Thursday, May 10, 2012

On the Ceasing of Tongues

I try to avoid commenting on my Lutheran Satire videos on YouTube. There are two reasons for this:

1. YouTube comments have a character limit, which makes discussing theology rather difficult.
2. YouTube comments don't show up in order, so it's very difficult to keep track of a conversation.

By and large, this isn't a problem, since there isn't much gold in the comments section, either way.  Most of the supportive comments are not much more than cheer-leading, which, don't get me wrong, I greatly appreciate. And negative comments generally sound like the ramblings of wild haired anabaptists in straight jackets. So there's not much point in responding anyway.

But every once in a while, someone posts a comment that I believe deserves a bit of a thoughtful response.  And I think these words, from YouTube user Ph33rsPhun certainly do:

Just referring to the debates aspect of saying 1 Corinthians 13:8 has already occurred, because knowledge is also a part of what is going to pass away in 13:8. I suspect Paul was saying that when Christ comes again, prophesies, knowledge and tongues will pass away, but Love will not pass away. It seems quite a stretch to insert that tongues has passed away but knowledge has not. Note: I'm not defending the theology of speaking in tongues, just addressing the scriptural argument.

A stretch you say, good friend? A STRETCH?!?!?!?!?! Let me assure you, there's not a drop of Reed Richards' cosmically radiated DNA up in this Lutheran exegetical house. Which I shall prove to you. So let's break down some 1 Corinthians 13.

First off, I'm not asserting that tongues have passed away but knowledge has not.  I'm asserting that they both have.

Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

If you look at the full context of chapters 12-14, it's clear that the knowledge Paul refers to here is the same direct revelation, stuff-you-only-know-about-God-because-He-told-You-directly-kind-of-knowledge that he mentions in chapter 12, when he lists off the various charismatic gifts, saying:

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

So when Paul states in 13:8 that prophecy, tongues and knowledge will cease, he's using these three terms to encompass all the charismatic gifts.  

And not only does Paul tell us that these charismatic gifts will one day be gone. He also tells us when they'll be gone, saying:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 

This is perhaps a minor point, but I would argue, as Dr. Douglas Judisch has before me, that the Greek words here translated as perfect and partial would be better translated as complete and incomplete. So, as Paul tells the Corinthians, tongues and all the other charismatic gifts are taking place in this incomplete era, but they will cease to take place in the complete era.  So what is the complete thing?  When does this complete era begin?

Many, such as Ph33rsPhun, seem to be under the impression that this complete thing is the return of Christ on the last day and that the complete era is when all believers are taken into His kingdom.  It's understandable how one would draw that conclusion, but it's still wrong.  Here's why:

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So, when this complete thing arrives, prophecy, tongues and knowledge will be gone, but faith, hope and love will still be hanging around.

Will there be love in the heavenly kingdom?  You betcha.

But will there be faith and hope?  Heck no.  Because faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

And when Jesus is seen, faith and hope give way to sight.  This is, after all, why those unbelievers who want to turn to Christ on the Last Day will find that it's too late.  Faith and hope in a Jesus who is standing right in front of you, in all His glorified glory, ain't no faith or hope at all.

So the charismatic gifts will cease before Christ's return, which is something that Zechariah also points out, stating in chapter 13 (how fitting!) of his book that, one day, you will be able to spot a false prophet simply by his claim to be a prophet, a claim he will still have time to repent of.  Which wouldn't be possible on the last day.

So, then, what is this complete thing?

It's the completion, the fulness of apostolic revelation.  In other words, it's the New Testament.

It's important to remember that, when Paul writes these words, not all of the New Testament has been written.  And even that which has been was not widely available (or available at all) to most Christians.  So, if a congregation wanted to know what to believe about the resurrection, but the explicit teachings of 1 Corinthians 15 hadn't been written yet, what were they to do?  Or if a bunch of divorce happy pagan converts needed to be rebuked for their sin, but their congregation didn't have access to Christ's words in Matthew, how did God solve that problem?  When those Christians looked in a mirror and couldn't see a clear picture of what they were to be and to believe, how did God address that incomplete reflection they were seeing?

Through the charismatic gifts.  

So God would give people the gift of tongues, where He put His Word directly into people's mouths.  And He would give others the ability to interpret those tongues so that the assembly could understand what God was saying and believe it.  Likewise, God gave the gift of prophecy, of direct revelation, so that those who received it could speak it to the Church and the Church could know better and more clearly who God was.  That's why Paul says, in chapter 14, that the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.  And God also gave the gift of testing the Spirits so that the Church would not be deceived by those who would falsely prophesy.  And surrounding all of this, God gave the gifts of healing on command and miracles, so that doubters would see that the proclamation coming from those who possessed these others gifts should be heeded.

So God gave the charismatic gifts to fill in the blank spots until He permanently filled in those spots with the writings of the Apostles.  As Paul himself said about these charismatic gifts, 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.  So, in other words, these charismatic gifts were for the Church in her infancy stage.  They were milk.  But now that the Church has grown up, through receiving the fulness of the Scriptures, we have moved on to meat.  Quite simply, we have the Bible.  We no longer need the charismatic gifts.  And that's why they have ceased.

And history backs up this interpretation.  Because, after the death of the apostles, there were no claims to the charismatic gifts within the orthodox Christian community.  After approximately 100 AD, there simply has been no charismatic presence in the Christian Church, Sacraments-denying early 20th century holiness weirdos notwithstanding.

So, in summary, the Bible said that the charismatic gifts would go away when the Scriptures were fully written.  And when that happened, the charismatic gifts did exactly that.  Their purpose disappeared and the gifts disappeared with it.  And those who claim to have these gifts today are either deceived or lying.