It is very common today to hear stories of people experiencing God in unusual ways. Several books are currently available that describe someone’s trip to Heaven1 or Hell2 or they tell how God spoke to the author and told him to do something.3 This is nothing new. It has been going on for centuries in some form or another and has really become popular in the last several decades.
In the 1980’s, for example, one author wrote about his personal encounter with Jesus Christ. By “personal encounter,” the author did not mean that Jesus ministered to him in a special way. He meant that he physically saw Jesus. Here is what he writes:
Many people have asked me what Jesus looks like. He’s 5 feet 11 to 6 feet tall, and He’s got sandy brown hair. It’s not too long and it’s not too short. He is a perfect man. Whatever you picture as a perfect man, that’s what Jesus is. He’s perfect in everything – the way He looks, talks – everything. That’s the way I remember Him . . .
The third time I saw Jesus was when I was about 11 years old. Jesus walked in through the front door of my home while I was watching “Laverne & Shirley” on television. He came over and sat down beside me on the couch, kind of glanced at the TV, and everything in this natural world clicked off. I couldn’t hear the telephone or television set – all I heard was Jesus and all I saw was His glory.
He looked at me and said, “Roberts, I want you to study the lives of my generals in my great army throughout time. Know them like the back of your hand. Know why they were a success. Know why they failed. And you’ll want nothing in that area.” He got up, walked back out through the door, the TV clicked back on, and I resumed watching “Laverne & Shirley.”4
As bizarre as that sounds, it has become pretty common today to hear people talk like this. They claim to speak to Jesus face to face with the same casual manner that they speak to any other human being.5 They are given direct orders from the risen Christ to study His generals and they go back to watching “Laverne & Shirley” as if nothing ever happened.6 The living God reveals Himself to them and they do not tremble in fear. Instead, they continue watching television.
One of the most common ways that people claim to experience God today is through the gift of tongues.7 The contemporary version of this gift is nothing more than an incoherent babbling that a person performs when his emotions are heightened. It can sound repetitive like “La-La-La-La-La” or it can sound quite complex like “Bo-Blee-See-Ro-Nu-Da-Skrop-Kee-Rik-Shoe-Nai.”8 But, either way, when tongues are spoken today neither the speaker nor the listener knows what is being said.
To understand this a little better, here is how one seminar speaker “coaches” his audience to speak in tongues.
When you pray with your spirit, you do not think of the sounds of the language. Just trust God, but make the sounds when I tell you.
In just a moment when I tell you to, begin loving and praising God by speaking forth a lot of different syllable sounds. At first make the sounds rapidly so you won’t try to think as you do in speaking your natural language . . . Make the sounds loudly at first so you can easily hear what you are saying.9
This is very different from the Biblical gift of tongues. In the Bible, the gift of tongues “meant unusual capabilities with foreign languages. A person received immediate ability to speak languages that he had never acquired by natural means.”10 “Tongues” referred to the ability of an individual to speak a language that he had not studied previously.
Acts 2:1-12 mentions the first time that this gift is seen in Scripture.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
And they continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
While there are some today who claim that this gift is not necessarily a language,11 they do not have the backing of Scripture.12 In Scripture, the gift of tongues is always referred to as a supernatural ability to speak and understand a language that has not been previously studied. We see this here in Acts 2 and we see it in every other passage of Scripture where the gift is mentioned.13
In Acts 2, the Apostles were given a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Tongues of fire came down upon them and they proclaimed the mighty deeds of God to people from all over the world in their native language. They did not use their gift as a private prayer language between them and God. They did not use it to talk to one another in an incoherent way. They used this new linguistic skill to evangelize the unbelievers who had come to Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost (v. 1). And Luke tells us that their evangelism worked. Verse 41 says that, as a result of this miracle of tongues,14 3,000 souls were added to the church that day.
And this all leads us to the question, “Is this gift occurring today?” It would be wonderful to tell of the mighty deeds of God to people from China or Mexico or Russia without having to learn Chinese or Spanish or Russian. So many wonderful things could be done for the lost in other countries if only the language barrier was dropped. So does the Holy Spirit still give us the ability to do that? Do people still speak in tongues?
