Before we begin, we want our readers to understand that our study on this topic has its foundation in what the Word of God teaches about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Bible alone is the source for all spiritual truth, and in this study it is vital that we appeal to it as our authority. The doctrine concerning the gifts of the Spirit is a doctrine that is often discussed with a great deal of passion. Many people do not consider this subject worthy of debate and have decided to disregard the differences in these doctrines for fear of creating animosity. That fear alone has allowed compromise to creep into the church and has changed the standard of measuring doctrine from the Bible alone. Instead, preconceived ideas or experiences are now imposed upon the Bible concerning these spiritual gifts. Because of outward influences or experiences, many people read their beliefs into the Scripture instead of getting their beliefs from it. They are not allowing the Scripture to speak to them and therefore they fail to see the importance of recognizing and correcting the errors that are being taught today. As we study this issue our goal is to draw all of our conclusions from the Bible alone, being guided by truth. We want this point to be clearly understood, our only guide is the Scripture. Our conclusions are not based upon an experience or what we feel God has spoken to us. They are based upon what God has already spoken through His completed, living Word. We pray that you will understand the sincerity of our hearts in sharing this truth with you. We have a tremendous love for those who feel that the gifts of the Spirit are in operation today. While we disagree with their point of view, we desire for them to look to the Scripture to find the answers to these difficult questions.
Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32
The Who and What of this Doctrine
There are different viewpoints we must first try to define. The most prevalent view that will be analyzed is Pentecostalism. Pentecostals are primarily known for their views on the gifts of the Spirit. While we will not look at the Pentecostal denomination as a whole, we will discuss their teachings on spiritual gifts. In this study we will not use the term Pentecostalism nearly as much as we will use its sister term - Charismatic. It is our opinion that the term Pentecostal is too narrow a scope, while the term Charismatic covers a wider range of this belief system. Since its origin, Pentecostalism has branched out into many other denominations and sects, such as the Assembly of God, Church of God, and others. In an attempt to be set apart from any particular denomination some churches use no name at all, declaring themselves to be non-denominational. This, however, does not rightly describe them for we believe they are still a denomination. This “non-denominational” segment still has a specific doctrine that they follow and preach, usually a charismatic one. Not all non-denominational churches are charismatic, but many of them are.
There are also many other denominations that now embrace this doctrine, including Catholicism. Sadly, even Baptist churches, which historically have supported the cessationist viewpoint, are now beginning to support charismatic theology and bring it into their churches. There are also less extreme forms of this doctrine. There are some that do not believe that what we see among mainstream Charismatic churches today is actually from God, but they do believe that some gifts of the Spirit are still operable in the right circumstances. Outside of the Charismatic realm there are many people who do not understand the proper use of the gifts, their purpose, and whether or not they should be exercised today. There are many people who have simply not decided what they believe about the gifts. It is our prayer that this study will be helpful no matter what your background is or where you currently stand on this issue.
We feel that this is by and far one of the most important subjects to examine. The main reason for this is that the experiences taking place inside Charismatic churches are being attributed to God. There are thousands of people who claim that they can speak in an unknown tongue, because God has supernaturally enabled them to do so. There are those who say that they have been given the gift of healing and that God uses them to heal the sick. Many claim to have received this supernatural healing by God miraculously, without the use of any form of modern medicine. Some claim that they have personally witnessed their friends and loved ones being healed in such a manner. Others claim that God has supernaturally given them the gift of knowledge, which allows them to know certain things other people cannot know. These people claim to have experienced a wide range of different phenomena and they attribute these acts to the Holy Spirit. They claim to be able to become "drunk in the Spirit" which actually means that the Holy Spirit enables a sober person to act as if they are intoxicated. Other things that they attribute to the Spirit are uncontrollable laughter, jerking profusely, jumping up and down and there are many who claim that the Spirit of God literally knocks them down and glues them to the floor.
We must ask ourselves, are these things biblical? This is something that we not only need to know, this is something that we can and should know. We are admonished not to simply take a person at their word or accept every experience as if it is from God. We are instructed to examine these things against the Word of God. The Scriptures are clear; they alone are sufficient. Paul addressed this subject in 1 Corinthians 12:1. In that verse he said; Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant(NIV)." We simply should not be ignorant about these issues. Peter claimed under inspiration of the Spirit that: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)." So we already know that we have all we need in God's Word and that we are allowed and expected to examine these doctrines against that truth. The Bible declares that we should test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). We not only have a right to do that, we are instructed to.
In examining these things to see if they are biblical we may find that there are indeed some real biblical terms being employed. After all, there are real biblical gifts of tongues, healing and knowledge. However, there are no scriptural terms such as “being slain in the Spirit”, or “drunk in the Spirit”. So we must read the accounts of these gifts in Scripture to determine the use, purpose and definitions of some of these terms. Then we should examine the Scripture in relation to what is being practiced in Charismatic churches today to determine if they line up to the Biblical accounts. The best place to start this examination process is to actually look at the biblical definitions. But before we do, it is important to first understand the Holy Spirit’s role according to the Bible. This we will do in the next section.
The Holy Spirit's Role
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is our counselor and teacher:
John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. NIV
He is the Spirit of truth, sent by the Father to testify of the Son:
John 15:26 "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. NIV
The Spirit will show us things to come and will glorify Jesus:
John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. NIV
The Holy Spirit is the “living water,” which those that believe on Jesus will receive:
John 7:37-39 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. NIV
The Holy Spirit will give us power to be witnesses for Christ:
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." NIV
The Spirit plays an essential role in the life of the believer, for He is the key to Christian living. The Spirit leads and guides the believer in their walk with the Lord:
1 Cor. 2:12-14 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. NIV
Christians are told to "walk in the Spirit":
Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. NASB
The Holy Spirit’s Biblical role is not found in an esoteric manifestation that involves causing people to be “drunk”. Rather we are to be sober minded exhibiting self-control:
1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. NIV
He illuminates us through the reading and study of the Word of God. He is our comforter, guide, counselor, and teacher. He is the third part of the triune God who points us to Jesus Christ without using unscriptural methods.
What the Gifts are
Paul, by inspiration of God, lists several gifts of the Spirit in First Corinthians 12. The letters to the Corinthians were primarily written in order to solve church problems or correct false teaching (1 Cor 1:11, 3:1-3, 4:14, 5:1). This theme should be understood before anyone approaches these epistles. Today we seem to have a vast misunderstanding in many assemblies today as to exactly what "gifts" are and why they were given. The gifts of the Spirit are mentioned in a few places in scripture.
In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about the following gifts:
Word of Wisdom
Word of Knowledge
Working of Miracles
Discerning of Spirits
Interpretation of Tongues
Then we find another list in Romans 12:
Contributing to the Needs of Others
In 1 Peter 4 it mentions only two gifts:
We see something unique about the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians. In Romans we have only one mention of the gifts listed in Corinthians, that being prophesying. The list in Corinthians is more identifiable as sign gifts, as we will discuss further. The gifts listed in Romans (with the exception of prophesying) are different types of gifts. First, we will primarily discuss the gifts listed in Corinthians, touching slightly on those in Romans, nearer to the end of this study. Notice, in the lists given in the letter to the Corinthians, Romans and in the epistle of Peter there is not a gift of laughter, jumping, jerking or shouting.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that not everyone will exercise or have the same gift. He illustrates this truth by comparing the human body to the Church, as a picture of the Body of Christ.
1Cor. 12:12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (NASB)
Paul makes the exact same point in Romans 12.
Rom 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us… (NIV)
Then Peter follows by giving the same instructions.
1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. NIV
This is important to understand in light of the fact that today many people are aspiring to experience the same gift as everyone else. One of the most preferred gifts by many is the ability to speak in tongues. The one who desires this gift does so primarily because everyone’s spirituality is seemingly measured by certain gifts, usually this gift of tongues. People are often encouraged and instructed on how to receive this one gift of the Spirit while most of the other gifts are ignored.
Some even go a step further and insist that speaking in tongues is the evidence of having the Spirit and therefore essential for salvation. They do this in spite of the fact that the Bible plainly teaches that salvation is granted to those who simply believe in Jesus Christ by faith alone (John 3:16, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, Acts 16: 29-31). So while some believe that tongues simply bring us a step closer to God, many will be so bold as to teach that we must do so before we can even enter heaven. They will make a distinction between the tongues as the evidence of the Spirit and the gift of tongues, but there is never a distinction made in scripture. The Bible does not teach that there are two different types of tongues.
The gift of tongues was the primary problematic gift in the church of Corinth. It is sad therefore to see that even though Paul gave so much detailed revelation concerning the truth about this gift, today it is still one of the most misunderstood. We will look at this particular gift in great detail.
There are three gifts that Paul mentions in the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians. They are the gifts of tongues, knowledge and prophecy. In the next section, we will begin by explaining these three gifts in their biblical setting.
The Meaning of the Gifts
The Gift of Tongues
The Greek word for Tongue is glossa. This word is defined by Thayer's Greek Lexicon as: a tongue, i.e. the language used by a particular people in distinction from that of other nations: Acts 2:11. Throughout the New Testament the word tongue is clearly a language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations. The concept that a tongue is unknown may come in part because of the way the King James Version translates certain passages found in 1 Corinthians 14. The King James Versions added the word unknown before the word tongue in their translation. The word unknown is never found before the word tongue in any of the original manuscripts. Understand though that the translators of King James Version never intended to show or imply that it was a part of the original writing of Paul. They KJV translators often inserted a word that they felt would help the reader understand what the original was saying. Because of the great task of translating one language to another (as here they were translating Greek into English) sometimes it is necessary to do this. But when they did it, they put the inserted word in italics. So it says in the text of the KJV, “…unknown tongues…” This lets the reader know that the actual word unknown is not really a part of the manuscripts. And in this case, this probably causes a lot of confusion. If we are to understand “unknown” as not knowing the real language, then it works. But if we take the word “unknown” to mean it is some weird mystical type of babble that Charismatics speak today and claim is given by God, then this word is wrong. The best thing to do here is read the Bible as written in the original manuscripts and interpreted properly by most modern versions, without the use of the word unknown.
One of the best examples of this definition is found in Acts 2 where the apostles began to speak in languages that they were not able to speak before. We see here that the apostles spoke specific languages that already existed. Speaking in tongues was nothing more than the supernatural ability to speak in a real human language.
Acts 2:6-12 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" NIV
Notice here that these apostles were speaking in known languages and those that heard them speak in tongues heard them speaking in their own language. So we can read clearly that this gift of tongues was not some unknown language. In fact the Bible lists the specific native languages that were spoken.
It is here that we should give some attention to the phrase that they “heard” their own native language. Some credible Bible students will understand this to mean that the actual miracle was not in the speaking, but rather in the hearing. They reason that everyone speaking at once would be impossible to understand, thus the speaker spoke in his own language and the hearer heard in his own language. While this is a worthy explanation to be considered, I do not believe this is the case. One reason is in considering the context in every passage where the gift of tongues was given as well as the immediate context here in Acts. I believe the miracle was in the speaking of the tongue.
In this passage there were 12 apostles who began speaking in tongues. In 1Cor. 14:27 Paul says that tongues should be spoken one at a time, therefore we should not assume that they all started speaking in tongues at the exact same time. Most likely they spoke in turn and in an orderly fashion. God is not the author of confusion (1Cor. 14:33). Secondly in Acts 2:4 it clearly says that they began to speak in other tongues. The fact that others heard this tongue in their own language was a narration of the reaction to the miracle of them speaking in tongues. Hearing is not listed as a gift of the Spirit. The people were clearly amazed at those who were speaking in tongues, not those who were hearing it (Acts 2:7-12). Peter then has to explain the behavior of the people who were speaking in tongues because they were being accused of being drunk (Acts 2:14-15). Nowhere in these texts does Peter suggest that those who heard the tongues were the ones who were experiencing the miracle.
Another place in which we can see that tongues was simply a known native language is in 1Cor. 14. Understand that this context is dealing specifically with the gift of tongues.
