subject to the authority and discernment of the Church leaders and motivated by the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, this is not always the case, and it's one more reason why the Church desperately needs mature, discerning leaders, rather than egocentric super-stars. This is why we need to hold fast to the Word of God, which is the ultimate yardstick for testing spiritual things.

Luke 11:13 'If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

I remember in the late 70s, digital information was transferred by means of sound. Listening to the audible data stream was far from pleasant. The computer language seemed to have less than 10 distinct sounds and yet massive amounts of information was transferred in a few minutes. You couldn't understand anything you heard. We didn't dismiss or ridicule the computer language though and we learned to appreciate it.

God has now given to us the beautiful and powerful Heavenly language, OK we don't always understand it, yet... but this is no excuse to turn our backs and ridicule it. Paul makes it clear that it's lack of love that turns tongues into an empty noise. This applies both to the hearer and the speaker.


To get a fuller picture of this subject, please read the notes below about 7 Biblical reasons for tongues and also go to my blog about 'Spiritual Gifts', also on this website.


Martin Edwyn




NOTES

THE SEVEN OR MORE USES FOR TONGUES seen in Scripture


I've often heard it said that there was only one purpose for speaking in tongues and this was to speak to the international audience after Pentecost. This is simply not a true statement. The New Testament, also records the continued use of tongues within the Church, and gives at least 7 good uses for speaking in tongues.


  1. To tell the Gospel to those of a different language by divine unction. This still happens today. I've lost count of the number of testimonies I've heard during more than 60 years, of people who were converted because they heard someone speaking in tongues in their own language, sometimes even rare tribal dialects. We have a close friend who now holds a very responsible job in the British Government in Whitehall, her father was a Muslim, he threatened to kill her if she didn't renounce her Christian faith, she didn't. When he finally decided to carry out her execution, she was only 16 years old, she didn't know what to do, she was terrified and so spoke to him in tongues. She had no idea what she said, but her father was horrified by her words, he dropped the knife and rushed out of the room asking where she had learned to speak Hebrew! Their relationship improved after that and he accepted that she could continue in her faith.
  2. 1 Cor 14 v 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. I have not spoken in tongues publicly for many years because I believe if God wants me to say something I can now do it in my own language. However the amazing blessing of being able to communicate with God in a spiritual language when I pray privately and I'm lost for words, or simply don't know what I should be praying for, is such a blessing. Sometimes I'm aware that I'm praying profound things and praying in God's will. When I pray in tongues privately I sometimes do understand what I'm saying, but the ability to express myself is clearly far deeper than just my own words (groaning that cannot be uttered). Paul clearly encourages tongues in private, he says we are speaking to God.
  3. Paul encourages everyone to speak in tongues, it's a spiritual gift from God, but he discourages it in public meetings, unless there is someone present who can give the interpretation. 1 Cor, 14 v 18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
  4. It's a sign to unbelievers Cor 14 v 21-22 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. I am convinced that God still uses tongues to challenge unbelievers or to confirm them in their unbelief.
  5. Tongues, with an interpretation can edify the Church 1 Cor 14 v 26-28 Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Sometimes, however, God often gives two different people an interpretation of a tongue and it's a great encouragement to hear afterwards that someone else would have given the same interpretation, it's a conformation.
  6. Tongues can be a way to build yourself up when you are down or tired. Paul takes advantage of this resource himself and says that he speaks in tongues more than anyone. Perhaps it's no wonder, as he really suffered for the Gospel. Building yourself up in this way is not at the expense of, or in competition with others in the Church, but simply drawing on a God given resource. Cor 14 v 4 - 5 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
  7. We are encouraged to pray and sing in tongues and also with our understanding. 1 Cor 14 v 14 'For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. It's not an 'either or' type of instruction, it's a third option; you can do both.


Apparently there are historical records that show that speaking in tongues was practiced by pagan religions even before Pentecost. If this is true, it's not surprising, as the world is infested with Satan's fallen angels, I can well believe that these angels can indwell and influence people. It did not stop God from giving this gift to His Church at Pentecost though. For this reason I don't believe that speaking in tongues is the proof of being full of Holy Spirit. Even tongues need to be discerned! But rather let the visible evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in the believer's lives be the measure.