In the Bible, the most thorough discussion of the gift of tongues is found in First Corinthians 12-14. The Corinthian Church was plagued with problems15 and one problem that Paul addresses in this letter is the misuse of their spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. The Corinthians were apparently using this supernatural ability for their own benefit and not for the benefit of others. So Paul rebukes them.
To summarize the three chapters, in chapter 12, Paul explains that the gifts were given for the benefit of everyone (vv. 4-6, 26-27). No one was to use their gift for their own benefit but each believer was to use his gift for the benefit of others. In chapter 13, Paul shows that the greatest gift is love (vv. 1-3, 13). No matter what gift the Corinthians had, if they did not have love, it was useless. In chapter 14, the Apostle goes on to describe the proper way to use the gift of tongues in the church (vv. 9-13, 23-28). God is a God of order (v. 33) and the gift of tongues, like any other gift, must be used “properly and in an orderly manner” (v. 40).
For the purposes of this article, we do not need to look at all of these chapters but it would be helpful to spend some time on chapter 13. First Corinthians 13 is called the “Love Chapter” and for good reason. The word “love” appears seven times in these verses and the subject of love is referred to more than ten times. At the close of chapter 12, Paul writes, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” And in the next chapter, he tells them what that more excellent way is. It is the way of love.
To understand Paul’s argument, there are four characteristics of love in chapter 13.
Verses 1-3 state,
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Paul begins his discussion of love by saying that it is necessary. It is indispensable. Every service in the church, every miracle, every great or small act is useless if it is done without love.
Verses 1-3 each begin with a hypothetical statement.16 A hypothetical statement is an assertion based on an assumption. It is as if the writer is saying, “For the sake of argument, let’s assume this.” We do this when we say, “If pigs could fly . . .” or “If I had a million dollars . . .” That is exactly what Paul is doing in this passage. Verse 1 starts off, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels . . .” Verse 2 begins, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge . . .” Verse 3 has, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned . . .” All of these phrases are intended to provoke the reader to greater thinking but not to relate a spiritual truth. In other words, these verses are not intended to express a reality but to get the reader’s attention.
For instance, the word for “tongue” in verse 1 (and all throughout the chapter) is glossa, which means “language.”17 It describes a literal spoken dialect used to convey information to the recipient. So when Paul mentions “the tongues of men and of angels,” he is referring to “the language of men and of angels.” But there is no reference anywhere in the Bible to a language of angels and there is no reference anywhere in the Bible to a gift that allows someone to speak in all the languages of men. In these verses, Paul is not saying that there is a language of angels or a gift to speak in every tongue imaginable; he is just making a hypothetical statement for emphasis.
There is also no reference anywhere in the Bible to a gift of prophecy that allows the prophet to know all mysteries and all knowledge. In fact, the only one who is ever said to know all mysteries and all knowledge is God.18 The knowledge of a prophet is always limited to the revelation of God. So, again, verse 2 gives us another hypothetical statement.
Robert L. Thomas explains why Paul does this in verses 1-3.
Paul uses himself to illustrate and create a hypothetical case, one that had not and could not become actual. He pictures a situation of personally possessing the gift of tongues to the extent of being able to speak the languages of men everywhere. He even goes beyond this and conceives of an ability to communicate in celestial languages of angels as well, whatever those languages might be. Here is a case of ultimate linguistic ability that was never realized by Paul or anyone else. This is clearly beyond any claim the readers could make about their own facility with tongues.19
Paul’s point in these verses is that, even if he had these amazing abilities, it would mean nothing if he did not have love. He uses hypothetical scenarios to emphasize the fact that the most amazing gifts are pointless if they are not used with the ultimate gift of love. They would profit the Corinthians nothing (v. 3). Paul says that, even if he allowed himself to be burned to death, it would do him no good if he did not do it because he cared for someone (v. 3). Love is necessary if our spiritual gifts are to mean anything.