1 Cor 14:9-11 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. (NIV)
Paul is teaching that there are different languages. The speaker is simply utilizing the ability to speak in a foreign language. Paul expresses to them that it does not do any good to speak in a language that no one is going to understand. This must be a real human language.
1 Cor 14:21 In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. (NIV)
Paul is quoting prophecy from the book of Isaiah showing that this gift is a fulfillment of that prophecy. The use of the word “strange” is common in scripture to mean Gentile nations. So, the languages are foreign, or rather they are Gentile languages. Even within the nation of Israel different languages were spoken. So, we can see that the Scripture clearly presents the meaning of tongues to mean real languages used by different races or nationalities here on earth. They are simply “foreign” or “strange” to the speaker.
To help us better understand allow me to put this in more practical terms. Let us say that we had a room of ten people. All ten people could speak English. Five of the ten people could speak Spanish as well. Of those five, one of them could speak a third language, French. Now, all ten of these people can speak in tongues or languages because they all speak at least one language. Half of them can speak two tongues or languages. One of them can speak in three different tongues or languages. This is speaking in tongues. Now, the gift of tongues was given to those who could not already speak in another language. The Spirit would enable them to speak a language that they did not already know how to speak. This is the gift of tongues.
Now that we understand that “tongues” is actually an understandable language such as Spanish, French, Greek, or any other spoken language, we need to respond to the one verse of scripture that speaks about the tongues of angels.
1 Cor 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. NIV
It is important to look at what Paul is trying to say. What point is Paul trying to get across to the reader? Charismatic theology assumes that Paul is teaching that people can and DO speak in an angelic language. This certainly would be a language unknown to man. However, in every single biblical encounter that man had with an angel, he never had a problem understanding or communicating with them. So, if there were some angelic language, this would be the only scriptural reference to it. It is important to understand that in this passage Paul is not teaching that we can speak in an angelic language. Scripture never refers to tongues in this manner. The context reveals to us what Paul is actually trying to teach. Paul said IF I speak the tongues of angles, and do not have love, it means nothing. He said he would only be making unnecessary noise. He is not telling us that we all have this ability to speak angelic languages but that even if it were possible it would be completely useless without love. Paul makes a similar statement in regards to the importance of love in the very next verse:
1 Cor 13:1-2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. NIV
Again Paul is making a hypothetical analogy to show that love should be the motivating factor behind all the gifts. If he had the gift of prophecy and could understand all mysteries and all knowledge and even have the faith to move mountains, but not have love, he is nothing.
One could argue that Paul represents one of the greatest characters in the entire Bible. He certainly was given special gifts by God (Acts 19) and was even caught up to the heavens (2 Cor 12). If anyone has ever had enough faith to move a mountain, certainly Paul would have been one of them. Yet, the Scripture does not teach that any saint had this much faith. Paul understood he did not have this faith, but said IF he did, and did not have love, it would be a meaningless faith. Likewise, to understand all mysteries and possess all knowledge would be an admirable trait, but Paul only said IF it were possible to do so, without love it would be meaningless. In verse 12 Paul tells us clearly that he only knew in “part.” That reveals that he did not possess all knowledge. To suggest that he did was not his purpose. Rather, he was trying to show that without love, even the grandest of things is useless. The next verse used by Paul is also relevant:
1 Cor 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. NIV
If anyone is under the impression that Paul was teaching that we have the ability to speak in angelic languages, they would also have to believe we should all have enough faith to move mountains and have the ability to understand all mysteries. They must then also consider giving all they have to the poor and surrendering their body to the flames. Obviously Paul is not teaching this should be the lifestyle of Christians! Paul certainly never did such a thing and there is definitely no mandate here from him for us to do so. His point was again, that If he did those things, without love, they meant nothing. Likewise, even if he could speak in tongues of angels, without love it would be worthless. Paul is not teaching that we are to attempt speaking in some angelic language. In fact, the context had nothing to do with angelic languages. It was an instruction concerning the condition of their heart. When they exercised their spiritual gifts, they were to do so in love.
Some Observations of the Charismatic Churches
When we realize that tongues are actual languages, we can begin to make some good observations. Before we do, let us keep in mind that Satan often uses Biblical terminology with a false meaning behind it. We must learn to distinguish between the true meanings and the false meanings that are attached to Biblical words. In Charismatic circles we find something totally different than what the Bible teaches. They say that tongues are unknown languages to man. They call this a heavenly or angelic language that only God can understand. The idea is that God is taking control of their tongue and causing it to speak in an unexplainable language. What sounds like gibberish to us, is supposed to have meaning to God. If there is an interpreter available, that person is given the ability to interpret the message of the tongue for us. Tongues, as the supposed evidence of salvation, is rarely if ever interpreted and neither are many tongues spoken in their churches, including so-called praying in tongues.
There is a major flaw with this doctrine. There is no test to determine what this language is, for it is completely unknown. This is especially true when there is no interpretation. Many Charismatics would say that when there is an interpretation of the tongue we then test that interpretation against the Bible. But then we are relying on the interpreter to be accurate and have no way to test if they interpreted correctly or not. What if the interpreter is wrong? We only need the Bible alone. The hearers in this type of situation cannot hear this in their own tongue as they did in Acts chapter 2. In this instance the hearer must rely on the speaker to determine if this spirit who is giving them power to speak in tongues is or is not from God. The speaker also does not know what they are saying. They have no way to test the spirit to see if it is from God if they cannot understand what the spirit is saying. This is completely unbiblical. We should always be able to test all things against the Word of God. We simply cannot do this if there is no understanding on our behalf. This is why Paul was clear, interpretation was not only necessary, but without it tongues were completely useless (1 Cor 14:6-15). The charismatic definition of tongues is not the same as the biblical definition. They have taken the term “tongues” and have defined it to mean what they want it to mean. To speak in biblical tongues is to speak in a language that is already spoken on earth and that language can and should be understood by man. It is a real human language. The gift of tongues has nothing to do with speaking in a mysterious language that we do not understand.
The Gift of Prophecy
To determine what the gift of Prophecy is we must look to the Scripture. We should not make any assumptions; we need to know what the Bible says about it. What we did with the gift of tongues, we will do with the gift of prophecy; examine what the Scripture teaches us about it. The Greek word for Prophecy is propheteia, which according to the Strong’s Greek definition means “prediction”. The word literally means to “fore-tell.” Scripturally we see that prophecy is never anything more than just that, for-telling a future event. We can look at the New Testament and see the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophesies; and there are many yet to be fulfilled. All throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament we read about Prophets who could for-tell future events. A prophet was someone whom God empowered to speak on his behalf about future events that would take place. A prophet could also speak for God about things other than the future, but prophecy is to reveal the future. We encourage every Bible student to search out each instance of prophecy in the Bible. It is clear to see that it always refers to future revelation or a fulfillment of the already revealed future. This is the clear meaning of prophecy all throughout the Bible. It never means anything else, such as preaching for example. In Deuteronomy we find that the way to determine whether or not a prophet is from God is to see if his “prediction” comes to pass. If it does not, he is not from God. A prophet must be able to for-tell the future. The test given for us to determine a true prophet from a false one is simple. The Scripture teaches that if any prediction does not come to pass, they are false (Deut. 18:20-22). If he is ever wrong about a prophetic utterance, even once, he is NOT of God.
It is important to understand the proper definition of prophecy. Many people think that prophecy simply means to speak to the people on God’s behalf. While Prophets did do this, prophecy is exclusive to the revealing of future events or the fulfillment thereof. By misunderstanding this definition many people conclude that preaching the gospel is actually prophecy, or the gift of prophecy. This is simply not taught anywhere in Scripture. Prophecy means just what it says, nothing more.
So in light of this fact we can see that the gift of prophecy was the ability to reveal future events. Just as God did with Old Testament prophets, in the early church, God empowered certain individuals with the ability to reveal prophetic events. For example, let us say that you lived in the first generation of the beginning of the Church and you had a question about the tribulation. The one thing you could not do was find a copy of the New Testament and flip over to Revelation chapter’s 6-18 to find your answers. That book had not yet been written. In fact, most of the New Testament was not yet completed, although much of it was being penned at the time. Because the Biblical source was not yet available, God had given some people the gift of prophecy so that everyone could know what was yet to take place.
The Gift of Knowledge
We will now look at the gift of knowledge. First we must define knowledge. I think it is fair to say that most everyone knows the definition of the word knowledge. The Greek word is gnosis and it means to know. To have specific information about something is to have knowledge. The English word Science actually comes from this word. There is nothing mystical about possessing knowledge. Knowledge is simply dealing with the facts of a matter.
The gift of knowledge was extremely vital in the early church. We must realize that the early church had just entered into a new dispensation, leaving the age of the law and entering the age of grace. There were new doctrines that went along with this change. No longer did God require animal sacrifices for our sins or circumcision as a sign of the new covenant God was making with us. The gift of knowledge was given so that the early church could be taught these new doctrines. We see in this passage that the early church was teaching things that were indeed “new.”
Acts 17:19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? NKJV
Remember, the New Testament, though it was being penned at the time was not yet complete. The early church could not turn to Galatians or to any of the other books of the New Testament to find out that circumcision was not required for believers. The gift of knowledge was necessary to explain these new doctrines that we can now read about in our Bibles. The early church did not yet have that resource, so God empowered some people with the gift of knowledge so that they could explain these new doctrines to the church. This would be an excellent recourse for the early church to the edifying of believers. But we now have an even better way of being edified, and that is through the Scripture (2Timothy 3:14-17).
The gift of knowledge is the ability to know about God or the things of God. You will find that each passage of scripture that mentions knowledge or doctrine is centered on the things of God. In my personal opinion, if we were to seek spiritual gifts, this is one that we should seek more than any other. People would do well to know more about the Savior of the world. Of course, it is not necessary to be empowered with the gift of knowledge in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, we now have the written Word of God that tells us all that we need to know. His Word tells us that we have all we need through the knowledge of Him.
2 Peter 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (NIV)
We are all supposed to have knowledge. We are instructed to grow in knowledge and to add to it (2 Peter 1:5-6, 3:18). The gift of knowledge was different, for not everyone had that gift. In 1 Corinthians 12:8 it tells us that to one there was given a message of wisdom and to another the message of knowledge. Paul said that the gift of knowledge would pass away (1 Corinthians 13:8). This gift had a purpose and that purpose had to do with teaching the doctrines of the new covenant.
More Observations of the Charismatic Churches
What this gift is not - is the ability to make a prediction. In Charismatic churches there are people who believe they have a gift of knowledge. This gift, however, is not the same as the biblical definition of that gift. Some charismatics define the gift of knowledge as basically the same thing as a prophetic word, only it’s meaning is geared toward a specific person. It is as if they are empowered with some psychic ability. They claim the word of knowledge tells them things about other people, information that sometimes not even that person would know. Sometimes they associate this gift with the ability to predict or see into the future. For example, a person may come to you and tell you not to take a trip you have been planning because they had a word of knowledge that the plane will crash. Of course when the plane does not crash they claim it is because you were not actually on it, or they use some other similar type of reasoning. This is not the biblical gift of knowledge. There are no passages in Scripture that portray the gift of knowledge in this manner. The gift of knowledge was always and only in reference to the doctrines or teachings about God.
First Corinthians 12 is clear that all of the gifts were to be used for the edification of the entire body and were not used to seek out certain individuals in such a manner. The gift of knowledge was to know about Gods doctrine. It had nothing to do with some prophetic ability geared towards individuals. When we test the charismatic definition against the Word of God we find that there is nothing similar to their definition found in the Scripture. In Scripture all references to knowledge have to do with the things of God. Nowhere is anyone given any type of psychic ability to assist people in non-spiritual matters. This gift was given to the early church because the Gospel of Christ without the works of the Law was a new doctrine to them, especially to the Jewish converts. There was a new dispensation being ushered in, and with that came certain gifts to help these new believers understand certain theological teachings. Since these believers could not simply open their bibles to book chapter and verse to learn about doctrine, they needed people who had this gift to teach it to them.
