Thursday, April 02, 2009

The thing about 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The passage:
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul's purpose is to show the superiority of love to prophecies, tongues, and knowledge; and even to faith and hope.

In the course of making this argument, the apostle states that tongues, knowledge, and prophecy are all temporary gifts. No Christian should argue this point; the apostle states it directly. And so, no Christian should deny that tongues, knowledge, and prophecy were deliberately temporary gifts, gifts of limited "shelf-life," if you will.

And I think you should grant that all these are revelatory gifts, according to the Bible. "Tongues" is the miraculously-given ability to speak in unlearned human languages. "Prophecy" is the reception and communication of direct, inerrrant, binding revelation from God (Exodus Exodus 4:14-16; 7:1; Deuteronomy 18:15-22). "Knowledge" is exegetically more problematic, but I take it to be revelatory understanding of theological truth (1 Corinthians 12:8).

Now, where Christians part company is the time by which those gifts will pass. The apostle clearly says that the contributions of knowledge and prophecy are piecemeal, they are bit-by-bit (ἐκ μέρους, v. 9); and he says that the piecemeal will be replaced by the complete or perfect (τὸ τέλειον, to teleion, v. 10). Now, I have argued that the best contextual counterpart to the bit-by-bit process of revelation is the completed product, which would be the completed Canon of Scripture. But that is definitely a minority-opinion today, and (like the other views, by the way) it has its problems.

Regardless, what you must agree is that these were designed to be temporary gifts. You cannot take the position that they are permanent. Whether you think they function with full canonical authority until Christ's return (which, I think, is the worst position), or cease at some time previous (better), you must admit that they are temporary. Paul says so.

And that is the thing about 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.


Anonymous said...

Yay! Good post Dan.

I've stated before that I'm not a Cessationist, but I'm not Charasmatic either.

i absolutely agree that these gifts are temporary, furthermore, these gifts pale in comparison to love.

Which is why I'm not a charasmatic.

Michael said...

I agree, though I do find the "knowledge" part to be hard exegetically.

My own study I've come to the conclusion (similar to yours I believe -- at least what you said on your website [that was designed pre 1990 :)]).

I think I would just say "are you speaking in another language in order to spread the gospel?" and if the answer is "no" then I'd say what you are doing isn't tongues.

Angels apparently spoke Hebrew and Greek -- not "watermelon" over and over again because they don't know the words.

Question: If tongues are merely speaking in another language for missionial purposes then would they have ceased? Like if I go to Spain (having no fluentecy in Spanish) and begin to speak Spanish in order to speak of the wonders of God -- would that be real tongues? And if that is... would we have any problem saying the could still be useful today?

Just a thought.

DJP said...

Oh yes, Michael; my web site is all simply about making the texts available online. It desperately needs a webmaster, to look pretty. Very much the dinosaur.

No; the Biblical description of tongues requires unlearned human languages. And (as the link points out briefly) I don't see the primary purpose as evangelism, but a sign to Jews of impending national judgment (1 Corinthians 14:33 in context).

Michael said...

Ah that would then answer my question. Being Presbyterian I haven't found a real desire to study a lot into Tongues :)

HeavyDluxe said...

Since we've discussed this before:

n the course of making this argument, the apostle states that tongues, knowledge, and prophecy are all temporary gifts. No Christian should argue this point; the apostle states it directly.

Absolutely agree... The issue can only boil down to what τὸ τέλειον really *is*. If it's the Canon of Scripture, then da gifts are over. If it's something else, then da gifts will end at τὸ τέλειον's coming.

Just because I'm curious - Are you pointing this out because you want to emphasize the need to not 'idolize' the temporary, or because someone actually thought the gifts are 'eternal'?

DJP said...

Actually, there are other options that put the expiration of these temporary gifts before Christ's return.

But no, I'll tell you straight-up why I posted this. Because I refer to this passage from time to time in just this connection (as I do in today's post at Pyro). I want a link to use, that makes this point. Otherwise, every time there will be some Charismatic who will challenge my use of this passage, and I don't want to have to do this same discussion every time I allude to the passage.

So I decided to make a post to which I can simply link.



HeavyDluxe said...

Hooray intarlinks.

DJP said...

Strangest. Intralink. Ever. (But funny.)

CR said...