Paul goes on to write in verses 4-7,
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
After telling the Corinthians why love is necessary, Paul goes on to tell them why love is useful. Love is not just a noun, it is also a verb. Love must be put into action. And, when it is put into action, verses 4-7 tell us what it will look like.
Verse 4 says that love is patient. It is not short-tempered. This is why it “is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” in verse 5 and it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, [and] endures all things” later in verse 7. Love does not have a short fuse. It shows self-restraint toward others and is not easily angered at them. This goes along with the second description of love’s usefulness in verse 4: it is kind and not jealous. Love is caring toward others and it is not angry when they succeed. A loving person is not upset when someone else is rewarded ahead of him.
Verse 4 goes on to say that love does not brag and is not arrogant. The word for “brag” here could translate “wind-bag.”20 Love is useful because it does not blow hot air about its own accomplishments. It does not announce its success to other people. Verse 5 repeats this idea when it says that love “does not seek its own.”
Verse 5 starts off, “[love] does not act unbecomingly.” The English Standard Version and the New International Version translate this as “Love is not rude.” Love takes others into account when it makes decisions. As Jesus says in Luke 6:31, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” That is the idea here.
Finally, Paul writes in verse 6 that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Love does not delight in evil of any kind. It takes no delight in wickedness, no matter what shape or form it is in. Instead, love rejoices when the truth is told. God is love21 and God is truth22 and, because of this, one cannot be loving toward others without being honest. There is no such thing as a little white lie or a little white hate. Hate and deceit are equally wicked. And love avoids them both.
So love is necessary and love is useful. In verses 1-3, Paul explains that love must be present for our spiritual gifts to mean anything. And, in verses 4-7, Paul explains what our spiritual gifts will look like when they are used in love. They will be patient, kind, humble, selfless, forgiving, righteous, and rejoicing in the truth.
This is where Paul gives us some information about the duration of the gift of tongues. Whereas love will remain, tongues will cease. Love is permanent while tongues is only temporary. Because this is the focus of the article, we will spend more time on verses 8-12 than we have on previous verses. Verse 8 says,
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.
In verse 8, Paul mentions three spiritual gifts: prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecy “can be a prediction about the future, but in the majority of its uses it refers to authoritative speech that has its origin with God.”23 Tongues, as mentioned earlier, refers to the ability to speak a previously unlearned language. And the third gift is knowledge.
[Knowledge] in this passage does not mean ordinary human knowing or learning, but refers rather to that special manifestation of the Spirit, the “utterance of knowledge” (12:8), which understands revealed “mysteries” (13:2). It has to do especially with “knowing” the ways of God in the present age.24
With each of these gifts, Paul states that they will be done away with or they will cease. Verse 8 says that prophecy and knowledge “will be done away.” The Greek verb is katargeo which means “to render useless or unproductive, to bring to an end.”25 A time will come when brand new authoritative speech from God and the special manifestation of the Spirit to understand revealed mysteries will come to an end. As Simon J. Kistemaker writes,
Whereas loves is timeless, predictive prophecies are temporal. Love remains active, but prophecies have only partial significance; as Paul explains in verse 9, “We prophesy in part.” Because of their partial nature, they shall be put aside. Paul says nothing about the content of these prophecies, except that they have passing relevance.26
The same could be said for the gift of knowledge.
Verse 8 says that tongues “will cease.” The original word is pauo, which means “to cease, restrain, stop, leave off, desist.”27 The gift of tongues, like the gift of prophecies and knowledge, will one day stop. While the verb pauo is not the same as katargeo, the idea is the same.28
It is helpful to mention here that each of these gifts relates to the mind and each of these gifts reveal something new about the Lord. Every visible gift in Scripture serves to authenticate the messenger or to prove that the prophet is really from God.29 But some visible gifts also reveal a new word from the Lord and the gift of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge fall into that category. Prophecy reveals a new authoritative word from God, tongues reveals a prophecy in another language, and knowledge reveals the meaning of previously hidden mysteries.