The Gift of Healing
This gift will be expounded upon in more detail later in this study. For now we must only realize that Healing, like Knowledge is self-explanatory. It simply means to be cured of an illness or ailment. The gift of healing is to have the ability to heal someone. We see in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John where Jesus demonstrated this ability of healing. The Old Testament has people healing, but not with the gift of healing. The apostles were also given the ability to heal people. This gift was a sign gift and was given to the apostles to give credence to what they were saying. (2 Cor 2:12; Heb 2:3-4)
The Other Gifts
Word of Wisdom, Faith, Working of Miracles, Discerning of spirits, and Interpretation of tongues are also gifts of the Sprit given to the early Church. While we may make mention of these gifts again, for the most part we will not go into depth of their meanings. Often this gift of discernment is coupled with some psychic type ability that is completely unbiblical. We can all exercise discernment based on wisdom through the Scripture. One should understand these gifts in the same way the gifts listed above were defined. Use the Scripture as a guide, not human understanding. These gifts, like the ones mentioned above were necessary because the early church did not yet have the completed revelation of God found in the Bible. These gifts were used by the Spirit for the growth of the first generation of Christians and served a specific purpose.
The Purpose of the Gifts
Now that we have defined what the gifts “mean” we must now ask, what was their purpose and is that purpose still valid for today? That question is of great importance and will help us determine if these gifts are still needed today. That answer cannot be hastily made based upon something we have experienced or witnessed firsthand. We must examine the Word of God to determine if this is indeed the case. Remember Scripture alone is our guide. If someone professes to have a gift and does something that appears to be miraculous, that alone is not enough to proclaim that they have indeed been given a Spiritual gift. The Word of God must judge our experiences; it is not the other way around. In order to determine if a gift is or is not from God, we must first determine for what purpose the gifts were given. Why were people given the gift of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, healing, etc.?
Pretend for a moment that you have just accepted Christ as your personal Savior. As a new believer, where will you go to grow in your knowledge of God? As a new believer you have this unquenchable desire to learn all you can about your new Savior! This desire will continue as we grow in our Christian life! And the more you study the Bible, the more you want to study the Bible. Where do you go for the answers? Naturally, a more mature believer will quickly answer this question by stating that the Bible has all your answers. As David declared, God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Ps. 119:105). We have been admonished by this very writing to use Scripture alone as our guide! But what if you did not have access to the Word of God? Where would you go then? Well, today that is not the case. We do have the Word of God to turn to for all of our answers. This, however, was not the case in the early Church. Back then, a person could certainly read from the Old Testament. The writers of the New Testament certainly used it when they were teaching and preaching. But they did not have the entire New Testament. The new church only had parts of the New Testament. For example, the Galatians had their letter, which we know is scripture. The Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and the recipients of the rest of the epistles had their letters as well. But they did not have all of them compiled together. In time, and quickly, those letters began to circulate and were preserved by God as His inspired Word. Of course they were inspired at the very time they were written. By the time of Peter’s epistles, Paul’s epistles had begun to circulate and Peter referred to those as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). But for the first generation of Christians the “Bible” was not complete. It was being completed, but before it was complete it was only “in part”.
Furthermore, at that time many of the Jewish customs were still being practiced. While today we can see a major division between the Old Testament and the New, they were still very much accustomed to the Old Testament ideas. This is especially true for the Jews. Judaism was very prevalent and the Pharisees were still active in spreading their view of the Law. Jews being converted to Christianity were confused. Acts 15 is a good example of this. For the most part, these people truly realized that what the apostles were saying was a new doctrine or teaching.
Mark 1:27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching-and with authority! [Speaking of Jesus] KJV
Acts 17:19-21 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." NIV
Peter did not even understand part of this new revelation when it was first given to Him. He pondered the meaning until God revealed it to Him.
Acts 10:17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. NIV
Naturally, there were many questions about these New Testament doctrines such as what role the Mosaic Law played under this new covenant and other such troubling questions. These needed to be explained. This brings us back to the purpose of the spiritual gifts. Because the Bible was not complete, God imparted spiritual gifts upon certain people so that they could be instructed about the New Covenant. If a believer had a question about the grace of God, baptism, or justification by faith they could not simply find their Bible or open up their Bible computer programs to the New Testament to find their answers. They could however, find someone with the gift of knowledge and ask them these questions. Those who had words of instruction would speak among the congregation and share their gift of knowledge or wisdom with everyone. These gifts were necessary for the edification of the body, so that they could learn and understand what God desired from them under this new covenant of grace. Much confusion has come from not clearly understanding what the purpose of edification is. It is important that we understand this before we continue.
Edification is about increasing in knowledge. Webster Dictionary defines it as “to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge.” The actual word means to “build up.” In scripture, this type of edification (building up) is about strengthening the church in knowledge, or instruction. Today, however, people seem to think that edification has to do with how a person “feels.” Edification is not about making anyone “feel good” or “experience” a special or supernatural event. There is no scriptural basis for this definition. Paul was clear, that gifts hold no purpose unless they bring some sort of instruction or information with which the church can learn and grow from.
1 Cor 14:6 & 12 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?…12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. (NIV)
There are no scriptures anywhere that speak to edification as a supernatural "feeling" or "experience" of the "power" of the Holy Spirit. Emotions are never mentioned. The gifts were given to help the church grow in the knowledge of Christ.
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)
We must discard the preconceived and worldly definition of edification as personal satisfaction and glory. This is not what “edify” means. Edification is to instruct and improve in spiritual knowledge. I can think of no greater way to be built up than in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
So we see that the gifts were given for the edification of the church. These gifts were an instrument of God given to man so that the early church could learn and grow in the knowledge of this new covenant during its early stages. During this transitional period, from law to grace, the church not only needed these instructions, they needed a method in which they could verify that those people who were teaching it were really speaking for God. Therefore, the apostles were not only given the authority to instruct us about these new doctrines, they were given the ability do miracles and practice these gifts so that people would know they were really speaking for God. These gifts were given by God as “sign” gifts to authenticate His apostles and to authenticate His “new” teachings.
2 Corinthians 12:12 The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance. NIV
Hebrews 2:3-4 This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. NIV
These “signs” were not merely miraculous in order to awe the crowds; they had been prophesied about and should have been recognizable to the Jews who were familiar with the Scriptures. They were used to prove the new revelation that was taking place was that which was spoken about in the Scriptures (Acts 2:16, 1 Cor 14:21).
Unlike today, the miracles that took place then were real and they were incredible. There was no doubting that Peter was an apostle, he had the ability to heal those who had been crippled from birth (Acts 3) and raise the dead (Acts 9). Paul also did miracles that cannot compare with anything we hear about today. For example:
Acts 19:11-12 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. NIV
These miracles were real, they were powerful and appeared outwardly, and were instantly proven and revealed. These have nothing in common with the weak and questionable miracles taking place in the name of Jesus today.
The Purpose of The Gift of Tongues
We must be very cautious to not get so caught up in an experience that we forget why we are experiencing it to begin with. People who are professing to be speaking in tongues focus on the experience and seldom talk about the purpose for which they are doing so. It is not until we understand the purpose of the gift of tongues that we can understand why this gift is not still relevant today.
The gift of tongues is unique. It is unlike any other spiritual gift. While the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, discerning of spirits and even faith helped to edify the body of believers, the gifts of healing and working of miracles helped to bring people into the body of Christ, primarily Jews. The gifts of healing and the workings of miracles are what we refer to as sign gifts. The very first gift that we see given was performed by the Holy Spirit Himself on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two. This was the gift of tongues. Tongues were also a “sign” gift, but it was not a sign for just anyone. It was primarily used as a sign for the Jews. We should note that this gift only occurs three times in the book of Acts. The first appearance of this gift occurred on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jews were present in this instance. The second appearance of this gift takes place in Acts chapter 10 and again Jews were present. The third and final time this gift appears in the book of Acts we read yet again that Jews were present. Notice the following chart taken from the Bible Knowledge Commentary on the New Testament, page 408:
|SPEAKING IN TONGUES IN ACTS|
|Passage||Tongues - Speaker||Audience||Related to Salvation||Purpose|
|2:1-4||The 12 Apostles and others||Unsaved Jews||After Salvation||To validate (for Jews) the fulfillment of Joel 2|
|10:44-47||Gentiles (Cornelius and his household)||Saved Jews (Peter and others) who doubted God's plan||The same time as salvation||To validate (for Jews) Paul's message|
|19:1-7||About 12 Old Testament believers||Jews who needed confirmation of the message||The same time as salvation||To validate (for Jews) Paul's message|
Paul confirms the significance of this by his statement that the gift of tongues was not useful for the believer at all, but was a sign for the unbeliever:
1 Cor 14:22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. NIV
Marks Gospel states:
Mark 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;… NIV
The gift of being able to speak in an unknown language is certainly a unique gift from God. The purpose of that gift however was a sign to the unbelieving Jews (See chart above). In the three examples of the use of tongues that are found in Scripture (Acts Chapters 2, 10, 19), we see that this gift was used to confirm the message to a Jewish audience and/or participants. There is nothing in these passages that reveals that the people speaking in tongues ever asked or prayed specifically for the gift. These passages never suggest that this gift was ever used for personal self-edification nor does it mention any feelings or emotions involved in the exercising of this gift. The Bible clearly speaks to the purpose of the gift, not how it felt. This does not coincide with the teaching of tongues today. The purpose of tongues as a sign to the unbelieving Jew is overlooked and the emphasis of the benefits of the personal experience are proclaimed. They teach that people are to seek and expect this gift. They emphasize the “power” that one is supposed to feel when the Holy Spirit takes control of your tongue. These false teachings of man are simply trying to entice the lusts of the flesh. Man wants to feel good and this experience is supposed to do just that. However, Paul clearly teaches the opposite in 1 Corinthians 14 which we will look at in detail later.
Tongues had a specific purpose. They were not given for us to have a special language with which to speak to God. God has given everyone the ability to talk to Him in their own native language, for the reader that is probably English. No Scripture commands or compells us to pray to God in a language that we cannot understand. Every person in the Bible that communicated with God or His angels always had the ability to understand them in their own language and they were able to speak in their own native tongue. There are no examples in Scripture to suggest that God desires for us to speak to Him in a secret language that the speaker is unable to interpret. There can be no communication when only half of the party understands the conversation and there is Scriptural evidence to suggest that it is necessary. In fact Paul tells us just the opposite. He says, "Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me." (1 Cor 14:9-11)
Speaking in tongues, as it is taught today, is a man made doctrine that is read into the Scriptures. The Bible never speaks about the emotions involved with speaking in tongues, therefore in order to believe this doctrine, you must assume that people who spoke in tongues had a certain feeling or blessing involved. Scripture is silent about emotions or spiritual benefits from speaking in tongues. The Bible does not tell us that tongues enriches our spiritual life. The Scriptures never talks about how is makes us feel. We do a grave injustice to the Word of God to add to it our own interpretations, desires or agendas.
In order to understand the primary reason for the gift of tongues it is essential that we understand that Acts 2 is the beginning of a new dispensation. We must first realize that the Nation of Israel (Jews) were God’s chosen vessel through which the blessings of God would come to this earth. Through them we received the Law of Moses and through their lineage came Jesus the Christ. They were the salt of the earth (Matthew 5). They were the light unto which the Gentile could see the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through all His riches poured out on them. Although the Old Testament prophets did not understand this new dispensation of Grace, they were searching for it intently (1 Peter 1:10-12). This new dispensation called together both the Jew and Gentile, so that the Gentile as well as the Jew could be a part of the wonderful grace of God. This gospel would extend to everyone. Surely the gift of speaking in foreign tongues signified or testified to this fact. It helped usher in the dispensation of Grace. The gospel was to start first with the Jews then reach to the Samaritans going forth from there unto the Gentiles:
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." NIV
This is exactly what happened! First we have the outpouring of the Spirit on only the Jews (Acts 2), then the Samaritans (Acts 8), and then the Gentiles (Acts 10).