Matt 7 v 16 You shall know them by their fruits.


Running alongside the Old Testament Prophets, there were always pagan Diviners and Prognosticators, but God continued to speak to people through Prophecy. The same situation exists with tongues today, although there is the counterfeit, this does not mean that all tongues are ungodly. What is needed today are leaders who will take each spiritual manifestation seriously and weigh it against Scripture and then deal with it appropriately, it's far too easy to sweep this responsibility aside by using blanket over-generalisations.





HISTORICAL NOTES if you have historical questions arising from the main text.


I believe that Scripture is the inspired word of God and I accept that by faith.


History itself is largely the history of men. My personal research into the history of the Church after the first century, has revealed an alarming and depressing diversity of recorded information. I'm far from alone in doubting the absolute reliability of un-inspired recorded history. History as we have it, is the best that we can come up with when comparing old documents. We need to rid ourselves of thinking that a document that's authentically old must be authentically true. The understanding of history is changed radically depending on who writes it, what their political or religious beliefs were, and who they were writing for. History can also be coloured by the convictions of both the translator and the reader. We need to remember that most written history has a hidden political agenda, even quite recent history.


Most weeks for several years I've had regular sessions with a French Catholic Avocat (barrister) and Professor of Medieval History. He is a much published French historian who has discovered ancient material that often changes our established understanding of the past. For me though, a striking feature of our conversations is how much his own religious and political beliefs can colour the interpretation of the historical evidence he finds. He is, however, extremely ethical and is searching for the truth.


The History of the Church since the 2nd century has been recorded from widely different perspectives. There are pre-Catholic documents and later Catholic versions of the History of the Church, but they differ somewhat from non-Catholic history. Of course the big names and the big events might be the same, but after that, the understanding of history from the two sides is often incompatible. Rarely does the man-in-the-street get a mention, but to know more of the truth, this is where we should be looking as well, because these people are the Church too. In order for God to fulfil His promises and for Scripture itself to be fulfilled, there must have been a core of Christians who were not extremists like those who have made the historical headlines. We know very little information about these ordinary people, or how they lived their Christian lives in the period up to 1000AD and I must add, we don't know whether or not they practiced spiritual gifts - the subject does not arise. Some people claim that as soon as the last of the original Apostles died, all the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit disappeared. However the church then declined and slipped into all kinds of heresy, or distorted the teachings of Jesus. This terrible state of affairs can certainly be levelled at both Catholics and non-Catholics. It makes a lot of sense to say that 'God could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief.' If the gifts of the Holy Spirit really did cease at this time, and we don't know this for certain, it was that God could not give His na me or the Holy Spirit's power to the life of the church that emerged during the next 1500 years or so. However, the extremists in the church caused many awful deeds to be done in the name of Christianity even after the Protestant Revolution occurred.


We like to think that somehow, through the mess that the Church got into, there were still a trickle of faithful people who believed in and practiced Christ’s teaching. Just like Elijah's 7000 hidden but faithful Israelites, or the faithful few who were ready and waiting when Jesus was born, many of us believe in a remnant who were devout followers Jesus. This must have been the case otherwise Scriptural prophecies and promises could not be true. It has to be said that whether or not these grass-root Christians practiced speaking in tongues has almost no historical support either way. It is extremely unlikely to have been recorded even if they did practice this gift, this was an underground Church. We must bear in mind that the main teaching that we have in the New Testament about tongues and other gifts, concerned their misuse by the Corinthians. Clearly where they were working well, there was no need for written doctrine to control them, so outside of the Bible no historical record was left for us. As far as I can see, there is not a solitary mention by anyone in ancient history actually saying that spiritual gifts had finished and even if there was, could we really trust it? There are perhaps up to ten historical mentions of speaking in tongues or prophecy during the first millennium though, but these incidents were about notable people who spoke in tongues or practiced some other spiritual gift, they were already the headline makers, whose characters, were in some cases maligned, but for others, their integrity is also strongly claimed.


My point is that anyone who will judge and condemn all of the millions of Christians today who speak in tongues, without knowing them personally, needs more than doubtful history and a lack of verifiable evidence. No one has the historical or Scriptural right to say that spiritual gifts have actually ceased!

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Martin Edwyn 2015/2016