Cessationism of 1st Century χαρίσματα (charismata) revelatory sign gifts by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the teaching known as cessationism and along with some related relevant topics. What does cessationism mean? Does God still give revelation via interpretation of tongues, prophecy and revelatory words of knowledge? If so, are these gifts normative for the entire church age? Are revelations conveyed from these gifts on the same level as the Bible? What exactly are tongues mentioned in the Bible? Is there an angelic language to be used in prayer? These are a few of the questions we will seek biblical answers for in this study.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. Glorify God always!
“The view that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (healing, tongues, prophetic revelations) ended with the apostolic age, and that while God still does do miracles, he does not gift individuals with the miraculous spiritual gifts.” *
“The position within Christianity that the Charismatic Spiritual gifts (speaking in tongues, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, interpretation of tongues, etc.) ceased with the closing of the Canon of scripture and/or the death of the last apostle.” **
From Scripture regarding the cessation of the revelatory gifts:
“Charity never faileth: 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.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)
The passage says that something that is “in part” shall be done away with when “that which is perfect is come.” What is the apostle referring to when he says that something perfect is coming?
Theologian Gordon H. Clark comments on this:
There is one phase, not so far mentioned: “When the completion comes,” or “when that which is perfect comes.” This raises the question: completion of what? It could be the completion of the canon. Miracles and tongues were for the purpose of guaranteeing the divine origin of apostolic doctrine. They cease when the revelation was completed. Even the word knowledge is better understood this way. Instead of comparing present-day extensive study of the New Testament with Justin's [Martyr] painfully inadequate understanding of the Atonement, it would be better to take knowledge as the apostolic process of revealing new knowledge. This was completed when revelation ceased. (1)
Clark is right on track when connecting the coming perfection with the completion of the Scriptures. The tongues and prophecy of the apostolic era confirmed and bore witness to the truthfulness of the apostolic message. Nevertheless, tongues, prophecy, and revelatory knowledge were lacking when compared with the completed written Scripture. The written Scriptures are far superior to spoken words. The written Scripture stands strong and cannot be overthrown.
Dr. Leonard Coppes also has relevant comments regarding this passage of Scripture:
This is a clear statement that when the knowledge given through the apostles and prophets is complete, tongues and prophecy shall cease. Tongues, prophecy, and knowledge (gnosis) constitute partial, incomplete stages. Some may stumble over the idea that “knowledge” represents a partial and incomplete (revelational) stage. But is rightly remarked that Paul distinguishes between sophia and gnosis in I Cor. 12:8 All three terms (tongues, prophecy, knowledge) involve divine disclosure of verbal revelation and all three on that basis alone ceased when the foundation (i.e., the perfect) came (10). Verse 11 speaks of the partial as childlike (cf., 14:20) and the perfect as manly (the apostolic is “manly,” too, cf., 14:20). Paul reflecting on those who are limited to these childlike things describes this limitation as seeing in a mirror darkly (12). When the perfect (the apostolic depositum) is come, full knowledge is present. (2)
Coppes, like Clark, connects the coming perfection with the completion of the Scriptural canon. Both scholars make compelling exegetical arguments for their interpretation of the Corinthian passage. More will be seen in this study about the closing of the Scriptural canon and its implications.
The next passage of Scripture cited refers to warning of coming judgment upon the people of Israel from the book of Isaiah cited by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and has relevance to the issue at hand regarding revelatory gifts and their cessation. There are two reasons for tongues and the other revelatory gifts.
Consider the first reason for tongues:
“In the law it is written, with men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:22)
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:22:
22. Thus from Isaiah it appears, reasons Paul, that “tongues” (unknown and uninterpreted) are not a sign mainly intended for believers (though at the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles with him, tongues were vouchsafed to him and them to confirm their faith), but mainly to be a condemnation to those, the majority, who, like Israel in Isaiah's day, reject the sign and the accompanying message. Compare “yet … will they not hear Me” (1Co 14:21). “Sign” is often used for a condemnatory sign (Eze 4:3, 4; Mt 12:39-42). Since they will not understand, they shall not understand.
prophesying … not for them that believe not, but … believe—that is, prophesying has no effect on them that are radically and obstinately like Israel (Isa 28:11, 12), unbelievers, but on them that are either in receptivity or in fact believers; it makes believers of those not willfully unbelievers (1Co 14:24, 25; Ro 10:17), and spiritually nourishes those that already believe.
The commentators are correct to note that tongues were for non-believers, in this case, national Israel. It is noteworthy that the commentators make the connection with Isaiah 28:11-12.