The event surrounding the first Gentile conversion is one that deserves some attention. Before the conversion of Cornelius (a Gentile) in Acts 10, God had to prepare Peter for the event. As Peter was praying, he had a vision that something like a sheet was lowered down from heaven and it contained both clean and unclean animals. We know that the Jews were not allowed to eat unclean animals. In this vision God tells Peter to “kill and eat.” Peter declared “Surely not, Lord!” This happened three times. God told Peter not to call unclean what God has made clean. This vision was to reveal to Peter that his message was also for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. Notice what he says later about his vision as he approached Cornelius:
Acts 10:28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. NIV
The message of Peter is very important. Not only does he share the gospel, he reveals the truth that God’s plan is available to the Gentile as well as the Jew.
Acts 10:34-43 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." NIV
Then, read what happens next:
Acts 10:44-46 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. NIV
The circumcised were the Jews. They could hear with their own ears the tongues that were being spoken. This gift of tongues was a sign proving to them that what Peter was preaching was from God, and that God was indeed opening the door for the Gentiles. There was no doubt for those who were present. Remember, the Jews believed that Gentiles were unclean and this new revelation was not something they were ready to quickly embrace. In fact this event with Peter stirred up quite a bit of confusion. Read what happens next:
Acts 11:1-3 The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." NIV
Even after hearing that the Gentiles received the Word of God, they still criticized Peter for going to the Gentiles, regardless of the result! As we read the account, Peter had to explain everything to them, including a very important part, notice what he said:
Acts 11:15-17 "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" NIV
The Gentiles were given the same gift of tongues that the Jews were given on the day of Pentecost at the beginning of Acts 2. We find this confirmation significant in that God is unifying a people unto Himself both Jew and Gentile and is signifying it with tongues. It takes us back to Genesis chapter 11 where God used languages to cause division. Now He uses it to bring unity in Christ. What better sign than to allow them to understand foreign languages. And it is important for God to give a sign, as the Jews most certainly require a sign:
1 Cor 1:22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: KJV [NIV, NKJV - request a sign, NASB - ask for a sign, ESV- demands a sign]
The Jews specifically asked for a sign of the Christ on several different occasions.
John 2:18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this? NIV
In the case of the Gentile conversion, the sign gift of tongues served its purpose. Notice what the Hebrew apostles and disciples said to Peter after he explained to them that it was God who poured out His Spirit on these people in the same manner that they had received it; accompanied by the same gift of tongues.
Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." NIV
So we see then that the purpose of the gift of tongues is not for self-edification (which we will address in our study of 1 Cor. 14 further in this study), but for a sign to the Jews to reveal that the unification of both the Jew and the Gentile was taking place.
The Gifts Ceasing
We have examined what the gifts are, what they mean, and what purpose they served. This laid the foundation to help us understand why these gifts are no longer necessary. Today, we have something much better and more reliable than these gifts. We have the completed Word of God, the Bible. Remember, we illustrated that the gifts were important for the early church because they needed that knowledge, or wisdom, or prophecy to help them understand this new covenant that was being established. Today, we have the Bible to help us determine what we need to know. We no longer need to turn to people who may have certain gifts, because we can now read what those who were inspired with those gifts have recorded for us. There is no need to seek that person; we have a much greater prophecy in the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:19-21)!
When looking in the Scripture to learn about the gift of tongues, we will find only a few passages that refer to this gift: Mark 16:17 (one time) which is a prophetic account - Acts 2, Acts 10, Acts 19 which are the historical accounts, and 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14 where we read of the doctrinal account. In the passages in 1 Corinthians Paul addresses all the gifts but he narrows down the list to specifically three problematic gifts – tongues, knowledge, and prophecy. These are the gifts that the Corinthians were having the most difficulty with. The gift of tongues was the gift that Paul spent the most time addressing. In fact an entire portion of these passages are devoted to this one gift in chapters thirteen and fourteen. 1 Corinthians 13 is where we get one of clearest revelations that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased.
1 Corinthians 13
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (NKJV)
This portion of Scripture is often referred to as the “love” chapter. While love is a big part of the context, it is not the main reason that Paul wrote what he did. The subject of love is intertwined with the context of the spiritual gifts. His objective is to explain the proper way in which we should use these gifts. In verse one he states, “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” His point is clear; if he speaks in the tongues of men or even angels and does not have love his tongue is merely a noise without purpose. Growing up in my household, whenever my sister and I made a lot of noise, we were scolded by my mother. I can still hear her say, “Quit making unnecessary noise!” As an adult, I can understand this, especially when my wife and I are around our two nieces. Unnecessary noise is not beneficial and tends to be distracting to those who are around it. Paul said that if love was not the motive for speaking in tongues (or even if it were absent altogether) then all they were doing was making unnecessary noise.
Paul goes on to make the same point about the other gifts; without love they mean absolutely nothing. He then explains exactly what the qualities of love are. This is certainly one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, but the context is still focusing on spiritual gifts and their proper use. In verse eight he picks up his focal point again by making a very clear statement. He says, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” We cannot escape this statement by Paul. It means what it says. Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease and knowledge will vanish away. It is important to again understand that the context of this passage of Scripture started back at the beginning of First Corinthians 12. The context is Spiritual gifts. It explains to whom they were given, what they were for, and then gives important instructions about one gift in particular in chapter 14.
Making this distinction is important because it helps us to understand that Paul was not saying that prophecies and knowledge would cease, but that the gifts of prophecy and knowledge would come to an end. The gifts would fail. We still have prophecy and knowledge through the Word of God. We we do not have is the gift of prophecy or the gift of knowledge. Everyone can obtain the same knowledge through study of the Bible, and everyone can see the prophecies of Scripture by reading it.
1 Cor 13:8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
The Bible says in the above passage that 1. Prophecies will fail 2. Tongues will cease. 3. Knowledge will vanish away. So the next question that must be examined is - when? When will prophecies fail, when will tongues cease, and when will knowledge vanish away? Let us remember the reason Paul made this statement. These Corinthians were using their gifts without the express written permission of Love. He reminds them that the motivation for using these gifts should be based upon love. They should be motivated by patience and kindness, they should not be envious, boastful, prideful, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, or think evil. Paul reminds them here that not only are these gifts not to be used for selfish gain, but that the gifts were not going to last much longer! While they were misusing and misunderstanding these gifts, they were about to see the fulfillment of the purpose for which they were given. Reading further in the text Paul gives us some answers as to when these gifts would end:
1 Cor 13:9-12 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
Paul gives us the answer by using three parables. Let us analyze these parables.
“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.” The gifts were given only in part. There was a reason for that. They knew only in part, because they did not have the complete revelation of God. They prophesied in part because they did not have the complete revelation of God. But when that which is perfect is come, then the in part will disappear. There will be completeness. But what is “that which is perfect” that is yet to come? The text shows that it could only refer to the Revelation of God, the Bible.
It must be addressed here that some people think when Paul said, “that which is perfect” he was referring to Jesus. They believe that the perfection to come is the return of Jesus Himself. But Jesus is not in the context here. Paul is addressing the spiritual gifts. We can also see that the term “that which” could not be referring to a person, especially the person of Jesus Christ. Paul has never referred to Jesus in such a manner, instead Paul would have used the term "And He who is to come,” not "that which is to come". The Greek word translated "perfect" is teleios meaning "perfect" in the sense of "nothing lacking" or "complete." The Greek word is neuter, so it cannot possibly refer to Jesus, who is masculine. This is not the type of language one uses to speak about Christ. Furthermore, this could not be Jesus because Jesus is going to come back in different stages, first in the rapture then in His actual second coming. Which stage would make these gifts end? At which stage would there not be a need for these three gifts? Paul does not specifically say because the "perfect (thing)" is not Christ, but the completed Word of God.
Paul makes it very clear that the gift of tongues would die out: “whether there be tongues, they shall cease." Obviously there has to be a time when the gift of tongues would cease. Paul is making this point to be clear. Remember his words at the beginning of this passage, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1Cor 12:1). If Paul did not want us to be ignorant then he would not leave us in the dark about when this would happen. Indeed he tells us when it will happen. The Greek word translated "cease" is a future tense, middle deponent voice, indicative mood verb meaning "to cease in and of themselves" or to "die away of themselves." So this verb tell us that these gifts were already in the process of ceasing. Paul was actually writing part of the Bible as he wrote this letter and as he penned these words the gifts were already passing away. The Bible is the perfect thing. Every single word being written in the New Testament was leading to an end of the gifts. Their purpose, need, and existence would be coming to an end. Soon, these gifts of the Spirit will have vanished away, but until the Bible was completed they still served a purpose.
This parable shows a time frame as to when “that which is perfect” will come. He says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Paul is using the illustration of a life-span to show the time frame in which these gifts would end. I have attempted to make a chart that would better explain this:
Paul uses a lifespan. It was his lifespan, and he is teaching that he is putting away childish things. When Paul was a child, he spoke as a child. This is a reference to tongues. He understood as a Child is a reference to knowledge, and he thought as a Child is a reference to prophecy. But when he became a Man those things disappeared. This was to happen in an observable period of time. Since Paul is using the development of a man as an illustration, then we can draw some conclusions from that. The Church is likewise referred to as a body. Paul refers to the Church as the body of Christ. Again we can look directly at the context to see this:
1 Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. NIV
Look back at the entire context of chapter twelve. Paul is using the symbol of the body again. In his illustration here in the thirteenth chapter, he is teaching that as a baby (early Church), it did childish things. As a boy (as the Church progressed), it started to put away childish things (the gifts were already beginning to cease at this point). Then, as a man, these gifts would disappear, no longer to be used or needed. Some argue that we are nowhere near the point in time when the Church has reached maturity. But consider what Paul is trying to say. He is telling these Corinthians that as he is writing this letter the gifts were already ceasing. They were using gifts (without love) that were going to end soon anyway. The Greek tense of the word testifies that they are beginning to cease.
Paul was using a lifespan as an illustration and we must realize that we can look at any lifespan and see when that person reaches adulthood. It is something completely observable by all of us. First there is a baby, where we see a new life totally dependant upon others. Then we see their childhood and watch them grow up into adulthood. If we can physically see this happen, then there should be no difference in our observation of the body of Christ, the Church. We can read of its infancy (Acts 2-19). We can read of its childhood (as we are doing right here in this passage). We can then see when it reaches adulthood. If the church were not goint to reach adulthood until Jesus comes back Paul's point would have been completely irrelevant. If the gifts were not going to cease until Christ’s return, then there was no need for Paul to warn us of their departure. He could have easily said, "These gifts are going to end when Jesus returns so continue using them. This would have been quite obvious and would not have needed to be mentioned. Paul, however, warned us that they were going to end and he did so in the context of correcting how the Corinthians were using them. He said to use them with the proper motive and remember that they were soon going to end anyway once we have "that which is perfect."
Let us get back to the “that which is perfect” again. We read in verse 12; “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” We have already shown that the phrase “that which is perfect” could not be the Church or the return of Jesus. This is reference to the completed Word of God. Paul is telling the Corinthian church that, when the completed Bible is in their hands, they will no longer only have a partial knowledge, but they will know just as they are known. They will see the word of God just as well as they see their own face in a mirror. When we look into the perfect law of liberty (the Bible) it shows us ourselves as we really are. The Word of God is “that which is perfect.” When the Word is complete then that which is in part shall be done away. Scripture will interpret Scripture. We do not have to guess what the “glass” means. The glass is the Word of God.
James helps us shed light on Paul’s metaphor:
James 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does. NIV
The phrase “that which is perfect” is a reference to the perfect law that gives freedom, which is the glass in which we see ourselves. This is confirmed by Paul’s words that when these gifts cease, we will have a perfect thing. Notice what else the Bible says about the God’s Word:
2 Tim 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. KJV
It is the Scripture in which God gives doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, not spiritual gifts. Furthermore, the Scriptures are able to make us perfect (complete, adequate) unto all good works.
