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What About Tongues and Prophecy?
by Pastor John Giarrizzo
Speaking in tongues and the use of prophecy continues to be an issue over which many evangelical Christians are confused and divided. As, Reformed Baptists, we believe that tongues and prophecies have ceased.1 Because we believe Scripture teaches the cessation of tongues and prophecies, we typically refer to ourselves as “Cessationists.” Those who believe that tongues and prophecies continue today are called “Continuationists.” These terms are not meant to be derogatory, but are merely used to avoid confusion when stating or identifying one’s position on these issues. All Reformed Baptists are by confession Cessationists. We believe that tongues and prophecies served an important role during the infancy of the early church, before the New Testament was completed. I liken the temporary nature of tongues and prophecies to the scaffolding that builders erect when they are constructing a new building. Scaffolding serves an important purpose during the construction stage, but once the building is completed, it can become an impediment to the function of the building unless it is removed. Likewise, now that we have the complete Word of God, we see in Scripture that the scaffolding of tongues and prophecies has since been removed.
In O. P. Robertson’s book, THE FINAL WORD, he sets forth four biblical reasons why the tongues that are manifested today are different from those seen in the New Testament. The tongues manifested today are different from those of the New Testament because:
1. Tongues are revelational.
Once a tongue was interpreted (or translated), the message delivered by the tongue was brought up to the level of divinely inspired prophecy, so that the church was edified, as 1 Cor. 14:5 shows.
2. Tongues were foreign languages.
So, the gift of speaking in tongues involved speaking in a foreign language never studied. This is clear from Acts 2:6 & further clarified by Paul’s quote from the O.T. (Isa.28:11-12) in 1 Cor. 14:21, which clearly speaks about foreign languages. This quote further demonstrates that Tongues were divine speech and are therefore revelational. Also keep in mind the fact that the tongues at Corinth could be translated, further suggesting that they were foreign languages. Therefore, since the tongues of today are not foreign languages known to man, they should be regarded as a phenomenon that is not authorized or sanctioned by the New Testament Scriptures.
3. Tongues were spiritual gifts for public consumption, not private use.
By definition, a spiritual gift in the NT was granted to individuals in order that they might be a blessing to the people of God – This is taught in 1 Cor. 12:4-7. Notice how Paul proceeds to develop the concept of the church as a body, beginning with v. 12ff. By using the analogy of the human body, we can appreciate the importance of each part or member of the body in aiding and assisting the rest of the body. The theme of 1 Corinthians 14 is the regulation of spiritual gifts in the church assemblies. Paul is here giving guidelines for the proper use of tongues in the congregation. We see from all this that NT Tongues were never meant to be private, but were intended for the whole body, like all other spiritual gifts are.
4. Because Tongues were a Sign.
O. Palmer Robertson writes:
God typically does not surprise His people with something totally unexpected. He prepares them so that they can understand what He is doing. This principle applies to the manifestation of the gift of tongues in the New Testament. God did not suddenly introduce the phenomenon of tongues as something wholly new on the day of Pentecost. There were Old Testament prophecies that set the stage for the tongues that were to come.2 Once more tongues serve as a sign of covenantal judgment on a disobedient nation. When the ‘babbling Babylonians’ invade Israel, speaking their strange dialect, then God’s covenant people will know that judgment has come on them.3 So Scripture presents a unified testimony about the significance of tongues. Prophecies from the 15th century B.C., the 8th Century, & the 6th Century B.C. all unite to make the same point – When foreign languages overrun Israel, they will be a sign that God’s judgment has come. 4
I would now like for us to take an in-depth look at what Paul says about tongues and prophecies, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. As you know, 1 Corinthians 13 has often been dubbed, “The Love Chapter,” because of its description of love, which is set forth is vs. 4-7. This emphasis on “love” has led some to view chapter 13 as parenthetical to the greater context of chapters 12-14. In other words, some may see chapter 13 as an intermission between a stage-play consisting of 2 Acts. Some think Paul began his train of thought on spiritual gifts in chapter 12, then lost his train of thought in chapter 13, but then recovered it in chapter 14. But as we take a closer look at this section, you’ll see that Paul’s train of thought was never “derailed” at chapter 13, but rather it is a vital part of the larger context and all 3 chapters fit together in one nice package.