The purpose of tongues in Isaiah 28:11-12 that the apostle Paul quotes in Corinthians:
“For with stammering lips and another tongue [the Assyrian language], He will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,’ and, ‘this is the refreshing,’ yet they would not hear.” (Isaiah 28:11-12)
Strong's Concordance 3956
Original Word: לָשׁוֹן
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (law-shone')
Short Definition: tongue
These words were spoken by the prophet to the people of Judah as a declaration that they were about to be judged by God for their rebellion by the Assyrian army. Moses also mentioned the presence of “unknown tongues” in his prophecy concerning the destruction of the nation of Israel. The passage also has real significance for national Israel’s rejection of Christ and subsequent judgment by the Romans in 70AD. God raised up a foreign army, which spoke an unintelligible or foreign tongue to bring judgment upon His rebellious people.
Consider this earlier prophetic warning:
“The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose [language] tongue you will not understand.” (Deuteronomy 28:49)
Many of the modern translations use language instead of tongue. For example:
“The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language [tongue] you do not understand.” (Deuteronomy 28:49 ESV)
This prophecy from Deuteronomy has fulfillment in regards to the Roman invasion of Israel and destruction of the temple. The Deuteronomy passage mentions “eagle.” This almost certainly refers to the emblem or standard of the Roman army, the eagle. The passage probably has significance to the earlier Assyrian and Babylonian judgments as well.
Tongues in the book of Acts did not just appear out of nowhere. The understanding of tongues is rooted in Old Testament prophecy, namely, Deuteronomy and Isaiah. The Greek word glossa has interpreted either tongue or language.
The First purpose of tongues:
Tongues were a sign of judgment on the nation of Israel. The confusion of tongues, at Babel and forward, has been a sign of judgment. When Israel heard the tongues of the Assyrian invaders in the 8th Century before Christ, it was a sign that judgment had come (Isaiah 28:11-12). Paul quotes this verse in 1 Corinthians 14:22 in which he explains how the New Testament gift of unintelligible languages (tongues) was a sign to unbelieving Israel of impending judgment. It was the end of the Old Covenant Age for Israel. When the judgment on Israel came in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the armies of Roman, the nation was scattered, and the purpose of tongues foretold by Deuteronomy and Isaiah was fulfilled.
The Second purpose of tongues:
The second purpose of tongues and their interpretation along with prophecy and words of knowledge functioned to confirm the work of the apostle’s words with power. These gifts were all revelatory or revelations of God’s power and confirmation of His Will and Word.
The scriptural proof of this is seen in:
“And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark 16:20)
“God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:4)
After the death of the apostles and the closing of the canon of Scripture, the work of confirming the apostolic message was no longer needed. The destruction of the temple and the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant people of God are also tied up in the events of the end.
The Greek language helps in our understanding of tongues in the first century:
Digging deeper, Tongues from Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[A-1, Noun, G1100, glossa] is used of
(1) The tongues ... like as of fire, which appeared at Pentecost;
(2) “The tongue,” as an organ of speech, e.g., Mark 7:33; Romans 3:13; Romans 14:11; 1 Corinthians 14:9; Philippians 2:11; James 1:26; James 3:5-James 3:6, James 3:8; 1 Peter 3:10; 1 John 3:18; Revelation 16:10;
(a) “a language,” coupled with phule, “a tribe,” laos, “a people,” ethnos, “a nation,” seven times in the Apocalypse, Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 10:11; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15;
(b) “The supernatural gift of speaking in another language without its having been learnt;” in Acts 2:4-Acts 2:13 the circumstances are recorded from the viewpoint of the hearers; to those in whose language the utterances were made it appeared as a supernatural phenomenon; to others, the stammering of drunkards; what was uttered was not addressed primarily to the audience but consisted in recounting “the mighty works of God;” cp. Acts 2:46; in 1 Cor., chapters 12 and 14, the use of the gift of “tongues” is mentioned as exercised in the gatherings of local churches; 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of the gift in general terms, and couples with it that of “the interpretation of tongues;” chap. 14 gives instruction concerning the use of the gift, the paramount object being the edification of the church; unless the “tongue” was interpreted the speaker would speak “not unto men, but unto God,” 1 Corinthians 14:2; he would edify himself alone, 1 Corinthians 14:4, unless he interpreted, 1 Corinthians 14:5, in which case his interpretation would be of the same value as the superior gift of prophesying, as he would edify the church, 1 Corinthians 14:4-6; he must pray that he may interpret, 1 Corinthians 14:13; if there were no interpreter, he must keep silence, 1 Corinthians 14:28, for all things were to be done “unto edifying,” 1 Corinthians 14:26. “If I come ... speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you,” says the Apostle (expressing the great object in all oral ministry), “unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?” (1 Corinthians 14:6). “Tongues” were for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers, 1 Corinthians 14:22, and especially to unbelieving Jews (See 1 Corinthians 14:21): cp. the passages in the Acts.