Peter also wrote of the greatest prophecy. He tells us about an experience his eyes saw, and ears heard. The experience he had was on the mount of transfiguration. Even after having this experience he said, we have a greater prophecy. He was speaking of the Word of God (2 Peter 1). So Paul’s words here in chapter 13 makes even more sense in light of what Peter had said. The partial understanding of prophecy is made complete in the full revelation of God. We can trust the Word of God; we cannot always trust a human agent. The Bible is above all human experiences and emotions. People who profess that the gifts are still useful for today always use experiential arguments. (We will look closer at this later)
The Bible is powerful. It does more for a person than any experience, gift, what eyes may see, what ears may hear, or what the body may feel. The gifts of the Spirit were communicated through fallible people but the Word of God is infallible. The Bible gives overwhelming evidence as to why Scripture must always be our sole authority for faith. The Word of God is pure, perfect, inerrant, infallible, living, truth, light, holy, eternal, and forever settled in heaven. It illuminates, cleanses, saves, frees, guides, converts, heals, quickens, judges, and sanctifies. It also brings conviction, gives knowledge, gives wisdom, produces faith, refutes error, searches the heart, equips for every good work, and is used as a weapon. We could not ask for more than that!
Heb 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. NIV
Apostleship and The End of the Gifts
Now that we have examined the purpose for the spiritual gifts, we must also examine to whom these special gifts were given. As we discussed, the main reason spiritual gifts were given, especially the gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, knowledge and the gift of tongues, was to signify God's message. That is to say they were given as signs, validating God's message and giving His signature to the teachings that were coming from them. God was ushering in a new dispensation. At this time, we moved from being under the Law of Moses into the new dispensation of grace. Jesus came to fulfill the law and He accomplished this in several ways. After His death, a new era was beginning. We read about this in Acts chapter two where it records the birth of the Church. This transformation from law to grace, referred to as the dispensation of grace, needed to be confirmed. There had to be some sort of proof that the message of grace was from God. God chose the means and the method for which he would do just that. These sign gifts were not given to just anyone, they were given to certain people. Those people were the Apostles. The apostleship could extend past just those twelve apostles chosen by Christ. The Bible teaches that Paul was also an apostle. In the gospels we see that Jesus called another seventy-two in the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom on earth. [Some manuscripts seventy; also in verse 17. KJV – seventy, NASB – seventy.]
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. NIV
But the office of an apostle is a very unique one. To be an apostle required something that not everyone had accomplished. Note:
Acts 1:21-22 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection." NIV
Notice also what Jesus tells His apostles in John chapter fifteen:
John 15:26-27 "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. NIV
Apostles had to be personally acquainted with the Lord's ministry from John's baptism to his assention. Even more, they had to have a first hand account of the entire ministry of Jesus Christ. This particular office cannot be filled today, because all of the people who were witness to the events of Christ are now dead. It is simply not possible to have an apostle today. For someone to claim apostleship is to be contrary to the Word of God. There were certainly apostles in the apostolic age, but an apostle had to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ life. Consider what Paul said to the Corinthians:
2 Cor 8:23 If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. NKJV
The Greek word for “messenger” is the same word that is transliterated as apostle. It is Apostolos. Note Strong’s dictionary’s definition of this word:
apostolos (ap-os'-tol-os); from NT:649; a delegate; specially, an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ ["apostle"] (with miraculous powers): KJV - apostle, messenger, he that is sent.
Let’s look at the meaning of apostle from Unger’s Bible Dictionary:
APOSTLE (Grk. apostolos, a "delegate"). One sent with a special message or commission…
So the apostle had a special commission, to carry the new dispensational message of the gospel first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Read through the entire book of Acts. It is evident that the acts recorded are historically the transformation period from law to grace. This is one reason why it is dangerous to attempt to take the events recorded in Acts as the norm. Some of those events were one time events or events that are strictly unique to the apostolic era. In fact, the book was titled Acts because it records the “Acts of the Apostles.” The Bible teaches that it was by the apostles that these sign gifts were given. Consider the following passages:
Acts 2:43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. NIV
Acts 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. NIV
Acts 5:12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch NKJV
Acts 14:3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. NIV
Rom 15:18 I [Paul] will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done- 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. NIV
2 Cor 12:12 The things that mark an apostle-signs, wonders and miracles-were done among you with great perseverance. NIV
Reading through the book of Acts, you will find that all of the miracles were done by an apostle. From Peter to Paul, the biblical pattern is laid out. Knowing this, we can further understand the purpose of the sign gifts. Frankly, we simply do not need these gifts anymore! Again, we have something much more reliable, which is the completed Word of God. When a person realizes that the Bible is not only a theological book, but that it is a historical one as well, they can be satisfied with the historical record. It is also a factual historical record, not one based upon vague historical events. For instance the book of Acts confirms that these sign gifts were actually performed by the apostles. We know that the apostle Paul had the authority to speak for God because he had signs that accompanied his words. The Bible (which I trust more than life itself) teaches this. Paul himself, over and over stressed that he was not making things up, but pointed to his apostleship as his authoritative source.
What Paul was teaching in First Corinthians makes sense if we understand that these gifts were given for the purpose of signifying Gods message to usher in a new dispensation and that they were given to the apostles to confirm that message. He was teaching that these gifts were coming to a close. First because the written Word of God was almost complete, and secondly, using a lifespan as an illustration, he taught that as the Church began to grow, these gifts would fade away. We would not need them any longer. The writer of Hebrews also confirms this, note:
Heb 2:3-4 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? NKJV
Those who heard Him and were bearing witness with signs and wonders, which included miracles, were the apostles. It is impossible today for anyone to be an apostle, even if they desire to do so, because no one can meet the qualifications set out in Acts chapter 1. Furthermore, we should not be seeking this position. We should follow the example of the apostle Peter and believe that we have a much more reliable source of truth in the Holy Scriptures. When we realize that the Holy Scriptures are God-breathed, living and powerful, we begin to realize that there is no gift, no sign that is greater than that. It is at this point we should meditate on the Bible, one of the absolute greatest gifts we have, and be thankful for this gift. Thank You Jesus, for the written revelation of your precious word.
Taking a Close Look at 1 Corinthians 14
As we have already mentioned, in the Charismatic world, the gift of tongues is given more prominence and attention than any other gift. This gift, that is the most desired, coveted and sought after gift, is vastly misunderstood. The gift of tongues, as it is taught within the Charismatic movement, and the gift of tongues as it is taught in the Bible are not the same thing. There are many people who are not associated with the Charismatic movement that do not understand the differences between the biblical tongues and the Charismatic tongues. Furthermore, many people that do realize there is a difference between the two are often reluctant to speak out and question Charismatic teachings. Again, Paul clearly taught us that God does not want us to be ignorant; therefore He has given us a clear revelation that we can and should understand. With that said, lets examine a chapter that is devoted to the gift of tongues.
1 Corinthians 14 (NIV)
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
We must read this passage remembering what we have learned so far. This was written when the gifts of the Spirit were still in use, but the gifts were also beginning to fade away. Paul was writing to these Corinthians specifically to correct their doctrine. He was explaining to them the proper use and purpose of the gifts. Paul states that he wants them to follow the way of love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, but he emphasizes the importance of prophecy rather than tongues. We will quickly learn why.
2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
It must be noted that when the Biblical gifts were given, they were given to that individual one time. It was not something that they needed to continually seek and ask for over and over again because they already received it. If a person had the gift of prophecy, they had it to use when they chose to use it (v32). The same is true with all the gifts, including tongues. So, there was no need to earnestly and continuously ask God for the ability to speak in tongues, if a person had that gift they already had the ability to use it. They could speak it when they wanted, period.
Now the Corinthians were confused about their gifts. At this time they were being boastful about the gifts that they were using. Their desire was only for specific gifts and they were using them simply to feel good rather than for what they were supposed to be used for. The entire chapter of First Corinthians 12 is dedicated to explaining how each gift was just as important as the other. In chapter 13 Paul explains how our motivation for using the gift must be from love. Now, Paul begins to explain what happens when you do not use the gift as it was intended. Paul clearly explains later (as we will soon see) that without understanding, tongues are useless. This verse is not contradicting his other statements. He is clearly comparing and contrasting the proper way to use the gifts.
Now, notice what Paul is saying here in this verse. Anyone who speaks in a tongue (as the Corinthians were doing, for the wrong reasons, purpose and motivation) they do not speak to men. They are not speaking in a language that anyone present could understand, nor were they seeking the ability to understand it. (Remember, tongues are known human languages, not “unknown” mystical ones.) A person within the local assembly may begin speaking in a tongue that no one else there spoke and none of them would have a clue as to what he was saying (in verses 13-15 Paul specifically says that they should have understanding). It may make him feel more spiritual, but it did nothing for anyone else (As Paul soon explains in verse 9). This is what Paul is saying here, if they use their gifts for selfish reasons, only God understands what they are saying. To those around him, you are speaking mysteries. What good is that? So what does Paul say next? BUT…he is now going to compare speaking in a language that no one understands to prophecy. Note what he says:
3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
If the one who prophesies speaks, he speaks to men because there is understanding, and it serves as a strengthening, encouragement and comfort to the church. This is the desired reason, purpose and motivation for using the gifts, to edify others.
So to sum up so far, Paul says to desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (v1) because tongues (without understanding) speaks only to God (v2), but prophecy speaks to men to strengthen, encourage and comfort them. This is the purpose of the gifts, to edify the church (v12). Remember First Corinthians 12 tells us that gifts were given for the good of the entire body. Now Paul gives us another comparison.
4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
Here Paul teaches that if one starts speaking in tongues, all he is doing is edifying him self. Charismatics think that Paul is saying that this is the desired result of tongues. However, in this context Paul reveals that this is a completely negative result, not a positive one. Only one person is being edified – and that is the person actually speaking in tongues. Paul teaches that the one who prophesies does a better thing because he edifies those around him. Again, this is the entire purpose for the gifts, for the “common good,” not selfish gain. Tongues, again, falls short.
5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
Paul goes on to say that he would like for everyone to have the ability to speak in tongues, but he would rather them prophesy. Paul specifically says that everyone who prophesies is greater than those who speak in tongues!
Now, Paul is teaching something I want to draw your attention to. He is making a blanket statement about interpretation. A person speaking in a tongue could interpret what he has just said (He verifies this in v13). What would be the real point of this? Why would they speak in a tongue merely to interpret it in their own language anyway? Well, further down, we read where Paul is teaching that tongues are for unbelievers, not believers. If an unbeliever had been present, and a person spoke in tongues, then that would be beneficial to the unbeliever. What Paul is teaching in that case, is when they were given a tongue to benefit the unbeliever; they should then also interpret that tongue to make it beneficial to the believers as well. Again, the point here is that the gift should also ultimately be used to edify the body.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?
Here again sets forth his contention, if he was to come to them and speak in tongues, it would be of no use to them. It would only be edifying for the body if Paul were to come and bring revelation, knowledge, prophecy or instruction.
7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?
Paul is using musical instruments as an illustration to make his point. The lifeless things are the flute, harp or trumpet. Imagine a person with no musical instruction or knowledge picking up an instrument. Do you think that you will be able to distinguish what song they are trying to play? No, because if there is no distinction in the notes. They are simply making noise. Furthermore, if a trumpet sound was not clear to an army, how would they know when to be ready for battle? I cannot help but believe that Paul is making verse eight symbolic of the Church being ready for the battlefield of the world. If all they hear in their assembly is people speaking languages they do not understand, then they do not receive edification. They, then, will not be properly equipped in the field. Speaking in tongues in this situation is much like an instrument being played without a distinction of notes.
9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.
They must speak in a language that everyone can understand; intelligible words must proceed from your lips. Otherwise no one would know what they are saying and all they would be doing is speaking to the air! It has zero affect and there is nothing spiritually edifying about it. It is useless.
10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.
There are all sorts of languages, and yet none of them is without meaning.
11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.
If a person does not understand the meaning of the language being spoken, then they are like a foreigner. Imagine being in a foreign county and being surrounded by people speaking a language you do not understand. In such situations people are simply unable to communicate. Paul is making the point that a person who speaks in a tongue in front of people who do not speak that tongue, it is no different than being in a foreign country. There is no communication, and therefore no edification.