The point is that in First Corinthians 13:8, while discussing the permanence of love, Paul says that these revelatory gifts will cease or become inoperative. Katergeo. Pauo. The Apostle tells the Corinthians that there will come a time when the gifts that they are fighting over will be no more, so it is foolish to fight over them. “Fight for something eternal,” Paul tells them. “Fight for love.”
And the question that concerns us here is: When will these gifts cease? When will people stop speaking in tongues? When will prophecies and supernatural knowledge be done away with? Verses 9-10 tell us,
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
In verse 9, the writer refers to the gifts of knowledge and prophecy and says that the Corinthians do these things partially now. In other words, the prophecy and knowledge that they have now is limited or partial but a time will come when they will prophecy and know fully. When is this? Verse 10 says, “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away (katergeo).”
The Greek word for “perfect” in this verse is teleios, the same word Jesus used on the cross in John 19:30 when He said, “It is finished!” Teleios means “brought to completion, fully accomplished, perfect in some point of character, without shortcoming in respect of a certain standard.”30 Teleios does not mean morally perfect. It does not mean “good.” There is another Greek word for that.31 Teleios means “finished or complete.” Another way to translate verse 10 is “when the complete comes, the incomplete will be done away.”
There are several possible explanations for what teleios refers to in verse 10. Some say it refers to the maturity of the church that Ephesians 4:11-15 talks about. When the church reaches its full maturity, these gifts will cease to function or they will be done away with.32 Others say it refers to the return of Jesus Christ in Revelation 19:11-16.33 When the perfect revelation of the Son of God comes to the earth to reign, there will be no more need for the partial revelation of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.
While much can be said about the reasons and the scholarship behind these views, they do not account for the fact that all three of these spiritual gifts ceased after the First Century and they did not “return” until the beginning of the 20th Century. As will be seen below, history teaches us that when the last Apostle died, these gifts died with him. Because of this, the clearest possible meaning of teleios would be the close of the canon34 or the completion of Scripture.
To explain this a little further, here are four reasons why “the perfect” refers to the Bible. First, it coincides with the idea of revelation. Prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are all revelatory gifts that impart supernatural information to the receivers. They are different from a gift like healing where God restores someone to health but does not reveal any detailed information about Himself. And, because they deal with revelation, prophecy, tongues, and knowledge demonstrate that “the perfect” refers to God’s complete revelation in the Bible.35
Second, this interpretation of teleios agrees with Paul’s further explanation in First Corinthians 13:11-12. Paul explains “the perfect” in verse 11 by giving an illustration from childhood.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
Paul says that when he was a child he did away with childish things but, when he became a man, he stopped doing childish things. What childish things is he referring to? Verse 11 says that he spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. These three actions match the three spiritual gifts referred to in verse 8. Speaking, thinking, and reasoning all deal with the mind and they all reveal some piece of information. In other words, Paul says that when the complete information comes, the childish or partial information of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will be done away with. As Robert Thomas writes,
In fact, the threefold activity of a child is illustrative of those three gifts. “I used to speak as a child” pictures the gift of tongues, since the ill-formed words of a child often comprise sounds that are indistinguishable, just as is the case with tongues (1 Cor. 14:2). “Think as a child” represents the gift of prophecy, since the word behind “think” includes in its meaning feelings or aspirations along with mental activity . . . “Reason as a child” stands for emotionless intellectual activity, an accurate portrayal of the gift of knowledge. Paul very graphically says, in effect, “Before I grew up, I used to speak, understand, and think as a child.”36
Verse 12 gives another illustration of this same idea.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
Mirrors in the ancient world were not as well-crafted as they are today. In the First Century, it was very typical to look into a mirror and get a distorted image of yourself because the glass or the metal was not smooth. And this is what Paul is describing here in verse 12. He says that now with this incomplete revelation, I see poorly as in a mirror but when the complete revelation comes, I will know as I am known. When the finished prophecy is given to me, I will see God face to face. That finished prophecy refers to the Word of God found in Scripture.