There is no evidence of the continuance of this gift after apostolic times nor indeed in the later times of the Apostles themselves; this provides confirmation of the fulfillment in this way of 1 Corinthians 13:8, that this gift would cease in the churches, just as would “prophecies” and “knowledge” in the sense of knowledge received by immediate supernatural power (cp. 1 Corinthians 14:6). The completion of the Holy Scriptures has provided the churches with all that is necessary for individual and collective guidance, instruction, and edification.
[A-2, Noun, G1258, dialektos]
“Language” (Eng., ‘dialect”), is rendered “tongue” in the AV of Acts 1:19; Acts 2:6, Acts 2:8; Acts 21:40; Acts 22:2; Acts 26:14. See LANGUAGE.
[B-1, Adjective, G2804, heteroglossos]
Is rendered “strange tongues” in 1 Corinthians 14:21, RV (heteros, “another of a different sort,” See ANOTHER, and A, No. 1), AV, “other tongues."
[C-1, Adverb, G1447, hebraisti]
(Or ebraisti, Westcott and Hort) denotes
(a) “In Hebrew,” Revelation 9:11, RV (AV, “in the Hebrew tongue”); so Revelation 16:16;
(b) In the Aramaic vernacular of Palestine, John 5:2, AV, “in the Hebrew tongue” (RV, “in Hebrew”); in John 19:13, John 19:17, AV, “in the Hebrew” (RV, “in Hebrew”); in John 19:20, AV and RV, “in Hebrew;” in John 20:16, RV only, “in Hebrew (Rabboni).”
Note: Cp. Hellenisti, “in Greek,” John 19:20, RV; Acts 21:37, “Greek.” See also Rhomaisti, under LATIN. (4)
As seen from Vine’s, the tongues as seen in Acts 2:6–8 were actual languages. In denial of this, the modern day Charismatic and Pentecostal movements assert that the understanding of tongues may be something other than an understandable human language. They would say an angelic language used for prayer.
People in this theological camp believe that men can use angelic languages for private prayers and public exhibitions and interpretations conveying unique revelatory words from God. They cannot have it both ways. That would be equivocation – using the same word to mean different things – a logical fallacy!
Charismatic proof texts passages for praying in non-human language tongues:
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)
Consider Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers on Romans 8:26:
(26, 27) A second reason for the patience of the Christian under suffering. The Spirit helps his weakness and joins in his prayers.
(26) Likewise.—While on the one hand the prospect of salvation sustains him, so on the other hand the Divine Spirit interposes to aid him. The one source of encouragement is human (his own human consciousness of the certainty of salvation), the other is divine.
Infirmities.—The correct reading is the singular, “infirmity.” Without this assistance, we might be too weak to endure, but the Spirit helps and strengthens our weakness by inspiring our prayers.
With groanings which cannot be uttered.—When the Christian’s prayers are too deep and too intense for words, when they are rather a sigh heaved from the heart than any formal utterance, then we may know that they are prompted by the Spirit Himself. It is He who is praying to God for us. (5)
Do Ellicott’s comments do justice to the text?
Ellicott makes no mention of a man praying in an unknown angelic language. First, it should be noted that the text says the Spirit prays, not a man. Proponents of modern day tongue speakers read this into the text something that is not there. Second, the text says the Spirit prays for us with groanings, (stenagmos) not a man. Therefore, groanings cannot be a man praying in an angelic language.
Strong's Concordance 4726
stenagmos: a groaning
Original Word: στεναγμός, οῦ, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (sten-ag-mos')
Short Definition: a groaning
Definition: a groaning, sighing.
As seen, “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” cannot possibly be a man praying in an angelic language. These “groanings” are not audible whereas tongue speaking is.
Does this next passage validate an angelic prayer language?