Here are my thoughts on tongues. As you say, the Bible says that tongues will cease.

We obviously have the tongues gift being exercised in the apostolic age. but since then there were only a few times when you see or read any reports of tongues being used. Followers of the heretic, Montanist, the militant Sevenall Prophets in the 17th century, the Jansenists - Roman Catholic loyalists, and then the Quakers.

So, I am a cessasionist for this reason, until, what the 20th century, after the end of the apostolic age and tongues stopped, tongues supposedly reappeared and was identified with heretical, fanatical, unorthodox, and with those outside the church - it doesn't appear in the church until it shows up with our charismatic and Pentecostal brethren. But the Bible does not say, tongues will stop for about 1,900 years and then re-appear and then it will cease. No, Paul clearly states that tongues will cease.

You know, knowledge and prophecy , Paul says are also temporary but he uses a different verb than cease. He says they will be rendered inoperative. But with tongues he says they will cease. That means they will stop.

So, I don't see any problems with the cessasionist view of tongues. We would have a problem if we had in recorded history that it was exercised by the church for the past 1,900 years. But we don't. Other than in heretical and kook fringe groups it stopped after the apostolic age (actually I think it stops even before the apostolic age ends - i.e. before John dies) and then it doesn't reappear until 1,900 years later. But again, that's not what the Bible says. It says it will cease - not temporarily stop for 1,900 years and then reappear and then cease.

DJP said...

Absolutely right, CR. I think I've heard them all, but there is no "continualist" explanation for their absolute cessation in Biblical Christianity.

And then, hey Presto! in 1906 something comes up that is nothing like Biblical tongues, except in name.

Not convincing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this very clear, understandable handling of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Gifts and their cessation has been a subject of study for me and something on which I've frequently voted abstain.

In all seriousness (no sarcasm employed here) I'd love to see a post of this nature dealing with the word "love". I think this word is misused and defined improperly and I would like a Biblical understanding of what it does mean.


HeavyDluxe said...

*sigh* And I just wrote Dan saying that I don't mean to come out and comment only on 'da gifts' related threads.

Oh well.

Just a couple thoughts:
I am a cessasionist for this reason, until, what the 20th century, after the end of the apostolic age and tongues stopped, tongues supposedly reappeared...

First, how do arguments from 'history alone' relate to 'Scripture alone'?

Second, could it be that the history you rely on in your argument has been written by those who had a cessationist agenda?

Criminey, we say that *The Gospel* was needed to be recovered after more than a thousand years of historical and theological error...

HeavyDluxe said...

PS - I would agree that the 1906 Asuza Street 'phenomenon' had little to do with the Biblical expression of 'da gifts'.

DJP said...

They relate perfectly, HD.

It's Scripture that calls us to judge a tree by its fruits (Matthew 7:14-20), be comprehensively discerning (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and describes tongues.

Judged thus, distinctive Charismatic claims fail, fail, fail.

Michael said...

I think what you are looking for Dan is "Epic Fail" and possible some cute picture of a cat...

How have Charismatics handled the arguement of Tongues = unlearned human language now to tongues = babbling?

I'm curious because out of all of the talks that seems the most cut and dry point (IMO at least). It seems to me 1 Cor 13:1 is all they have and I think arguing from a hyperbole isn't the strongest stance to hold.

HeavyDluxe said...

Last blurb, then I need to do work (sadly)...

Every time I've studied the Biblical case for 'hard' cessationism, I've found it void. At *worst*, I have to take the position of my sister above who voted 'abstain'. For me, this fundamentally decides the issue.

The more I've looked at the history of the cessation of the gifts, the more evidence I think there is that they were being pinched out by a rising culture in the then-dominant Roman Catholic Church. I believe it can be historical substantiated that subsequent historical reflections have negatively colored our view of the practice of the gifts in the immediate, post-Apostolic age.

I would agree that post-Reformation history shows a clear abuse of the gifts in a few radical sects - most notably some of the perversions that have been seen in the past century's Charismatic movement.

So, I'm not a 'charismatic'.

I believe the Continuationist case from Scripture is compelling. Therefore, I think what we need is a Reformation of our understanding/practice of the spiritual gifts - a reclamation of a robust pneumatology.

Oh, and I hope we all remember that this should be a conversation among brothers. Even when we throw mashed potatoes at each other while sitting down for supper.