A third reason that “the perfect” in verse 10 refers to the completion of the canon is the argument from history which we will be looked at in more detail below. Historically, these three gifts ceased around the time that the writing of Scripture ceased. When the full revelation found in the Bible was complete, the partial revelation found in prophecy, tongues, and knowledge was complete as well. That was not a coincidence. They were no longer in operation because there was no more need for them. The Bible gives us all the revelation that we need.
The fourth reason that teleios refers to Scripture is that the use of the gift of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge today does not agree with the way those gifts were used in Scripture. Take tongues for instance. Paul says in First Corinthians 14:13, 27-28 that someone should not speak in a tongue unless there are several people present to interpret for him because the gift is for the benefit of the church, not for the benefit of the individual. Paul also says in verse 19 that he would rather speak five intelligible words with his mind than ten thousand unintelligible words in a tongue. How does that use of the gift correspond to the seminar “coach” quoted earlier?
When you pray with your spirit, you do not think of the sounds of the language. Just trust God, but make the sounds when I tell you.
In just a moment when I tell you to, begin loving and praising God by speaking forth a lot of different syllable sounds. At first make the sounds rapidly so you won’t try to think as you do in speaking your natural language . . . Make the sounds loudly at first so you can easily hear what you are saying.37
That does not agree with First Corinthians at all! In fact, it ignores it completely. Instead of speaking intelligible words, the audience is encouraged to speak unintelligible words. Instead of having an interpreter present to explain to others what they are saying, these people are encouraged to “begin loving and praising God by speaking forth a lot of different syllable sounds.”
And the contemporary use of prophecy and knowledge today is no different.38 In fact, there is no legitimate reason to think that the gifts have returned in the early 1900’s because there are no legitimate examples of believers using them Biblically.39 Every example of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge since the First Century is a distortion and not a true manifestation. Because of this, the “perfect” must refer to the completion of the Bible. Historically, as the Bible was finished, so were these gifts. From the time that the last Apostle died until today, there has never been a Biblical demonstration of these three miraculous signs.
Paul closes out his discussion of love in First Corinthians 13:3 by describing the greatness of love. Love is necessary. Love is useful. Love is permanent. And, because of all of this, love is great. Verse 13 says,
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
As was mentioned earlier, First Corinthians 13 is the Love Chapter. Paul’s purpose in these 13 verses is to describe love. And he sums up everything he has said earlier by reminding the Corinthians again that love is the greatest gift and the most excellent way (12:31). In doing so, he mentions three gifts that are greater than prophecy, tongues, and knowledge: faith, hope, and love. These three are greater because, whereas, prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will cease; faith, hope and love will endure. They will “abide” or “remain,” while the other gifts will not.
This, by the way, is another reason why “the perfect” in verse 10 cannot refer to the return of Jesus Christ. Faith and hope will cease when Jesus returns to the earth because there will be no more need for them. We will see Jesus with our eyes so we will not need faith and our future will be certain, so we will not need hope. But Paul says that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will cease while faith and hope will continue; showing that teleios in verse 10 must refer to something other than Jesus’ return.
After explaining some of this in verse 13, Paul closes by saying “But the greatest of these is love.” Love is greater than prophecies, tongues, and knowledge because it will last longer. They will cease when the perfect comes, but love will not. Love is also greater than faith and hope because a time will come when they will cease, but love will not. It will always be with us, even in Heaven.40
In short, love is the greatest gift because love is the only permanent gift mentioned in the chapter. As one author writes,
Faith, hope, and love are superior to the three gifts under discussion in that they continue throughout the era of the church. But love individually is superior to the faith-hope-love triad because it alone will survive and continue beyond the coming of Jesus Christ for His church.41
So love is the only enduring spiritual gift (the only one mentioned in First Corinthians 13, anyway).42 Paul says that tongues will one day come to an end. They will eventually cease, along with prophecy and knowledge. They will not last throughout the church age because, when the revelation of Scripture is complete, the incomplete revelation of these three gifts will no longer be needed. The evidence in First Corinthians 13 shows us that but so does the evidence from history.