“For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” (1 Corinthians 14:14)
From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on 1 Corinthians 14:14:
“For if I pray in an unknown tongue. In the Hebrew tongue, which the greatest part of the Jewish doctors insisted (a) upon should be only used in prayer; which notion might be borrowed from them, and now greatly prevailed in the church at Corinth; and the custom was used by such as had the gift of speaking that language, even though the body and bulk of the people understood it not: my spirit prayeth; I pray with my breath vocally; or else with affection and devotion, understanding what I say myself, and so am edified; or rather with the gift of the Spirit bestowed on me: but my understanding is unfruitful; that is, what I say with understanding to myself is unprofitable to others, not being understood by them.” Vid. Trigland. de Sect. Kar. c. 10. p. 172, 173. (6)
Gill makes no mention of an angelic prayer language, but rather an unknown tongue. In this passage, Paul does not say he prays in an unknown tongue instead; he says, “For if I pray in an unknown tongue...but my understanding is unfruitful.” “For if” is a hypothetical, not something the apostle says he does in personal prayers. Besides, the apostle says if he did this, his understanding is unfruitful. The apostle is not encouraging praying in an unfruitful manner devoid of understanding.
A general command in Scripture is in the next three passages:
“What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1 Corinthians 14:15)
“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
We are to grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, not suspend our understanding. This is true even in prayer. We should pray with understanding.
Consider another tongue speaking proof text:
“Though I speak with the tongues (glōssais plural) of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (1 Corinthian 13:1)
The following scholar’s comments regarding the language of angels are pertinent:
“With respect to the words of angels which are recorded in the Scriptures, nothing can be plainer, more direct, and, we may say, more unimpassioned. They seem to say with the utmost conceivable plainness what they have been commissioned to say, and nothing more. No words are less the words of ecstasy than theirs.” (7)
Where does the Bible speak of angels having their own language that doubles as a prayer language for men? Is the mention of tongues in the book Acts and the book of Corinthians an example of different tongues for men and angels? There is no reason to believe that the tongues mentioned are anything other than language, characterized by the rules of grammar and syntax. Tongue speaking in Acts (glōssais the tongue, a language) refers to known languages (maybe not to all the hearers). One can argue that the languages that are spoken in the Corinthians (glōssais) passage are as well. If not, you are equivocating on the use of language without necessary contextual justification.
There is no biblical basis in 1 Corinthians 13:1 for the idea that there is a heavenly, prayer language. This assumption is read into the text. Even if you grant that angels speak in a pure form of Hebrew not understood by man, this hardly supports the idea of a non-human heavenly prayer language. Assumptions like this are pure conjecture. Furthermore, when Paul makes the contrast and speaks of the “tongues of men and of angels,” he is using hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claims not meant to be taken literally. The apostle is saying that, notwithstanding however brilliant one could be, using his own language, or a foreign language, or perhaps within the speculative speech of angels, it is worthless without love.
Angels always spoke in human language in the Bible when speaking to men:
Scripture provides many examples of angels speaking to men. They communicated in languages that were understandable by those spoken to in the Bible. The burden of proof is on those who claim who claim angels spoke in non-human languages. The phrase “the tongues of angels” offers no proof that angelic language is different from human language or that there is any justification for some form of non-human language for prayer. All you can ascertain is that the angelic language was unknown. Said another way, trying to determine what the language may have been used is sheer guesswork. The speaking of tongues in modern day churches has no connection to actual language. It is gibberish with no connection to the rules of grammar and syntax.
Linguists can study languages and discern syntax and grammar structure. Messages from tongue-speaking churches show no relationship to anything resembling language. If they do, it would have to be ascertained if the person speaking was bi-lingual or multi-lingual. Trying to track down dates and locations of real foreign languages being spoken is more than problematic. Most stories of real languages seem to be nothing more than the parroting of unverified stories.
Examples of linguist scrutiny*
Biblical Scholar D. A. Carson correctly observes:
“Modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia [speaking foreign languages] are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them” (8)
University of Toronto linguistics professor William Samarin concurs:
“Glossolalia consists of strings of meaningless syllables made up of sounds taken from those familiar to the speaker and put together more or less haphazardly. The speaker controls the rhythm, volume, speed and inflection of his speech so that the sounds emerge as pseudolanguage—in the form of words and sentences. Glossolalia is language-like because the speaker unconsciously wants it to be language-like. Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia fundamentally is not language.” (9)
What we do know is that the study of history shows that tongues ceased after the death of the apostles. The leading Church fathers such as Chrysostom (Eastern Church), and Augustine (Western Church) believed that tongues was a revelatory confirmatory sign gift only for the apostolic era.
It was not until the Azusa Street Revival, 1906-1915, founded and led by William J. Seymour in Los Angeles, California, which resulted in the spread of what was allegedly a new manifestation of the apostolic sign gifts of the first century. Seymour immersed himself in radical Holiness theology, which taught a post-conversion second blessing or the entire sanctification experience that resulted in complete holiness or sinless perfection this side of heaven, which is heretical. If tongues confirmed the apostolic message, Seymour’s tongues movement did nothing of the sort. God did speak through ordinary people in biblical times, these were prophets, but they had good theology.
