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Praying in the Spirit: That Glorious Day When Tongues are Not Needed: Until Then … Part 2

The second part of the sixth chapter of the Praying in the Spirit Series. Author Robert Graves continues to examine the claim that tongues are not needed today. He argues convincingly that tongues are needed and will continue until the return of Jesus Christ.

Robert W. Graves wrote Praying in the Spirit (Chosen Books) in 1987, when it received great reviews from a number of Pentecostal/charismatic scholars and leaders including John Sherrill, Dr. Vinson Synan, Dr. Gordon Fee, Dr. William Menzies, Dr. Howard Ervin, Dr. Walter Martin, and Dr. Stanley Horton. It is the great privilege of the Pneuma Review to republish it here.


Completed Scriptures

For those dating the cessation of the charismata at AD 90-98 and into the second century, the inscribed revelation of the New Testament plays a momentous role—it is indeed the cessation factor. But even among these there is no agreement upon why and when. We go from the New Testament being written, to its being “circulated,” to its being made “available,” to its being “accepted by the Church.”

For some choosing the completed New Testament as the cessation factor, it is only a matter of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 being fulfilled: “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease … when that which is perfect is come …” (KJV). For these the “perfect” to come is the New Testament, which culminated when the last letter of Holy Writ was penned. But the great majority of commentaries and many cessationists (see Figure 1) reject this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When J was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The gift of tongues is man pouring out his finite soul as the Spirit gives utterance to a God capable of receiving all and loving enough to accept the totality of man’s expression.

No passage of Scripture has proved as rich to the debate between Pentecostals and cessationists as these six verses of Paul’s. If the cessationists are right about this passage, the Pentecostal-charismatic doctrine of spiritual gifts dissolves. On the other hand, if the Pentecostal-charismatic interpretation is correct, the continuity of the spiritual gifts between the Apostolic Age and today is clearly and forcefully affirmed. Within these six verses there are eight issues to resolve. In verse 8 there are the issues of the variation and voice of the verbs; in verse 9 there are the issues of the omission of tongues and the nature of the partial; in verse 10 the nature of the perfect is the issue; in verse 11 the illustration of childhood to manhood is the issue; in verse 12 the issue is the interpretation of the mirror illustration; finally, in verse 13 the issue is the meaning of the word translated now.

Issue #1: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (verse 8). There are three notable verbs in this verse: (I) prophecy will cease; (2) tongues will be stilled; (3) knowledge will pass away. In the original Greek the two verbs used with prophecy and knowledge are the same word, katarg‘th‘sontai, though translated into English differently. The verb used with tongues is a different, related word, pausontai. Based partially upon this variation in word choices, it is argued that tongues will cease before the other two gifts (Baxter, p.64; C. R. Smith, pp. 82-83; Thomas, JETS, p. 81; Toussaint, p.314).

The few cessationists I have heard use this argument offer no proof from other biblical or non-biblical sources that justifies it: The variation of the words does not make a distinction in time. The research of Paul Elbert confirms this. Arguing for charismatic continuity, he has shown from other New Testament passages and from classical Greek that a variation of related verbs does not signal distinctive changes in the meanings of the verb (see Elbert, pp. 30-32). Even cessationist Judisch agrees: “It would be speculative to see any reason for this change [of verbs] beyond literary elegance” (p. 82).

Issue #2: Not only is there variation in the verbs in verse 8, there is variation in the voice of the verbs. The word that controls prophecy and knowledge is in the passive voice—“They are being stopped”—whereas the word that controls tongues is in the middle voice, which may mean that the subject acts upon itself—“They shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves” (Robertson, Word, p. 179). This distinction is claimed as proof that tongues were to cease before the other two gifts (Baxter, p. 64; Dillow, p. 113; C. R. Smith, p. 83-84; Thomas, p. 105; Toussaint, pp. 314-3l5).

Actually, it may just as well prove that tongues last longer than prophecy and knowledge, assuming the variation of voice means anything at all. No one who is knowledgeable of the Greek language would say that when passive and middle voice synonyms are grouped together, the action of the middle verb takes place before the action of the passive verb. Furthermore, there is evidence that Paul could not have used the verbs he did in all passives or all middles. The verbs in question (katargēthēsontai, future passive; pausontai, future middle) did not regularly occur in both forms (Ervin, These, p. 218). In addition to this, the research of Elbert, which included the examination of 2,000 examples of the middle voice of “will be stilled,” confirmed the conclusions of other Greek scholars: The middle voice of this verb is used with the passive sense (pp. 26-27).

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Category: Spirit, Summer 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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