Historically speaking, there were five ages43 where the Lord chose to do miraculous works through people.44 It is often assumed that miracles happened at every point of Bible history but that is not true. If that were the case, miracles would cease to amaze people and they would defeat their purpose. Even in Bible days, supernatural phenomenon were rare.45
Exodus 7-12 record the Ten Plagues that God performed through Moses. There was the Plague of Blood, the Plague of Frogs, the Plague of Gnats, the Plague of Flies, the Plague on Livestock, the Plague of Boils, the Plague of Hail, the Plague of Locusts, the Plague of Darkness, and the Plague on the Firstborn. Each of these plagues was performed to confirm the message that Moses was giving to Pharaoh. God was commanding Egypt to let Israel go and He was confirming that command with the plagues.
Other miracles that Moses performed include Aaron’s staff turning into a snake (7:8-13), the parting of the Red Sea (13:7-14), the curing of the Water of Marah (15:22-25), water pouring out of the Rock at Massah and Meribah (17:1-7), and the supernatural defeat of the Amalekites (17:8-16).
Joshua 3-12 says that, as Joshua led Israel in their conquest of the Promised Land, the Lord performed great miracles through them. The Book of Joshua does not record as many miracles as the Book of Exodus but it does record some tremendous miracles nonetheless. For instance, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at flood stage and the Lord dried the river up so that the people could cross on dry ground (3-4). The Israelites overtook the walled city of Jericho without firing a shot or scaling the defenses; they simply walked around it and shouted and the walls came crumbling down (6). And, finally, the sun stood still in the sky while Joshua led the nation to defeat a confederation of five kings (10:1-15).
A third miraculous age involved the ministries of Elijah and Elisha in First and Second Kings. The focus of both their ministries was to call the Israelites to repentance and one way the Lord chose to communicate this message was through miraculous signs and wonders. Elijah was fed by ravens as he hid from King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1-6). He kept an anonymous widow and her son alive for months during a drought with a little flour and oil (17:7-14). On Mount Carmel, the courageous prophet challenged the prophets of Baal to a duel and had fire come down from the sky to consume his offering (18:16-46). He was also one of only two men spared from death,46 as he was taken to Heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:1-18).
Elijah’s successor, Elisha, also performed miracles. His miracles were not as public as Elijah’s but they were amazing all the same. Elisha called down two bears to kill some young men who were taunting him and threatening to harm him (2 Kings 2:23-25). He raised a Shunammite’s son from the dead (4:8-37) and cured a pot of stew of its poison (4:38-41). Elisha also healed an officer of the King of Aram from his leprosy by having him bathe seven times in the Jordan River (5).
The most significant and extensive age in which God performed miracles was the ministry of Jesus Christ. More miracles and supernatural events occurred in the three years of Jesus’ ministry than at any other time in Bible history. The reason for that is simple: God was among us and He wanted to get our attention!
Here are a few of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus was born of a virgin (Matt 1:18-24) and His birth was confirmed by the light of a star (2:1-12). The Holy Spirit ascended on Him in the form of a dove at His baptism (3:13-17) and, afterwards, He was personally tempted by Satan (4:1-11).47 Jesus healed numerous people including a man with leprosy (Mk 1:40-45), a paralytic (2:1-12), a demon-possessed man (5:1-20), a boy with an evil spirit (Luke 9:37-45), a crippled woman (13:10-17), a blind beggar (18:35-43), an official’s son (Jn 4:43-54), and a man born blind (9:1-12). He raised the dead daughter of a synagogue ruler (5:21-43) and Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:17-44). He fed 5,000 men, not counting women and children with the lunch of a little boy (Lk 9:10-17). He later fed 4,000 men with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish (Mk 8:1-13). He calmed a storm (Matt 8:23-27), cursed a fig tree (21:18-22), walked on water (Jn 6:16-24) and, the greatest miracle of all, He rose from the dead (20-21).
There was no other period when so many miracles were performed on such a grand level. There is more evidence available to authenticate the message of Jesus Christ than there is to authenticate any other message from any other man in human history.