Chapter 13 fits in well between chapter 12 and 14 by emphasizing the need for spiritual gifts to be exercised in the context of Christian love. I want you to note 3 groups of contrasts in these verses. Group One is the contrast between the spiritual gifts of verse 8 and the Christian virtues of verse 13. This contrast between gifts and virtues is also a contrast between what’s temporary in verse 8 and permanent in verse 13. This is the main or primary contrast Paul is making and the next two subordinate groups of contrasting metaphors help to illustrate this first contrast of Group One. Group two is the contrast between within verse 11, between childhood and manhood. Group Three is the contrast between verse 12 – between dim-mirror and face-to-face vision.
These 3 spiritual gifts mentioned in v. 8 of Prophecies, Tongues, Knowledge are also found together in 1 Cor. 14:6, alongside other gifts through which God communicated His will in a supernatural manner that involved infallible revelation. It is important to see here that prophesying represents a spiritual gift – the gift of prophesying. The New American Standard Bible reads, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” It is accurate to say that all prophets prophesied, but not all who prophesied were prophets. We can gather this from such texts as Luke 1:67, where we are told that John the Baptist’s father prophesied, “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.” Zechariah was not a prophet – but a priest who on this one occasion was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. We also see something similar to this in Num. 11:24-25; 1 Sam. 10:1-17; John 11:47-52; Jude 1:4-15 (read). It seems that one would have to prophesy on more than one occasion to be recognized as a prophet. This was also the case in Corinth, as seen in 1 Cor. 14:26-33 & 37 (NIV: “a prophet or spiritually gifted”).
Another interesting observation is that prophesying was closely connected with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (as seen in 1 Sam. 10:6; Luke 1:67; Acts 2:17-18). Another interesting observation is that not all prophesying involved predicting the future (Lk 1:67-79). But we believe that all prophecy involved the proclamation of divine revelation that infallibly revealed the will of God.
We can say that Prophecy, Tongues interpreted and Knowledge were equivalent to God’s Special Revelation. In 1 Corinthians 14:5-6 we find the term revelation used in conjunction with knowledge, prophecy and teaching – all of which in this context involve the communication of God’s will. The correspondence between tongues, prophecies and revelation is even more prominent in 1 Cor. 14:26-33. Revelation is God communicating His divine will to man (see Gal. 1:12; Eph. 3:1-7). So, we can safely say that the Prophecy, Tongues, and Knowledge that are expressed in 1 Cor. 13:8 consisted of infallible revelation that was communicated by the Holy Spirit to the members of the church at Corinth. And Paul is writing here to inform them that a time was coming when these 3 gifts would cease.
When were these extraordinary gifts expected to cease?
Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 13:10 – “when the perfect comes.” What is meant by the Perfect in this text? The Perfect is the completion of a process of revelation which was finalized and therefore terminated in the completion of the New Testament. It seems likely that these revelatory gifts of prophecies, tongues and knowledge had already ceased even before the NT was completed.
By the time that the Apostles, prophets, and evangelists had died, the church was mature with the completed Scriptures in hand and under the leadership of local pastor-teachers, ready to face the non-Christian world without apostolic assistance.5
Paul goes on to support the idea of the cessation of these 3 revelatory gifts, in vs. 11-12. In these two verses Paul uses 2 different contrasts to illustrate the one point made earlier in vs. 8-10. Paul’s main point is that when the perfect or complete thing comes, these imperfect or incomplete things will pass away. And the first contrast he gives to support this is seen in v. 11, “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
First Contrast: Mature vs. Childish
The contrast is between a child and a man – or between childhood and manhood. Paul wanted the Corinthian church to begin thinking of the future the benefits of mature, adult revelation in the completed Scriptures. When that time arrived, they would leave behind these child-like forms of communicating truth. Paul expands upon this mature vs. childish contrast by using himself as an example to show how at one time his speaking, thinking, and reasoning were all child-like, but upon reaching adulthood he gave up childish things. We must remember that this coming to maturity is the completion of a gradual process. A boy doesn’t instantly become a man in just one day, but gradually over several years. This is why this childhood to manhood contrast cannot support a “death” or “Second Coming” interpretation of the “perfect,” since they are instantaneous events and not a gradual process. This childhood to manhood contrast illustrates how “the perfect” comes gradually, not suddenly. That was how the books of the New Testament came to us – gradually over 4 or 5 decades, in the 1st Century.