If the revelatory apostolic gifts such as tongues and prophecy were normative for all time in the Church, how can the absence of these gifts be explained after the first century? Was the Church apostate or spiritually dull-hearted two thousand years? Was the true Church lost as the Mormons claim? Those who would advance something like this cannot prove it biblically. An alleged apostasy cannot be because Jesus said, “the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church” in Matthew 16:18.
The nations of Christendom, while not perfect, transformed nations and civilizations for the better over the centuries in fulfillment of Christ’s words.
What about the prophecy for the book of Joel? Does this predict a last day’s reappearance of the apostolic revelatory sign gifts of the first century?
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28)
Is this a prophecy for the first century or a futuristic prophecy?
From Matthew Poole's Commentary Joel 2:28:
It shall come to pass, most certainly this shall be done, afterward; in the latter days, after the return out of Babylonish captivity, after the various troubles and salvations by which they may know that I am the Lord, their God in the midst of them, when those wondrous works shall be seconded by the most wonderful of all, the sending the Messiah, in his day and under his kingdom.
I will pour out my Spirit; in large abundant measures will I give my Holy Spirit, which the Messiah exalted shall send, John 16:7; in extraordinary power and gifts in the apostles and first preachers of the gospel, and in ordinary measure and graces to all believers, Ephesians 4:8-11.
Upon all flesh; before these gifts were confined to a few people, to one particular nation, to a very small people; but now they shall be enlarged to all nations, Acts 2:33 10:45, to all that believe, all that are regenerate.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: this was in part fulfilled according to the letter in the first days of the gospel; but this promise is rather of a comparative meaning, thus, By pouring out of the Holy Spirit on your sons and your daughters, they shall have as clear and full knowledge of the deep mysteries of God’s law as prophets beforetime had. The law and prophets were till John, and during this time the gifts of the Spirit were given in lesser measures, and of all men the prophets had greatest measures of the Spirit; but in these days, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.
Your old men shall dream dreams; no difference of age, to old men who had been long blind in the things of God the mysteries of grace shall be revealed, and these shall know as certainly and clearly as if God had extraordinarily revealed himself to them by dreams sent of God upon them.
Your young men shall see visions; many young men shall be as eminent in knowledge as if the things known were communicated by vision. In a word, all knowledge of God and his will shall abound among all ranks, sexes, and ages in the Messiah’s days, and not only equal, but surpass, all that formerly was by prophecy dreams, or visions. (10)
Poole establishes that the prophecy in Joel found its fulfillment in the book of Acts.
What are the implications for ongoing apostolic revelatory gifts?
If these revelatory apostolic gifts are still in operation, the canon of Scripture is still open. If so, does this mean that the expanding oral tradition of the Roman Church and the printed minutes from the Mormon General Conference meetings and the Mormon Ensign Magazine where the Mormon prophet speaks should be added to the book of Acts or an ongoing addendum to the Bible? An addendum would be like the old encyclopedias that had a yearly update edition. How exactly would this work out for the Bible? Should there be Roman Catholic, Charismatic and Mormon addendums?
Additional Problems for modern day tongues speakers:
Some have argued that tongues and words of knowledge and prophecy are personal or private revelations and therefore not the same as a biblical revelation in the Bible, a sort of two-tier system of revelation. Experience in tongue speaking churches shows this is not the case. If tongues are expressed publically, the congregants normally and hopefully wait for an interpretation. Sometimes someone will speak what is supposed to be the interpretation. At other times in the church service, someone will speak prophecies or words of knowledge. This very practice is not private but public.
How are these alleged spoken words to be evaluated? Does the congregation vote on it? On the other hand, should the hearers accept message or words at face value? Most of the time the expressions of interpretation and prophecies are general scripture like-sounding words. Also, how is it determined if the individuals giving this supposed spirit inspired messages are not just showboating or letting their feelings and emotions get the better of them? Can spiritual pride lead to certain individuals to grandstand? Most people want to be seen as spiritual, and some want to be seen as more spiritual than others.
As said, from experience, most of what is said in these alleged words are general exhortations or general words of encouragement that sound like a simplified version of Elizabethan English. No doubt, some of the readers of this article have heard of examples of alleged tongue-speaking where someone would say for example that tongue-speaking was in the Hungarian language. As previously noted, trying to track down when and where this happened is always problematic. When pressed, no one seems to know where and when. Why listen to unverifiable words when we can read the Bible?