DJP said...

Michael — I love I send my wife copies of a lot of them (the clean ones).

Phil said it with his characteristic razor-sharp eloquence: the one thing that "continuationalists" aren't is continuationalists. They most emphatically DO NOT believe that everything is happening as in Bible times. So they have to scramble to fabricate coverup explanations, and (as I've called it) "Clinton down" their substitutes for the Biblical phenomena.

DJP said...

But that won't work, HD. Did the Spirit stop giving gifts of pastor, teacher, mercy, giving, administration as the RCC pinched them out? If you're a "Continuationist," then you have to argue they all continue, all the time. Nothing can stop them. The first tongue-speakers TO A MAN did not believe in tongues and did not seek tongues.

So that argument won't hold water.

Aaron said...

The gift of tongues has caused great grief for me, my mother, and some of my friends. For we have all experienced churches that have insisted that you must speak in tongues if you are a "spirit filled" believer. Some people have gone so far as to coach me to speak in tongues. Ultimately, I decided that this "private prayer" language was nonsense. I couldn't find one example in Scripture where the recipient of the gift of tongues had to be coached in order to talk in tongues. Secondly, as Dan pointed out in his Pyro posts, what is the point? What does speaking privately in some unknown tongue do for me? If anything it keeps me from using my mind to actually pray. And lastly, I would think that those with this gift would live lives showing advanced spiritual maturity and self discipline. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Now I tend to lean towards the cessationist view, although I would be open to somebody speaking in tongues assuming it passed Scriptural muster. But I guess my church must be squelching the gift of tongues since nobody speaks in tongues there.

Jon said...

Isn't the one main qualification that Paul gave for tongue speaking was that someone had to be there to interpret it for everyone else? If that person isn't there then aren't those people violating the proper use of tongues?

I've never personally witnessed someone speaking in tongues, but I've seen plenty of "tongue" speaking being done on YouTube videos and the like and I've NEVER EVER seen anyone interpreting said "tongues".

Anyone ever had an experience of someone speaking in tongues and actually having someone there that believed that they could be translated and done so?

DJP said...

Yep. As a pastor I once knew remarked, "If 500 people are in a meeting, speaking in tongues, and none is interpreted, then 500 people are out of the will of God."

Unknown said...


Forgive me in advance for trying to "split the baby" on this one. What if, over time (anything's possible if you give it enough time, right?), the Holy Spirit altered the gift of tongues to simply enable some saints to really be good at learning languages, like a Wycliff translator, or a seminary professor who spends a few months to learn Dutch so he can read theology?

Is that inconsistent with Scripture?

~Mark said...

Yup, they are clearly temporary! Can't argue that.

Andrew Faris said...


Respectfully, I just don't understand the point of this post. Like you said: we all believe this. So what are you even arguing?

I would add that, regarding your comment to HD, I think it is entirely possible to squelch the Spirit's work. Don't we do this all the time when we sin?

It is remarkable that for whatever reason God has decided to give us some control of how the Spirit works. I have long found it instructive that for all of the critique Paul gives to the Corinthians in 12-14, the one thing he conspicuously doesn't say is, "That wasn't actually the Holy Spirit."

It is indeed outside of the will of God, and it is indeed not the way that God wants us to work. But I think it is still the Spirit.

Bottom line: if we had to do everything right for the Spirit to work, the Spirit would never work. The "don't quench the Spirit" command seems to imply that we can, in fact, quench him, doesn't it?

So in that case, the argument does hold water.


Jon said...

I also think it's very telling that there is this huge gap between the apostolic age of tongue speaking to our contemporary "version" of it.

While I can understand the argument that we had to "recover" the Gospel during the Protestant Reformation, but I don't think it was ever completely lost.

Jon said...

Andrew... read Dan's second post on this page and you'll know exactly why he posted this.

Aaron said...


Two things. In my experience with some charismatics, many of them will tell you that there are two types of "tongues." One which is meant to be interpreted and another which is a private prayer language based on the verse that talks about groanings of the spirit. The second thing is that I have never seen an interpreter but some of my friends who have gone to AoG churches in the past claim to have seen them. But, I, myself, have never seen it. Being that I'm highly dubious about it, I would immediately suspect any use of tongues. But my profession might also contribute to my naturally cynical nature. I also see very little value in pursuing the gift of tongues when I much rather have the gift of wisdom, prophecy, or obedience.