12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
After sharing with the Corinthians that tongues were useless in the church and caused the members to be as foreigners to each other rather than bring them edification he then tells them what kinds of gifts they should be seeking. If a person was eager to have spiritual gifts, Paul said they should excel in gifts that would do some good and that would build up the Church.
13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.
Again, attention is drawn to the importance of being able to understand what is being communicated. If tongues are being spoken, then pray that the interpretation follow. Note that the person speaking that tongue was able to interpret it.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
Paul is not endorsing some sort of prayer language, nor is he endorsing “praying in tongues”. Many in the Charismatic circles claim that they can desire to pray in tongues. But Paul says this us unfruitful. The only person who understands you is God. When we pray, God wants us to understand what we are praying! This is part of prayer, communication with God. God gave us all a prayer language, for me its English, for the reader it is probably English as well. If anyone wanted to learn another language(s), this too may be a way of communicating to God. Paul says that using your gift of tongues to pray is simply unfruitful. This is not the desired effect. Paul then tells us what to do.
15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.
They were to pray in the language God gave them, in the language everyone can understand, including the one praying. Just like when they sing, they were singing so that they could understand. To do otherwise is unfruitful. Paul says if they pray in a tongue, though their spirit prays, their mind is unfruitful. Then he asks, “So what shall I do?” He then answers by saying pray with your spirit and your mind. In order to do this your mind must understand what the spirit is saying. He then goes on to explain another reason why speaking in tongues is unfruitful.
16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?
If one starts to praise God in a language unknown to those around him, how can they say amen (which means “so be it”) to what they are saying? If they cannot understand you, they do not know whether to agree or not with what was said. (Notice that Paul did not expect them to praise God simply because the person was speaking in tongues) No, he expected them to need to understand what was said in order for them to agree or not. Speaking in an unknown language is not proof in and of itself that it is from God or that we should automatically be in agreement with what is being said. Without understanding what is being said, we cannot agree and say “Amen” to it. Unfortunately there are too many people saying "Amen" to what they do not understand. Paul said that we would need to have understanding before we can do that. To do otherwise is not scriptural.
17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.
Even though they may be sincerely giving thanks in their prayer, the others are not being edified. Spiritual gifts were given for the edification of the body, so there is no reason to be praying in tongues. Even when they were going to be alone, to pray in a tongue they do not understand is simply speaking to the air and their mind cannot understand what their lips are saying. That is why they are to pray with both their spirit and mind.
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
Paul had the gift. He used it more than all of them. But no doubt, he used it in the way God intended it to be used, for the unbelieving Jew.
19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Paul, being inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, says that he would rather speak five intelligible words so that those words can instruct others, rather than ten thousand words in tongues. There is not much use for this gift of tongues, especially in light of the fact that they were ceasing to begin with.
20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
It is completely childish within the family of God to speak in tongues. Move on to adulthood. This takes us back to what Paul taught in the thirteenth chapter. When he became a man he put away childish things. As a man those gifts ceased. In regard to evil things, be an infant, but in regard to the spiritual be adults.
21 In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.
This is a key verse, as Paul sets forth the purpose of the gift of tongues. Remember tongues are a sign gift primarily for the Jews. God used this gift, as a fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah 28, as a sign for unbelievers in Israel. This is not a sign for believers, nor would this gift always profit the unbeliever. This sign gift was used for the Jews. The gift of prophecy is for believers.
23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
Improper use of this gift will result in people, even unbelievers, to think the Church is out of their mind. This is not the desired effect of the gift of tongues. It simply did not produce good fruit when it was used improperly.
24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"
If an unbeliever who does not understand tongues comes in while people are speaking to each other in an understandable language, he will be convicted of his sinful state and be judged by those words. Gifts are to be used in the proper fashion with the underlying motivation being love. If we do this, unbelievers will see that “God is really among you” rather than thinking you are out of your mind.
26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
Every gift should be done with others in mind and with love being the motivating factor. These gifts should be used for the strengthening of the Church. Remember though, tongues has the least amount of use or effect. Paul would rather them speak in five intelligent words than to use tongues.
27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two-or at the most three-should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.
If tongues are used, which should be very rare, only two or at the most three should be speaking. And today they should never be used. Chapter 14 was written when tongues were still in use. Now they have ceased. One of the things we can learn about chapter 14 is that the biblical tongues do not line up with what we see today. In this regard, the Bible is being a corrective tool. They should do it one at a time, and there needs to be an interpreter. Looking at some of the Charismatic churches today, this instruction is obviously not being followed. Even if they were using the real biblical tongues, they are simply not in compliance with Scripture.
28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
If there is no one to interpret, keep quiet. If they insisted on speaking, they were to do so only to their selves and God. Remember, Paul stated that this was fruitless. Regardless of how it might make you “feel”, it only edifies yourself and this is not a good thing.
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
The same is true with the other gifts. Every thing should be done in an orderly fashion for the edification of the body. There should be order within the Church, not confusion.
32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
Paul is teaching self-control. A person who had the gift could use their gift when they needed too. They were to use self-control. This is a complete contradiction to the Charismatic teaching that a person has to continually seek God for further use of a gift. This will be discussed further. Charismatics insist that they must be completely right with God and try real hard to use their gift. Many may fast, pray and try real hard to exhibit this gift. But, this is not a condition upon which their gifts could be used in Scripture. Paul’s very letter to the Corinthians concerning this is clear evidence of that.
33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints,
God wants order, not disorder. For people to start speaking in tongues without regard for those who are listening causes confusion. It is necessary to have understanding and order within the Church.
34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?
Women should not be speaking in tongues. Actually, there is no evidence of a woman ever having this ability. The apostles were always men. From the first record in Acts chapter two through the rest of the book we read that only men spoke in tongues. Considering the use of this gift, being a sign gift to the Jews, it may be possible that a woman had this gift when needed. But there is a lack of biblical evidence to support this. Regardless, a woman was not to speak in tongues in Church. A vast majority of the Charismatic movement promotes women using this gift and they are in violation of the Scripture in doing so. Understand that woman and men are not better or worse than one another, the whole of the Bible is very clear on this point. But woman and men do have different roles throughout Scripture.
37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.
Paul is speaking under the inspiration of God. Everything written in this book should be acknowledged as the Lord’s commands. We should ignore any church that teaches contrary to what Paul taught here. That is the Lord’s command, not our opinion. Further, similar language is used in the seventh chapter of First Corinthians. It is my opinion that Paul is simply quoting from the Lord Jesus while on earth.
39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
Paul realized that an over zealous Corinthian might start demanding, as a command, to forbid all uses of the gift of tongues. This was not Paul’s intent. While this gift was starting to die out, it had not died out completely. There were still some times that this gift would need to be used before it ceased completely. Paul was trying to make sure that when it was used, it was used properly. When the Word of God became complete, this gift would cease completely.
40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
They were to use all gifts in an orderly way.
FAQs - Other Points For Consideration
Isn’t God is the same yesterday, today and forever!?
Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. NIV
Mal 3:6 "For I am the LORD, I do not change;... NIV
We must understand that this passage is speaking of Jesus’ attributes as God. God does not change in His eternal being. He does not change who He is. He always loves, is always all knowing, all powerful and is always present everywhere. He is perfect, sinless, kind, merciful, graceful, just, sovereign, forever and always. From this He cannot change. That is the meaning of this verse. God does, however, change the way He deals with man throughout the ages. This is made very clear in the book of Hebrews:
Heb 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe NIV
God spoke in different ways and in different times and by different means.
Let me remind the reader that never in the Old Testament do we find any record of anyone speaking in tongues. This fact negates the argument that since God is the same for all time this means the gifts must still be in use today. The gifts only happened in this dispensation. If we did find someone speaking in tongues in the Old Testament, it would contradict the whole meaning and purpose of this gift. This gift is unique only to the first generation of Christians and does not exceed beyond that point.
Only the Gift has Ceased
We want to be certain that the reader understands the difference between a gift of the Spirit and the object of that gift. Often, many people confuse the two. For example, when we say that the gift of knowledge has ceased, we mean that knowledge obtained through a spiritual gifting has ceased, but knowledge itself is still obtainable. Knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, healing, and teaching, are things that we can and do still have this very day. But understand there is a major difference between the way these were obtained in the early church and the way they are obtained today. In the early Church, God would give specific gifts for the edification of the body. Once a person had this gift, they could use it to their own discretion. If a person in the body needed to learn more about prophecy, they could go to the person who had that gift. That person used their abilities to prophecy. Today, we have something that is much more reliable, and in fact, is completely reliable – the Word of God. Now, when we want to learn about prophecy, we go to the Bible and read what it has to say. This often requires a diligent study of its words, but when we do this we can obtain the same information, if not more, than a person who had the gift of prophecy. The same is true of knowledge and wisdom. These things are obtained by searching the Scripture. The more a person studies and applies the Scripture to their lives, the wiser they can become.
This same principal applies to the gift of tongues. While no one will have the gift of tongues today, we can learn any language that we set our mind to. All we have to do is study. There are many people who are bilingual, trilingual or with many multiple linguistic abilities. There is no need to have a gift of tongues as a sign gift, for we already have the ability to share the marvels of the Word of God. It is so awesome to share with unbelievers the phenomenon of the Scriptures. We believe evidences, both external and internal, of the Word of God are so overwhelming, that they can prove to be nothing less than God-breathed. There is absolutely no need for a sign gift today because we have something much greater. The infallible God-Breathed Scripture. Today, prophetic understanding, teaching, knowledge, wisdom etc. can be acquired by anyone who desires them, upon the condition of studying the Bible. They are not limited to people who are “gifted” by the Spirit.
2 Tim 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. NASB
Examining the Gift of Healing and Healing Today
As we just pointed out that while the gifts themselves no longer exist, it is true that we can obtain some of the things the gifts had to offer. The gift of healing is another gift that is popular among Charismatics today. They will often give testimony about a case, in which they, a relative, a church member, or close friend have been healed. There are a host of so-called “faith healers” who claim they have the power to actually heal people of their diseases and health problems. Some are very popular, as you can see by tuning in your television set to TBN or other “Christian Networks.” This teaching is not only unscriptural; it is also very dangerous. People will do just about anything to restore their health, or the health of those they love. They put their trust in these human agents, because they believe that they have been empowered by God to bring healing. You will notice that these so-called faith healers put a great deal of emphasis on the idea that a person must exercise a great deal of faith in order to be healed. This teaching is important to the faith healer because it provides them with an excuse when a person does not actually get healed. They can blame the person they are healing instead of themselves.
These often “charming” faith healers seem to have a trickle down effect. On a local level, Charismatic congregations meet hoping to catch a glimpse of God and receive healing. I have personally heard many accounts of these so-called “healings”. Whenever I mention that I believe that the gifts have ceased I am bombarded with claims that they have witnessed someone being healed. People will claim that they or their loved ones have had diseases, ranging from diabetes to cancer, healed supernaturally. But, are these people actually being healed by God? Is God really using this gift today? We can look at this from many perspectives, which include an appeal to logic, to science, and to Scripture. When I hear of these supposed “miraculous” healings, I often wonder just how miraculous they really are. We always hear of people being healed of internal diseases, but we do not see any healings that are obvious and observable. To be able to see the healing would be a miracle. Has anyone ever had his amputated leg or arm grow back? Do we hear of a paralyzed man or woman beginning to move again? Are the blind actually receiving their sight? Inevitably, there are going to be people who will claim they know of someone who actually had something like this happen, but can they prove it? Recently I had a conversation with a Pentecostal who had a missionary come to visit his church. This person spoke of countless stories in which these sorts of things were happening. Interestingly enough, there was no video or other proof to verify his claims. Documentation of these “miraculous” events never occurs. News journalist from major networks such as Dateline NBC and 20/20 have done extensive coverage of the most popular of the Charismatic healers, yet they could not capture one real observable miracle on camera. [Note: We do understand that these media forms are biased.] They have uncovered the danger that comes from people who believed they were healed, when in fact they were not. We certainly cannot come to any conclusions based upon what secular media has to offer, but we cannot ignore the fact that these healers cannot refute their claims. Considering that Peter actually had the ability to raise someone from the dead, we must question why we do not see this ultimate form of healing today. While many claim that it still does occur, there is no evidence to prove it. The miracles that took place in the Bible were real, observable, and undisputable miracles. Let us take a look at Paul’s ministry:
Acts 19:11-12 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. NIV
This is not something that we see happening today nor will we see it happen. Paul not only had the gift of healing, even a cloth that he had touched was able to cure the sick. Sadly, many in the Charismatic church have used this verse to justify their practices. Many of the so-called preachers on television have sent out mass “cloths” claiming that this would heal people if they touch it. If they give enough money, and have enough faith they will be healed. I have an archive of pictures of many such ploys and cons. Note, when this happened in the Bible, people were actually healed. That is extraordinary! One casual reading of the book of Acts or the four gospels, will give the reader a clear understanding of what real miracles were. The miracles in there were so astonishing that they simply hold no comparison to the miracles we hear about today. The “healings” that are occurring in local churches all around the world do not come close to mimicking the real, miraculous, and unquestionable events in the book of Acts and the gospels. Those miracles were not only provable and obvious; they were also preformed in a different manner. There is nothing similar about them. So, does healing occur today at all? The obvious answer is yes, but it is how people are healed that is the key.