Consider this next passage:
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)
Peter says we have “a more sure word of prophecy.” The Word of God is surer than anything else is especially unsubstantiated prophecies. Read Psalm 119.
The only time in a church service you can be sure you are hearing the Word of God, is when you hear the Scriptures read. Pastors with concerns to be biblically faithful always pray that God will give a blessing to their preaching and guard the words that come from their mouth. A Sermon from the pastor is not the infallible word of God. Many times a pastor will pray, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.” (Psalm 19:14)
If the first-century revelations of God via, prophecy, interpretation of tongues and words of knowledge were still in practice today, the conclusion would be that the canon of Scripture is still open. This would mean that we need more than just the Bible. In other words, the Bible is not yet complete, because revelation is still ongoing. Some may want to dance around this conclusion. It, however, is inescapable.
Furthermore, those arguing for on-going first century revelatory gifts are inadvertently giving support for Roman Catholicism’s argument for the concept of on-going oral traditions that are purported to be on equal footing with Scripture. The Roman Catholics are more consistent in their argument of a secondary source of revelation than the advocates of the on-going first century revelatory gifts are. If the first-century revelatory gifts are still in operation, how are they fundamentally different from the oral traditions of the Roman Church?
A Time-tested principle of Scripture:
“These were nobler than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
“But test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV)
Why be satisfied with vague or general biblical sounding words; we need the pure Word of God.
General biblical sounding words or phrases that are interpretation of tongues, congregational prophecies, words of knowledge cannot be used for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness. Why? Because if they can, then these new words are admitted to be on par with Scripture. This conclusion is inescapable and proves the problematic nature of these new words that are supposedly from God. Also, if these so-called revelations are on par with the Bible, the sufficiency of Scripture cannot be maintained.
Sufficiency of scripture:
“The principle that the words of scripture contain everything we need to know from God in order for us to be saved and to be perfectly obedient to him.” *
Sufficiency of scripture:
“The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. To say the Scriptures are sufficient means that the Bible is all we need to equip us for a life of faith and service. It provides a clear demonstration of God’s intention to restore the broken relationship between Himself and humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior through the gift of faith. No other writings are necessary for this good news to be understood, nor are any other writings required to equip us for a life of faith.” ***
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
The Concluding Argument:
The most potent argument for cessationism of first-century revelatory gifts is the closing of the canon of Scripture:
The Scriptures are complete; divine revelation has ceased. In fact, the ceasing of divine revelation can be seen right in the texts of Scripture. The ending of divine revelation is the closing of the Scriptural canon. Today, there are only two forms of revelation, general (creation) and special (biblical). See this writer’s The Importance and Necessity of Special Revelation.
The Closing of the Canon:
Consider Daniel 9:24 and its importance for the subject of the closing of the canon:
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24)
The terminus or completion of this prophecy is in the first century. Verses in Daniel 9:25-27 make it clear that when the seventy-week period begins, this week will continue uninterrupted until the seventy-week period is over or complete. Christ's death and resurrection made an end of the sins of His people. He accomplished reconciliation for His people. Christ's people have experienced everlasting righteousness because we are clothed in Christ's righteousness, which is everlasting. The phrase “and to seal up the vision and prophecy” sets forth the closing of the canon of Scripture.
E. J. Young in The Geneva Daniel Commentary makes the following observations concerning “vision” and prophecy” in the Old Testament:
Vision was a technical name for revelation given to the OT prophets (cf. Isa, 1:1, Amos 1:1, etc.) The prophet was the one through whom this vision was revealed to the people. The two words, vision and prophet, therefore, serve to designate the prophetic revelation of the OT period.... When Christ came, there was no further need of prophetic revelation in the OT sense. (11)
Why, because Christ is the final revelation:
God “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Hebrews 1:2)
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers is in agreement with E. J. Young on Daniel 9:24:
To Seal Up.—σϕραγίσαι, Theod.; συντελεσθῆναι, LXX.; impleatur, Jer.; the impression of the translators being that all visions and prophecies were to receive their complete fulfilment in the course of these seventy weeks. It appears, however, to be more agreeable to the context to suppose that the prophet is speaking of the absolute cessation of all prophecy. (Comp. 1Corinthians 13:8.) (12)
All seventy weeks were fulfilled in the first century contrary to Dispensationalism that is still waiting for the seventieth week to be fulfilled at some time in the future. If Young and Ellicott are correct about the seventieth week, the implications for what the dispensationalists are arguing for is enormous and wrong. This would mean the canon of Scripture is still open for the last two thousand years a position that is indefensible.