So, one side of this childhood to manhood contrast illustrates the arrival of the completed revelation, while the other side illustrates the departure of Prophecies, Tongues and Knowledge. Just as the childhood stage gradually disappeared in Paul’s life, never to return, so the childhood stage of Prophecies, Tongues and Knowledge disappeared among the Church, never to return. Like a river that gradually runs dry over time, so these revelatory gifts gradually dried up, as the reservoir of New Testament books reached its fullness. To keep promoting such revelatory gifts is to return back to the childhood stage, after reaching mature adulthood. Paul concludes this illustration by saying, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (NIV: “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” NASB: “when I became a man, I did away with childish things”).
Second Contrast: Mirror vs. Face to Face
The second contrast Paul gives to support his point is found in v. 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Another way we could express this would be to call it Reflective in contrast to Direct. When Paul says, “we see in a mirror dimly,” he is clearly speaking metaphorically. There was no literal mirror in which everyone was looking. 6 The NIV translation reads: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” The mirrors of those days consisted of polished bronze and weren’t nearly as sharp and clear as mirrors today.
Also note the words “Now” and “then” in v. 12. If I could paraphrase this verse, I would write it like this: “For now, during this childhood stage of revelation, we 1st century believers see the big picture, as though we were looking at it thru a dim mirror,7 but then, when we reach the adult stage of completed revelation, we will see the whole picture as though we were looking at it directly in the face.”
Many interpreters believe this phrase, “seeing face to face” refers to seeing Christ’s face when He returns. Therefore, they interpret this literally as the literal face of Christ. But there are a couple of problems with this approach.
Problem One: Figurative, not Literal.
When Paul writes about seeing in a mirror dimly, does he mean literally or figuratively? Remember this was a metaphor – there was no literal mirror people were looking into. So, if Paul is not being literal in the 1st half of this phrase, why should we take the 2nd half literally? Can’t the word face be used metaphorically, also? (See Luke 21:35; Acts 17:26)
Matt. 16:2-3 He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (NKJ). If Paul was referring to the face of Christ in our text, he would have likely used the personal pronoun and would have written “but then we will see Him face to face.” There is no direct object in this sentence – leaving us to wonder just what it was that they were seeing in a mirror and what it was they were to see face to face.
Problem Two: Seeing with the mind, not the eyes.
Another problem with interpreting this expression as seeing the literal face of Christ is that Paul didn’t mean seeing with our physical eyes, but seeing with our understanding (Do you see what I mean? See Heb. 2:8-9; 3:18-19). Paul writes in Eph. 1:18 “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling. . .” So, the seeing which Paul writes of in 1 Cor. 13:12 involves seeing with the eyes of the understanding. Paul is referring to our perception of God’s will and the metaphor of a mirror demands a figurative reference to intellectual perception. Special attention must also be given to what Paul and the Corinthians were presently seeing – but a poor reflection (NIV). The word Paul uses is aivni,gmati which may refer to a dim or obscure image.8 Paul shows that a time was coming when their perception of God’s will would go from reflective mirror perception and advance to face to face perception. The difference was due to the two distinct forms of revelation. The “dim mirror” form of revelation, communicated through Prophecies, Tongues and Knowledge would give way to the “face to face” revelation communicated in the NT Scriptures. Paul was preparing his readers for the time when they would no longer need to rely upon the partial and obscure communications through Prophecies, Tongues and Knowledge.
Problem Three: Seeing vs. speaking face to face
Another problem with interpreting this expression as the literal face of Christ is that Paul never refers to seeing someone “face to face.” We typically wouldn’t speak of seeing someone face to face, but rather seeing them “eye to eye.” Scripture supports this in several places, such as Jeremiah 32:4, “Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but he shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall speak with him face to face, and see him eye to eye.” A similar text is Jeremiah 34:3, ‘And you will not escape from his hand, for you will surely be captured and delivered into his hand; and you will see the king of Babylon eye to eye, and he will speak with you face to face, and you will go to Babylon.’” Similar expressions are also seen in 2 John 12, “Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full.”
3 John 14, but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”
So, Scripture speaks of seeing eye to eye and speaking face to face, not seeing face to face, except here in 1 Corinthians 13:12. However, there are two important texts in Scripture which I believe provide an essential key for unlocking the meaning behind Paul’s use of this phrase.