Modern medicine is a blessing that God has given to humankind. He has given man the ability to determine how our bodies work through science. The field of medicine is such a wonderful resource available today, that it should never be abandoned by a faulty belief that God will heal us supernaturally. Although medicine can be used in ways that are contrary to God’s Word; that does not mean that it cannot be beneficial. Jesus spoke about doctors to illustrate that he was calling sinners, not the righteous. Nowhere in this illustration, or anywhere else in the Bible does He suggest that physicians are not to be utilized any longer. No, the sick still need doctors, just as Jesus said in Matthew 9:12. While God certainly does have the power to heal supernaturally, His word teaches that He does not generally use such methods. Consider this short illustration:
Three men were at sea when their boat motor broke down. For days they were stranded. Each of them prayed that God would rescue them. Then suddenly there appeared a boat of sailors who offered to bring them aboard. These men shouted, “No, we have faith that God will save us!” As they grew more tired and hungry, a helicopter flew above and dropped down a rope. But they waved the pilot off, screaming that God would save them. Then as they were near death a plane landed to rescue these men. But again, they refused the help! When they died and were standing before God, they asked Him why He did not save them. God answered them by saying; “I sent you a boat, helicopter and a plane, what more do you want?”
There is a lesson in this popular illustration. We should praise God for each time we are healed no matter what the method from which that healing came. Ultimately it is because of God’s grace each time we have been healed. When we get an infection and a doctor gives us the medicine, we understand that it is God who is giving us this blessing. So God does provide healing, but not in a supernatural way. Through time, doctors, surgery, or medicine we can be healed of our ailment. We also have to realize that God gave us all bodies that have a natural ability to heal themselves. Sometimes our bodies will heal themselves, but this generally takes time. People need to realize that God is not limited to our own personal time frame. We must also not forget that a majority of our health problems were brought about due to our own negligence. We could avoid many sicknesses if we would simply follow the guidelines that the Bible gives us for healthy living.
Recently someone told me about his friend who had been in the hospital. He was in critical condition and was on life support barely hanging on. This person, along with other members of his church prayed night and day for God to heal this man. Each day they would see small results until he was finally able to be taken off life support. After a few more weeks in the hospital, he was released and is now almost back to normal. When I shared my belief that God did not “heal” this sick man in a miraculous way, this really frustrated him. He believed that it was their strong faith, and prayer that caused this man to be healed. But that is not scriptural.
Let us look at this more closely. Our faith could never play a role in healing someone. God is not subject to do what we command of Him based upon how much faith we can conjure up. To do such a thing does not demonstrate our faith in God, rather it reveals that our faith is in our own ability to have faith. That places part of the miracle upon the ability of man to have enough faith, which says that man was responsible for the miracle, not God. While God certainly answers prayers in a positive way, there are times when He will not choose to do so. God is in charge, and He will do His will regardless of how much “faith” man has in Him.
If God had healed this man in a supernatural way, then he would have broken free from the life support and walked out of that hospital a completely healed man the instant that God healed him as in the Biblical accounts. But that is not what happened. This man was healed through time and the wonders of modern medicine. He was healed because God gave man the ability to know what to do for him to make him well. God healed this man just like he sent the plane, helicopter and boat to rescue the stranded men in the illustration above, through the resources, wisdom and compassion that he blessed man with.
Now that we have addressed how God heals today, let us look at some of the passages that are used to teach that God will miraculously heal people upon command. In the book of James, we read that when a person is sick we should pray over him:
James 5:14-16 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. NIV
A quick glance at this verse out of context will make it appear as if healing is indeed just a prayer away. But let us look at this verse first in comparison to the general Charismatic teaching and then in the context of the passage itself.
We have already shown how faith healers teach that God has empowered them with the gift of healing and that it is only beneficial to the person being healed if they believe enough to receive the healing. Does this passage really support this claim?
James does not tell a “sick” person to go the faith healer, or the person who has been given the “gift of healing.” He tells them to go to the elders of the church. There is no mention of the spiritual gifts in the passage or the entire book of James. The statement “call the elders” already conflicts with charismatic teaching rather than supports it, because it suggests that whatever makes the person “well” only requires the use of the elder of a church, not someone with a gift, nor does it require some emotional service that will evoke the presence of God. If people were given the gift of healing to use upon command to heal those who had enough faith in God, would not James have suggested that the sick “seek out a faith healer?” The fact is that he did not.
This verse also calls for an anointing of oil, which was never used by anyone in the book of Acts who was given the gift of healing. While there are many charismatic churches that will anoint the sick with oil and pray over him they will also teach the other version of healing as well. If this verse is speaking of physical healing it is obvious that it is in opposition to the teaching of the “gift of healing” being available to the church as a whole, not in support of it.
So if the gift of healing is not given today and God does not heal supernaturally simply because we offer up a prayer with “faith”, what does this verse mean? When we look at the context of the book of James and the words that were used when it was originally written, you will be able to see not only what James truly meant, but you will also see how this verse does not support the traditional “charismatic” teaching of healing.
First of all, the book of James was written to the Jews who were scattered among the nations. James addresses many issues that were troubling these new Christian converts. They had been facing persecution and many of them seemed to be wavering in their faith. The church was still very young and most scholars agree that this book was probably the earliest writing of the New Testament. You will notice it never refers to gentile Christians at all so there is a possibility that gentile converts were not yet a part of the church. This earliest book written to the new converts was one of the first letters that explained what was expected of a believer under this new covenant.
There were obviously many people who were professing to have faith but were not showing any fruit or works that supported that fact. They were misunderstanding the fact that all we had to do was believe to be saved. James was trying to illustrate to them that true belief would produce works. He also addressed many who were still stuck with the same mind-set as the Scribes and Pharisees. They were giving honor to those who were “rich.” Remember, to a Jew, wealth and status were evidence that God was blessing their nation. In chapter 5 he begins addressing people who were relying upon their wealth and status rather than their faith in Christ alone. He then tells those who are suffering persecution to be patient and stand firm. He then tells them how to do this.
James 5:13-16 13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)
[For another good commentary on the 5th chapter of James we encourage the reader to examine The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Volume two.]
Notice that the topic is how to be patient and stand firm. Physical illness was never in the mind of the author here. He says if anyone is in trouble they should pray, if they are happy they should sing. Then he says if anyone is sick. What does he mean when he says “sick?” Does this have to mean a physical ailment? No, it does not. The word used in verse 14 is asthenehon. It means to “to be weak, feeble, to be without strength, powerless.” This word, though it was used at times to mean a physical ailment, was generally used to mean a weak faith. Here are a couple of examples:
Rom 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak(asthenehon o), (NIV)
1 Cor 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak(asthenehon).
In verse 15 James used this word (kamnonta) that was translated "sick." This literally means to be weary. This word was used only one other time in the New Testament and the meaning was just that, “grow weary.”
Heb 12:3 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (NIV)
We must also note what the anointing with oil was for. The word used here for anointing is aleipsantes, which means to “rub with oil.” This is not the same word when anointing is supposed to be done in a ceremonial way. That word is “chrio.” The anointing (aleipsantes) used in this passage refers to the anointing that was often done as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, or grooming. Simply stated, have the elders physically refresh you by anointing you with oil and spiritually refresh you by offering up prayers for you. How refreshing it is for us when those who are strong in the faith lift us up in prayer! Paul often prayed for his brothers and that was indeed a spiritual healing that no Christian should be without.
James says that those who are weak (sick) should be anointed with oil and prayed for by the elders. Christ would raise up, those who were weak in the faith. Those who may have confessed to be in the faith, but were believers in word alone and not the heart would be forgiven of their sins if they offered up prayers to the Lord with true faith. James then says:
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
If we hurt one another we should confess that to each other, we should pray for each other and we will be “made whole” (healed). The prayer of a righteous man is indeed powerful and effective. We can prove this by referring to the powerful prayers of the apostle Paul. He prayed often for those in the faith and his prayers always followed this example: He prayed for their faith about their faith. He did not concern himself with their physical well being, but with their spiritual health. Note the following passages:
2 Tim 4:20 Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. NASB
Here Paul actually leaves Trophimus sick at a place called Miletus. We know that Paul actually had the gift of healing, yet did not use it for Trophimus. Perhaps God did not want Trophimus to be well. Either way, we have a recorded occurrence where Paul did not heal someone who was obviously within his company.
Phil 2:25-27 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. NASB
Here we read about a Pastor named Epaphroditus. He was from the Church in Philippi and went to Paul when Paul was in prison, as allowed by the King. Paul spoke highly of this man, yet Epaphroditus became sick. He was so sick that he almost died. Again, Paul could have miraculously healed Epaphroditus and God could have done so without the aid of Paul. But this is not what happened. Epaphroditus remained sick until he almost died, but because of God’s mercy He did not allow death to happen to Epaphroditus. Again, here is a case when it was within God’s will that this man be sick. While we may not understand all the whys, God does and it is Him in whom we trust.
1 Tim 5:23 No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. NASU
Again, Paul could have healed Timothy, but he did not do that. Instead he wrote to Timothy and encouraged him to take wine for his stomach ailment. The wine here was used for medicinal purposes. So we can see the doctrinal, as well as practical message of Paul, which is to seek medicine to relieve physical problems. Notice, that Paul does not rebuke Timothy and suggest that he is ill because he does not have enough faith. Timothy is not sent to a faith healer or even to the elders of the church for healing and prayer. Timothy is told to use practical methods for curing and relieving his illness. Again, it is clear that it must have been within God’s purpose for Timothy to be sick. Certainly God used Timothy’s sickness to show all of us the means in which we can be well!
2 Cor 12:7-10 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. NIV
Because of the special revelations that were given to Paul as a result of being caught up into the third heaven, even paradise, God allowed an ailment to afflict Paul. We do not know exactly what this “thorn in the flesh” actually was. Some suggest it was an eye problem and others think it had something to do with his hand. No matter what the exact “thorn” was we know that it was a problem for Paul. Three times he asked God to remove it, and three times God answered no. Better than that, God promised that His grace would be sufficient to help Paul in the midst of that thorn, and from that Paul learned to rejoice in his weaknesses. Again, it is obvious that it was God’s will that Paul remain sick. Certainly no one would argue that Paul lacked faith.
