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Praying in the Spirit: That Glorious Day When Tongues are Not Needed: Until Then … Part 1

Tongues are for a Sign

Should we listen to the voice of unbelief: “There are no apostles today, no prophets either, no healings, no miracles, no tongues”? God forbid!

George Gardiner, Vernon Schutz, and other cessationists who believe that the sole purpose of the gift of tongues was as a sign to the Jews place incredible weight upon 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 (which quotes Isaiah 28:11-12): “In the Law it is written: ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,’ says the Lord. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.” Cessationist Walter J. Chantry calls this passage the “foundation text for tongues” (p. 58). Zeller argues that Paul’s use of Isaiah shows that Paul believed the only place to gain an understanding of tongues was in the Old Testament (p. 77). First Corinthians 14:22 is so central to Vander Lugt’s argument that it is printed on the front cover of his book. Pfeil writes (and underlines) the following about these verses: they are “the only specific purpose statement on tongues in the entire New Testament” (p. 38).

For some cessationists, these verses, and only these, prove that tongues had a specific and singular purpose, and that purpose was to condemn unbelieving Jews. That was the raison d’ etre of the gift of tongues (Judisch, pp. 41-42).

Once the singular function of tongues has been established through these verses, there is yet another step cessationists use to prove that tongues have ceased. It must be asserted that God has ended His judgment upon the Jews. We are told that this took place in AD 70 when the Roman emperor Titus leveled the Temple. Therefore, since the Jews have for all time been judged and since tongues were for only that purpose, the reason for tongues has been removed. Tongues, as Judisch writes, “pass[ed] away quietly with the smoke that arose from the temple fire” (p.43).

It cannot be established, however, that the Jews were once-and-for-all judged in AD 70; that is a theological construct, not an exegetical conclusion. Furthermore, the gift of tongues serves more than one function (see my articles in the Spring 1999 and Fall 1999 issues of the Pneuma Review).

The success of the cessationist’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 is based upon another assertion which, I believe, has not been proven. It involves a comparison of Paul’s and Isaiah’s words.

An attempt to match up Paul and Isaiah point-for-point reveals a major weakness. For example, in Isaiah the “words of judgment” are spoken by an invading pagan army; in Paul, they are spoken by Corinthian Christians. In Isaiah the speakers, who represented God’s judgment, would speak learned Assyrian; in Paul, the speech was an unlearned, unknown language. A strict point-for-point representation was not Paul’s intention. Rather, Paul is saying that just as the strange words of another people would not be of benefit to unbelieving Jews, so your charismatic tongues are of no benefit to unbelievers who enter your meetings.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2000

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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