For the sake of time and the purposes of this article, we will only focus on the miracle of tongues in this fifth age. Hebrews 2:1-4 says that the Lord gave sings and wonders and various miracles to show that the Apostles were from Him. In the words of the author,
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
God performed supernatural wonders through Christians in the First Century to show that He was setting up His church. And to help answer the question, “Do people still speak in tongues?” we need to understand what happened to this gift after the First Century.
Chronologically, the last time that the gift of tongues was used properly is in Acts 19:1-6 where some Ephesians spoke in tongues after Paul laid his hands on them. In the order of the Bible, the last time the gift was mentioned is in First Corinthians 14. Tongues is not referred to in any other epistle after that and it is not mentioned at all in the Book of Revelation (a book which contains many other miracles). After the close of the First Century, until 160, there is no historical reference to tongues.48 In 160, a man named Montanus and two women identified themselves as prophets and claimed to have this gift. In the words of the Church Historian Philip Schaff,
Montanism, in the first place, sought a forced continuance of the miraculous gifts of the apostolic church, which gradually disappeared as Christianity became settled in humanity, and its supernatural principle was naturalized on earth . . .
All three [leaders of Montanism] went forth as prophets and reformers of the Christian life, and proclaimed the near approach of the age of the Holy Spirit and of the millennial reign in Pepuzza, a small village of Phyrgia, upon which the new Jerusalem will come down.49
One of the main prophetesses of Montanism, Maximilla, went so far as to say that “After me there is no more prophecy, but only the end of the world.”50
Concerning the gift of tongues, Origen, who lived shortly after Montanus wrote,
To these promises are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning, for so dark are they, as to have no meaning at all.51
During the Middle Ages, from 500-1600, there are plenty of references to miracles but none to the gift of tongues. People prayed at relics, saw visions of saints, and claimed miraculous healing due to intervention of the Virgin Mary, but there are no references to spontaneous speech in a foreign language. In fact, Augustine at the start of the Fifth Century, wrote that,
In the earliest times, “the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed; and they spake with tongues,” which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to turn through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.52
When it concerns the gift of tongues, what is so incredible about this period of history is that for more than a thousand years, no Christian, heretic or orthodox, claimed it. They claimed all kinds of other miraculous gifts but no one claimed to speak in a previously unlearned language.
In the 18th Century, a group called the Shakers professed to speak in tongues. Curiously enough, their founder, Ann Lee, also professed to be the second incarnation of Jesus Christ. Her followers referred to her as “mother in Christ” and said that she spoke 22 languages. Ann Lee and the Shakers would demonstrate their newfound language skills while singing and working themselves into a trancelike state.
Of all the history mentioned so far, here is where it gets most interesting.53 Tongues was not mentioned from the time of the Shakers until the dawn of the Twentieth Century. In the early 1900’s, Charles Parham, a 27 year old preacher from Topkea, Kansas laid hands on one of his Bible students named Agnes Ozman to give her the gift of tongues. According to Ozman’s testimony, after Parham laid hands on her, she began to speak Chinese and spoke nothing but Chinese for three whole days. Other members of Parham’s class claimed similar experiences and, when it was all said and done, the students allegedly spoke 21 different languages including French, German, Bulgarian, Japanese, and Spanish. One student, Alfred Garr, the Pastor of the Los Angeles Burning Bush Mission, was so excited about his miraculous ability that he moved to India to use it for evangelistic purposes. Upon arriving there, he began preaching and teaching with his “Indian dialect” but returned shortly because he could not be understood by anyone in the country.
In 1905, Charles Parham moved to Houston, Texas and opened a school to teach his innovative ideas. Here he taught an eager African-American student named William Seymour. Parham openly believed that Anglo-Saxons were God’s chosen race (he died a member of the KKK),54 so Seymour was forced to sit outside the classroom. But this did not detour the enthusiastic disciple, as a year later, he moved to Los Angeles and began propagating Parham’s methods at the Azusa Street Mission. Soon Christians and cultists alike began attending and it caught the attention of the press. According to Hank Hanegraaff,
On April 18, 1906, subscribers to the Los Angeles Times were startled by the headline “Weird Babel of Tongues.” The article proclaimed: “New Sect of Fanatics is Breaking Loose; Wild Scene Last Night on Azusa Street; Gurgle of Wordless Talk by a Sister.” The notoriety only served to fan the flame. As news spread, people from across America headed to Azusa Street to “catch the fire.”