Since there is no fundamental difference between Old and New Testament revelation, and the source of the revelation is identical, there is no reason to doubt that all giving of new revelation ceased in the first century. The canon of Scripture is closed. Whatever the claims are for the alleged ongoing interpretation of tongues, modern-day prophecies, words of knowledge, they are not genuine new revelations from God.
At best as some argue there are second or third, tier revelations. If the canon is open, no argument can be made not to add these lesser revelations to an addendum of the Bible. The Mormons have already gone there; others are hesitant to get on board with something like this. Nevertheless, this proves to be a glaring inconsistency for those arguing for a continuation of the first century revelatory gifts.
What does the Scripture say about adding an addendum or extra books to the Bible?
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)
The very practice of listening to revelations that are admittedly to be of a secondary nature when compared to the written Scripture is diminishing and giving preeminence to unverifiable words in a church gathering over the written Word of God.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18)
Are charismatic revelations on the same level as the Bible? If pinned down, the modern day tongue-speaker would probably say no. If the charismatic revelatory gifts are imparting new revelation, then this is a dangerous move away from the authority of Scripture. In many cases, the charismatic is unwittingly accepting an authority other than the Bible, namely the new revelation. We are not talking about the personal conviction of the Word by the Holy Spirit. The operation of the Spirit in a believer’s life is inseparable from the written Word of God.
Prone to Errors:
Many followers of the tongue-speaking movement pay lip service to the principle of Sola Scriptura, (the Bible alone). This biblical principle of Sola Scriptura is undermined when so-called spiritual experiences influence the interpretation of the Scriptures. In light of this flawed hermeneutic, namely, letting the alleged spiritual experience (tongues speaking, words of knowledge, and prophecy) influence an understanding of the Scripture, it is not surprising that sound doctrine gives way to interpretations of Scripture that are influenced by these self-same experiences. The judicious reader sees the circular reasoning that plagues this approach.
Since the tongue-speaker has either allegedly witnessed or spoken in tongues, the Bible is interpreted in such a fashion as to support the charismatic interpretations of the Bible. Thus, the charismatic assumes this must be what the Bible teaches since they have witnessed or experienced it. This is nothing more than a dangerous subjectivist circle of interpretation. The role of Scripture and experience are reversed, experience gaining the upper hand in this system. The fruit of this, has led to practices contrary to the Bible.
Tongues, interpretation of tongues, personal prophecies, and personal words of knowledge are subjective. Why should we seek after subjective individual words when we have the clear Word of God?
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
A Mormon can be asked if the Book of Mormon has added anything to the Bible or took anything away from the Bible. The answer was always no, to which the reply would be, why do we need the book? The same question can be asked of those promoting new revelations whether second or third tier or not.
“Knowing this first that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20)
What does prophecy mean from Matthew Poole's Commentary on 2 Peter 1:20:
Knowing this first; either, principally and above other things, as being most worthy to be known; or, knowing this as the first principle of faith, or the first thing to be believed.
That no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation: the Greek word here used may be rendered, either:
1. As our translators do, interpretation, or explication; and then the meaning is, not that private men are not to interpret the Scripture, only refer all to the church; but that no man nor company of men, no church nor public officers, are to interpret the Scripture of their own heads, according to their own minds, so as to make their private sense be the sense of the Scripture, but to seek the understanding of it from God, who shows them the meaning of the word in the word itself, (the more obscure places being expounded by the more clear), and by his Spirit leads believers, in their searching the Scripture, into the understanding of his mind in it: God himself being the author of the word, as 2 Peter 1:21, is the best interpreter of it. Or:
2. Mission or dismission; a metaphor taken from races, where they that ran were let loose from the stage where the race began, that they might run their course. The prophets in the Old Testament are said to run, as being God’s messengers, Jeremiah 23:21, and God is said to send them, Ezekiel 13:6, 7. And then this doth not immediately concern the interpretation of the Scripture, but the first revelation of it, spoken of in the next verse; and the question is not: Who hath authority to interpret the Scripture now written? But: What authority the penmen had to write it? And consequently, what respect is due to it? And why believers are so carefully to take heed to it? And then the meaning is, that it is the first principle of our faith, that the Scripture is not of human invention, but Divine inspiration; that the prophets wrote not their own private sense in it, but the mind of God; and at his command, not their own pleasure. (13)
If Poole is correct that Peter has Scripture in mind when mentions no private interpretation, then private revelations are also ruled out. In the Puritan writings, it was common for them to place revelation (scripture) under the heading of prophecy. See “A Quest for Godliness” by J. I. Packer.