So the conclusion about healing is that while God no longer uses “the gift of healing” today; we can benefit from the gift God provides to us through the medical profession and other such practical uses for possible healing. We understand that God will not always desire for us to be healed. Sometimes our sickness is a result of us using bad judgment or lack of wisdom. If I touch a hot stove, I will get burned. If I mishandle a sharp knife, I will get cut. These are the results of careless acts. If I eat too much I will get fat and suffer physical problems. God cannot be held responsible because we make poor and careless choices concerning our health. He may still help us overcome them, but not based upon how much faith we have. If we understand that these gifts have ceased, and that what we see happening in churches today is not biblical, then we must determine that the “faith healers” are frauds. They are twisting the word of God and using it for their personal gain. What they are doing is not in the Scripture, yet they are claiming that they are doing the work of God. A true Christian should cry out and flee from such heresy. Peter tells us to be on our guard from such false teachings and warns us not to get carried away with them. Paul tells us to guard the faith and oppose those who are teaching a false knowledge of God. Instead, the church of today is embracing this false teaching and therefore causing many to be eternally lost. We must continue to be on guard and oppose that which is false. This is not just our opinion, it is the command given in the Scripture.
2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:14-18 2But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute...14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him....17 be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
1 Tim 6:3-21 3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing... 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs...
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith...20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.
What is My Gift?
While many people are still seeking after a spiritual gift, they do not seem to know what their gift is. Many people believe that they cannot be a good Christian, until they can figure out how to start speaking in tongues. Regrettably, many more believe that you must speak in tongues before you can even obtain salvation! This teaching is nothing less than a false gospel, which the Bible strongly condemns.
Gal 1:6-9 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! NASB
People will try and try to obtain the spiritual gifting they think they are supposed to have, especially the gift of tongues. They will pray fervently, try living a righteous life, attending church regularly, tithing every week, and whatever else someone tells them they must do to get the gift of tongues. When these things fail they feel rejected by God and the members of their Church. Some will go so far as to fake an experience, while others actually work themselves up into an altered state of consciousness to cause this to happen. In some cases we believe that modern day experiences of speaking in tongues are also the result of demonic activity. The same types of things are happening in pagan rituals across the world. If they are not faking, and they are not in an altered state of conscience, then it must be demonic. All this takes place because they fail to understand the Biblical meaning, purpose and design of these gifts. When God gave these gifts to the early church, they had them. They did not need to continually seek them or pray constantly for them to come. They could use their gift at any time at their discretion. The apostles used these gifts to authenticate their message from God.
Many people, among various denominations are still seeking their gifts today. There have been several people who have asked their pastors, “What gift do I have?” Some preachers are giving a five-point message on how to determine what your gift is. Some churches even offer classes on how to find your gift. There are courses you can take on how to find your gift, there are professionals who specialize in showing people how to find their gift, and there are even written tests that you can take that are supposed to determine what your gift is. My wife and I once attended a Southern Baptist conference in which part of it was dedicated to trying to figure our your spiritual gift. We all met with counselors who helped everyone find their unique God given gift. Of course they did not find ours, nor were they pleased with my belief that these gifts had ceased. Listen; when someone in the Bible was given a gift, they knew what it was! They did not wonder about it, or pray about it. They had it. They did misuse it, even to their own advantage, but they most certainly had no problem knowing what their gift was. At no point was it necessary to go to a school to learn what gift God gave them.
What About the Gifts Listed in Romans?
Romans chapter twelve lists these gifts: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, and showing mercy. These gifts are also not necessary today. They were unique to the early Church. But again, we can obtain some of these things today through the Word of God. For example, we can encourage people through the Scripture. When I am confronted with someone who is depressed I use the Bible to show them God’s answers to their problems and that He cares for them. Anyone can do this. We can all receive and give encouragement through the Word of God. There are some gifts listed here that can only be unique to a certain status one might have. For example, for one to show mercy, you would have to be in a position to show it. For one to contribute to the needs of others, you need to have the ability or means to do this.
Though these gifts are not distributed like they were in the early Church, we can learn a great deal about how to treat others from them, not only this section of Romans 12, but from the entire chapter. It would do us well to learn that God desires for us to exercise serving, teaching, encouraging, helping those in need, and showing mercy when we can. The leadership roles in any situation are often a result of ones personality, skills, intellect, and wisdom. Not everyone has these things, but the wisdom and character of all Christians should be different than that of the world.
Teaching Shows the Gifts Were Ceasing
Consider this passage from the book of Hebrews:
Heb 5:11-14 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. NIV
There are other similar passages where the Bible admonishes us to be teachers. This passage shares with us that God desires for us to grow in Christ. These people were still practicing their Old Testament ideas of theology, while the writer of Hebrews was telling them to learn more from the Word of God. For more detailed commentary on this we encourage the reader to read D.J. Pentecost book called, The Faith that Endures, a commentary on the book of Hebrews. Also J.V. McGee, commentary on the book of Hebrews. Unfortunately this subject is often neglected, because many people fail to actually study the Bible and see what it says. This is especially true in Charismatic churches. These church members desire to fill their emotions so they seek after signs, gifts and emotional experiences instead of seeking the truth in God’s Word. Here in Hebrews God is telling us to be teachers! It does not tell us to seek the gift of teaching or to merely be taught by someone who has that gift, but it commands us all to be teachers. Anyone can be a teacher of God’s word, and we all should be. We should all train ourselves (through the study of God’s Word) to distinguish good from evil. No gift or lengthy prayer can give us the answer. We are taught that in God’s Word.
Putting God in a Box. Can Can God still use a gift on a rare or unique occasion if He so chooses?
The answer to this question is found in this entire study. Understanding the purpose, meaning and timing of these gifts will reveal that they have ceased, and will not be used again. Many suggest that if a missionary is in the mission field and comes across someone who does not speak their language that God could still supernaturally enable the missionary to speak in tongues. After all, the gift was for unbelievers. But, while the gift was for unbelievers, it was a sign gift for unbelievers and primarily for the Jews. If a missionary is in a country that speaks in a different language, it would be to the missionary’s benefit to either 1) learn that language or 2) find a trusted interpreter. If that missionary does come in contact with people where language is a barrier, the next step would be for him to pray that God help him figure some way to communicate. Perhaps there could be another way that would require some ingenuity, or he could simply take the time to learn their language on the field and build relationships with those around him. God plainly stated that the gifts have ceased. If a person has the desire to go into the mission field, they desire a good thing. They should equip themselves for what they may encounter. And, no doubt, God will provide.
Comparing the Biblical to the Contemporary - Slain in the Spirit
Consistently, those who believe that the gifts of the Sprit are for today will point to an experience they have had as evidence that they exist. They say they have felt it, seen it, had it, or experienced it. These arguments do not hold up when held against the Scripture. There are no scriptural accounts of such things and no scriptures that suggest these are indeed factors in which we can determine if this is from God. For example, many people claim they have experienced being “slain in the Spirit,” yet there are no examples in Scripture where God or the Apostles ever “slew” anyone in such a manner. A mere claim that they have been slain by the Spirit of God is not proof that it was indeed an experience from God. Their word alone is not proof. Perhaps they were literally pushed hard by the person who was “praying” over them. Maybe they faked it and fell. We must also consider that maybe they were “slain” by a spirit, but by what spirit?
In Mark 9:14-29, an epileptic boy was brought to Jesus' disciples, by the boy's father. The disciples could not cast out the spirit. So, the father asked Jesus to help him. In Luke 9:31-42, Jesus told the man to bring his son. It says: Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. (NIV)
This boy was, "slain," by a spirit. He fell down and in fact he had fallen many times before (Mark 9:22). Some may say it was the mighty power of God that caused him to fall down, but what does the Bible say? The demon threw him to the ground, not God.
Saul was on the road to Damascus when suddenly, a light from heaven shined round about him, "above the brightness of the sun,"[Acts 26:13], and Paul fell to the ground. Was he, "slain in the spirit," or did he stumble? Perhaps he was just startled, and fell down with fear. Notice what Jesus said: Acts 26:16 Now get up and stand on your feet… So not knowing for sure how Paul fell to the ground, we do know that God demanded that he stand on his feet. God wanted him to be standing, this is contrary to the teaching that God wants us to be knocked off of our feet.
Notice this passage from the OT:
Ezek 1:28-2:2 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you." As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
Here, we see that when the spirit entered him, He set him upon his feet.
Notice these accounts:
Dan 8:15-18 While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man's voice from the Ulai calling, "Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision." As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. "Son of man," he said to me, "understand that the vision concerns the time of the end." While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet. (NIV)
Dan 10:7-11 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. (NIV)
Note also that these two prophets fell upon their faces. This is quite different than being "slain in the spirit," as we see in churches of today. Ushers literally stand behind the person being prayed for, while the minister, lays his hands on their head, often pushing, shoving, and finally forcing the person off balance. These people fall on their backs, not their faces. This does not compare to the teaching in the Scripture which says, "Let all things be done decently and in order." (1 Cor. 14:40)
Ezekiel 34:4 is fitting: "Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. NASU
As is 2 Cor 11:3-4: But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (NIV)
Comparing the Biblical to the Contemporary - Tongues
Acts chapter two is the most common Scripture used to support the teaching of speaking in tongues. But this comes from a failure to understand the historical nature of this event. This passage is used as the norm for Christian experiences today. Let us consider for a moment some of the things about Acts 2 that we do not see happening today:
Acts 2:2-4 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. NIV
While we often see and hear of people speaking in tongues today, we never hear about a violent wind from heaven that fills the whole place. They also never have literal tongues of fire separate and rest on each of them. No one today has ever experienced either of these things. No, this passage records a miracle that could not and should not be taken as the normal actions of a Church.
Tongues are often spoken of without regard for the fact they were real native languages in the Bible. Today’s teaching of tongues consists of a language that has never been heard of by man and is unidentifiable. This is not biblical. For someone to attempt to interpret such things, they would have some imagination. It is not possible to interpret something that is not real. But this brings us to a question that we cannot let go unanswered. What is happening today if someone breaks out and starts speaking on tongues? We know it is not Biblical; it is not coming from God. And if God is not the source, what is? There are a couple of different options to consider.
First, it is possible that the person speaking in tongues is faking it completely. Second, they could actually work their minds up into an altered state of consciences, which too is highly unbiblical. This type of thing can easily be done. Gifted, charming, charismatic speakers can quickly capture an audience. When a persuasive speaker works a crowd he can easily get specific reactions from them. When you couple this with the fact that the speaker has convinced the person that he is speaking on God’s behalf you have the perfect formula for convincing them that their minds are no longer under their control. People do strange things under certain circumstances. Look at the audience of a rock concert or a sporting event. When a person allows himself to get worked up into a frenzy, they become oblivious to anything else around them. They can and will exhibit all kinds of strange behavior. Giving your mind up is often encouraged in such circumstances and people do just that, they give up their minds to the control of anything or anyone else. This can cause people to begin babbling in what they think is an unknown tongue, when in actuality is merely a reaction to their surroundings. It was the effect they desired, so they “caused” themselves to experience it. Sometimes, it can be something even bigger than that. For someone who is lost, demonic control can set in. This leads us to our third consideration; some of what we see in Charismatic churches is actually demonic. Paul tells us to be sober-minded. He tells us to guard our hearts and minds, and it is wrong for us to be out of the control of our surroundings and circumstances. Comparing modern day tongues with those of the Biblical tongues, especially in light of 1 Corinthians 14, we can see they are not the same thing. Therefore, when someone says they have the gift of tongues we know that they are not speaking in biblical tongues. Those have ceased.
We pray that this study will be helpful for those who struggle in their understanding of the gifts of the Spirit. We also pray that those who are caught in the web of deceit found within Charismatic circles will be set free form such bondage. Truth sets us free, so error keeps us in bondage. Many of the false doctrines within Charismatic churches keep a person from experiencing the wonderful liberties Jesus has given to us. Jesus has given us something much more valuable than the gift of tongues or healing. If a person had the gift of tongues, what good would it serve? Seriously think about this question. If we have the complete revelation of God, found in the Word of God, then what further “revelation” would we possibly need? And if the person speaking in tongues were merely confirming something the Bible already says, what is the point? For example, if a person starts “speaking in tongues” to proclaim that “God created the world” this would be redundant. The Scripture already tells us this! There is absolutely no need for any human to speak mere confirmations of the Bible. Allow the Word of God to be your guide. Do not be guided by feelings or emotions. Be guided by truth.
Pray, Study, and Meditate on His Truth, which is found in His Word.