The endtime restoration of Pentecostal power proved to be so compelling that Christians and cultists alike suspended their meetings and headed to 312 Azusa Street. Together they engaged in the “jerks” and in “treeing the devil.” It wasn’t long before “spiritualists and mediums from the numerous occult societies of Los Angeles began to attend and to contribute their séances and trances to the services.” In time things got so out of hand that “Seymour wrote Parham for advice on how to handle the ‘spirits’ and begged him to come to Los Angeles to take over supervision of the revival.”55
From here, the Pentecostal movement began, and later, the modern charismatic movement.56
A couple of historic points in this movement are of interest. On April 3, 1960, Father Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest announced to his congregation that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. This marked the start of the interdenominational charismatic movement. Before this time, Pentecostals and members of the Assemblies of God practiced this gift but no one else did. After 1960, Episcopals, Methodists, Baptists, and even Catholics began to employ it. In 1977, the first interdenominational charismatic conference was held in Kansas City.57
In 1973, Paul Crouch, Jim Baker, Jan Crouch, and Tammy Faye Backer started Trinity Broadcasting Systems, a television station designed to show viewers this new resurgence of signs and wonders. The Bakers soon left to start their own ministry and the channel was renamed the Trinity Broadcasting Network. It came onto nation-wide cable in 1978 and joined the National Religious Broadcasters Association. With this event, the charismatic movement now entered mainstream America and ordinary people could see it on a daily basis. Today, the network owns 35 full power televisions stations and has access to most major metropolitan areas. It sends its signal to over 70 satellites and 18,000 TV and cable affiliates.58
On Mother’s Day, 1979, members of John Wimber’s Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California were baptized in the Holy Spirit and the Vineyard Movement was born. People began to behave in all kinds of odd ways such as falling to the floor, speaking loudly in unintelligible tongues, and shrieking. Today, the Vineyard Movement is prevalent in most parts of the United States and overseas.59
In the early 1980’s, a church growth professor from Fuller Theological Seminary named Peter Wagner coined the term “third wave” which most accurately describes where the charismatic movement is today. In his book, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, Wagner writes,
The first wave was the Pentecostal movement, the second the charismatic movement, and now the third wave is joining them . . .
The Third Wave is a new moving of the Holy Spirit among evangelicals who, for one reason or another, have chosen not to identify with either the Pentecostals or the charismatics. Its roots go back a little further, but I see it as mainly a movement beginning in the 1980s and gather momentum through the closing of the twentieth century . . . The major variation [between the Third Wave and the other waves of the Holy Spirit] comes in the understanding of the meaning of baptism in the Holy Spirit and the role of tongues in authenticating this. I myself, for example, would rather not have people call me a charismatic. I do not consider myself a charismatic. I am simply an evangelical Congregationalist who is open to the Holy Spirit working through me and my church in any way he chooses.60
According to Wagner, the chief distinction of the third wave of the Holy Spirit is that it is “open to the Holy Spirit working through me and my church in anyway he chooses.” This is where this “movement of God” in the Twentieth Century has ended up. It began with a member of the KKK and it is now open to anything.
Do people still speak in tongues today? No. Why? Because the Bible said that this particular gift would cease and it did cease. Its return in the 20th Century has been nothing less than a sham. As John MacArthur puts it, “Movements of God don’t start with aberrant theology.” To be open to anything is not to honor God. The Scriptures tell us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”61
We are to be closed-minded about spiritual things because every spirit is not from God. We are to test everything according to the Word of God, especially when it claims to be from God. The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible62 and we are to turn to the Bible first and foremost for any work that is allegedly from Him. When we do that, we will see that the modern use of tongues is incorrect. This gift ceased in the First Century and it has not returned in the early years of the Twentieth.