Additionally, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is an essential belief of the Christian faith. The self-evident testimony of the Scriptures is that they are sufficient. The Scriptures are completely adequate to meet the needs of the believer. This teaching is all over the face of the Scriptures. The believer can have confidence in the Scriptures. God's Words are described as “pure,” “perfect,” “a light,” and “eternal.” This conclusion is one that can be drawn from or deduced from the Scriptures by good and necessary consequence.
Anyone promoting the idea of ongoing revelation is dangerously close to if not an outright denial of the sufficiency of Scripture along with giving aid and comfort to the Roman Catholic attacks upon Sola Scriptura. If the revelatory gifts in the first century bore witness to the word of the apostles, what do these supposed gifts bear witness to today? Do the modern day tongue speaking practices have any effect on doctrinal purity? Roman Catholic tongue-speakers stay within the Roman Church and continue to love the Mass and charismatic tongue-speakers, many who hold doctrinal heresies such as Pelagianism, continue in soteriological errors. Whatever these purported gifts do, it does not appear to lead to doctrinal clarity!
John Owen’s inescapable dilemma:
“Once the Scriptures were written, and the prophetic and apostolic witness to Christ was complete, no need remained for private revelations of new truths, and Owen did not believe that any were given. He opposed the ‘enthusiasm’ of those who, like the Quakers, put their trust in supposed revelations given apart from, and going beyond, the word. In a Latin work Owen calls the Quakers fanatici, ‘fanatics’, for their attitude. He is quick to deploy against them the old dilemma that if their ‘private revelations’ agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree, they are false.” (14)
This dilemma is logistically inescapable and should be used today. Scripture is Paramount!
One of the greatest American theologians, Benjamin B. Warfield on the Cessation of the Charismata:
There is, of course, a deeper principle recognizable here, of which the actual attachment of the charismata of the Apostolic Church to the mission of the Apostles is but an illustration. This deeper principle may be reached by us through the perception, more broadly, of the inseparable connection of miracles with revelation, as its mark and credential; or, more narrowly, of the summing up of all revelation, finally, in Jesus Christ. Miracles do not appear on the page of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course. It might, indeed, be a priori conceivable that God should deal with men atomistically, and reveal Himself and His will to each individual, throughout the whole course of history, in the penetralium of his own consciousness. This is the mystic's dream. It has not, however, been God's way. He has chosen rather to deal with the race in its entirety, and to give to this race His complete revelation of Himself in an organic whole. And when this historic process of organic revelation had reached its completeness, and when the whole knowledge of God designed for the saving health of the world had been incorporated into the living body of the world's thought—there remained, of course, no further revelation to be made, and there has been accordingly no further revelation made. God the Holy Spirit has made it His subsequent work, not to introduce new and unneeded revelations into the world, but to diffuse this one complete revelation through the world and to bring mankind into the saving knowledge of it. (15)
In closing, consider how the Word of God Instructs Us:
“Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD: give me understanding according to thy word.” (Psalm 119:169)
Who would argue that “according to thy word” should be interpreted to include personal revelations or unverifiable utterances in a church meeting?
The Westminster Confession of Faith and cessationism 1.1:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Gordon H. Clark, First Corinthians, (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1991), pp. 212-213.
2. Leonard J. Coppes, Whatever Happened to Biblical Tongues? (Chattanooga, Tennessee: Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1977), pp. 59-60.
3. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1219.
4. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 1154-1155.
5. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Romans, vol. 2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 238.
6. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 1 Corinthians, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 323.
7. M. F. Sadler, The First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, (London, England, George Bell and Sons 1906), p. 217.
8. D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14,
9. (Grand Rapids, Michiagn Baker Academic), p. 84.
10. (Cited from Joe Nickell, Looking for a Miracle, (New York, Prometheus Books), p. 108.)
11. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Joel, vol. 2, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), pp. 893-894.
12. E. J. Young, Daniel, (Oxford: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1988), p. 200.
13. Charles John Ellicot, A Bible Commentary for English Readers, Daniel, vol. 5, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 387.
14. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, 2 Peter, vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 921.
15. J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, (Westchester, Illinois, Crossway Books 1990), p. 86.
16. Benjamin B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918), pp. 25-26.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.thereligionthatstartedinahat.com/
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary
“John Owen on “Communication from God” by J. I. Packer p. 5. A selection from “A Quest for Godliness” by J. I. Packer, 1990, Crossway Books.
COUNTERFEIT MIRACLES BY BENJAMIN B. WARFIELD https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_counterfeit.html#one
*Linguistic scrutiny quotes borrowed from Are Tongues Real Languages? By Nathan Busenitz