Kevin: One of the Pastors who influenced me to accept reformed theology, once told me that he was visiting Italy and attended a Protestant church service there. He is not entirely cessationalist, but obviously leans that way with some exception for the Biblical use of tongues (as I mentioned to Jon, I've never seen it). Anyways, he told me that he was able to understand the entire sermon as if it had been spoken in English, however, it was not. He explained that this could be an example of the gift of tongues. But as such, it was a temporary (i.e. once in a lifetime)manifestation.

threegirldad said...

Well, I almost always stay out of discussions like this, because it hits a bit too close to home.

[deep breath]

Anyone ever had an experience of someone speaking in tongues and actually having someone there that believed that they could be translated and done so?

Yes -- a lifetime's worth (ending a few years ago), across many churches in many states. This is typical of my experience:

-- the congregation is exhorted by the pastor to "yield to the Spirit"

-- most times, someone will eventually speak up and "interpret" -- and always (no exaggeration) in King James-ish English

-- sometimes, an "interpretation" never comes, in which case, the pastor periodically exhorts the congregation not to "quench the Spirit" (eventually, though, he or she [ahem] moves on)

This can, and does, happen at any time during the service. It's not at all uncommon for it to happen while the sermon is being preached. This is never considered a bad thing, by the way (think about that for a moment). It's also worth noting that I don't ever recall hearing anything said about these incidents being at odds with what we read in 1 Cor 14.

I've been describing the regular Sunday services. It's much different at revivals and Brush Arbor meetings. In those cases, you will almost certainly see multiple people "speaking in tongues" all at once. One rare occasion, you will see what I described regarding Sunday services.

After typing this comment and letting it sit for awhile, I've come back, and now see the courageous letter. Don't think for a moment that this story is an aberration -- it's not. I've seen similar things happen to many people I grew up with, some of whom have left the faith. It could have happened to me. Beginning around age 14, I was "called to preach" by a steady procession of people, and this continued for many years. I even had people tell me that this was clearly God's will for my life simply because of my ancestry (my family heritage in Pentecostalism goes back to Azuza Street on both sides).

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I've very much appreciated the writings that you and the rest of Team Pyro have done on the will of God, and it was largely through you guys that I moved from a "specific" to a "wisdom" view of God's will.

I do have a question related to your interpretation of what was going on in Corinth, one that makes it hard for me to accept the idea that the prophecy there is basically revelation of the same type as scripture. In 1 Cor. 14:1, Paul gives a general exhortation for the Corinthians to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Under your position (and please tell me if I'm misunderstanding), isn't Paul basically telling the entire congregation to desire scripture-level revelation? That seems unbelievable to me. And what would be even more unbelievable is that we would have scripture-level revelation being given out frequently (on a weekly basis?) and yet today we have not a single word of it. And assuming that the Corinthians weren't the only ones experiencing this, it would mean we had perhaps hundreds or thousands of scripture-level revelations of which not a single word survives to the present. Am I misunderstanding your view? Do you think the Corinthian prophecies were doctrinal revelations on par with those given to Paul and the other apostles?

DJP said...

Good question, and here's my answer.

Paul's exhortation is that the congregation, as a whole, prize the gift of prophecy above the gift of tongues. Tongues was inferior, being temporary by design (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), limited in aim (14:21-22), and the only gift that required a second gift to function.

Yes, I do think they were to seek inerrant revelation, which the Spirit did not see fit to include in the Canon. I fit that in with the narrative of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, as I understand it. There was no Bible yet. There were many churches spread over a great range, all of them in need of protection and instruction. While the Canon was being constructed, prophecy and knowledge contributed piece by piece (1 Corinthians 13:9). But when the completed whole came, the piecemeal was supplanted by it (13:10).

We cannot absolutely determine the specific content of these prophecies. For all we know, they were verbatim the same. But it was God's way of instructing and shepherding the church until there was the fixed point of reference that the Bible would provide, which it did in short order.

John Douglass said...

IRONY ALERT: Dan, you spelled "inerrant" with 3 R's. Intentional?

DJP said...

That's because it's really, really, really inerrant.