Exodus 33:11a, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” While this text tells of the LORD speaking “face to face” with Moses, it does not automatically mean that Moses actually saw the Lord “eye to eye.” We read further, in this same context we read in Exodus 33:18-23, Then Moses said, “I pray you, show me your glory!” 19 And He said, “I myself will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see my face, for no man can see me and live!” 21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while my glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 “Then I will take my hand away and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
So, in light of Exodus 33:11 and 33:20 & 23, the natural question would be, “How could the LORD speak to Moses face to face (v. 11), without Moses ever seeing the LORD’s face (vs. 20 & 23)? The answer may simply be when verse 11 says, “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,” it is used figuratively to express both the intimacy and quality of their communication. This is supported by the following phrase in v. 11, “just as a man speaks to his friend.” This phrase would prohibit us from placing a literal interpretation upon the first phrase, because a person can just as easily speak face to face with a total stranger as they could a friend. The phrase, just as a man speaks to his friend, reinforces the idea of intimacy and quality of communication between two people. This text deserves further attention since it uses the phrase face to face in reference to the manner of the LORD’s communication with Moses.
Numbers 12:5-8, “Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6He said, “Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. 7“Not so, with my servant Moses, he is faithful in all my household; 8With him I speak mouth to mouth,9 Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?””
Here we see a contrast between two recipients (prophets and Moses) and between two forms of communication (visions/dreams and “mouth to mouth”). In verse 6, the LORD declares, “If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.” In verse 8 the LORD declares that He speaks with Moses mouth to mouth, and then clarifies this in the next phrase, “Even openly, and not in dark sayings.” Once again we find in this phrase a contrast between the manner in which God spoke to Moses (openly) and the way He spoke to the prophets (in dark sayings). Here we are reminded that there were prophets in the days of Moses.10 So, even though God spoke to both Moses and the prophets, He spoke to one in veiled sayings and to the other clearly. Here is a clear example of God communicating His will to two different recipients, through two different means of revelation – one is clear and the other obscure.
When the three contrasts are set beside each other their resemblance will become obvious.
Exodus 33:11…………………………..Numbers 12:8………………………….1 Corinthians 13:12
the LORD used to speak……………..With him I speak………………………..For now we see
to Moses face to face,…………………mouth to mouth,………………………..in a mirror dimly,
just as a man speaks………………….even openly,……………………………..but then face to face
to his friend……………………………….not in dark sayings
It would be difficult to prove that Paul was alluding to Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:8 when he wrote 1 Corinthians13:12. But the text in Numbers 12:8 sets a scriptural precedent for distinguishing between two different forms of divine communication. This begs the question as to whether Paul is doing the same in our text. We do know these revelatory gifts are referred to as that which is partial (vs. 9-10). We know that Paul is addressing the future termination of these three gifts which involve the communication of God’s will. We also know that the future termination of these three revelatory gifts will occur before or when the perfect comes.
Therefore, it seems unlikely that Paul was trying to explain to the Corinthians that these three gifts would pass away when Christ returns, for the following reasons:
It would be inconsistent with the argument Paul is making in 1 Cor. 13:8-13. Paul is seeking to correct the Corinthian’s unhealthy desire for those spiritual gifts which brought attention to themselves and led to an unhealthy environment in their local church. Paul urges them to exercise all gifts in the context of love (13:4-8a).
1See the Position Paper of The Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America at: http://22.214.171.124/arbca/pdf/Revelatory_Gifts.PDF
2O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word (Carlisle, The Banner of Truth Trust), 1993, 41-42. (Some of these Old Testament prophecies are Deut. 28:49; Isa. 28:11; Jeremiah 5:15).
3The Final Word, 46.
5Robert Gromachi, The modern Tongues Movement (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972), p. 127
6Paul’s use of ble,pomen should be understood figuratively, as in Heb. 2:9 & 3:19. See also Rom. 7:23; 2 Cor. 7:8. The fact that is in the Present Active Indicative indicates that Paul was referring to the current situation at the time he was writing. The plural singular may likely be an editorial “we” yet would embrace the manner in which believers at that point in time were seeing things.
7Paul doesn’t say what (or whose) reflection he presently sees, but that what he sees is but a poor reflection of something, giving the impression of one looking at another object through a dim mirror, like looking at something through a dirty or fuzzy window.
8This word is found in the Septuagint, in Numbers 12:8 – diV aivnigma,twn. 1 Cor. 13:12 – .dat. neut. sing. ai;nigma, (enigma) dim or obscure image.
9The phrase mouth to mouth (hP,-la, hP) is similar to face to face (~ynIP’-la, ~ynIP), in Exodus 33:11.
10Abraham is called a prophet in Genesis 20:7 and Miriam, the sister of Moses, is called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20. See also Numbers 11:25-29.