Have New Testament tongues ceased?

       The speaking in tongues seen on Pentecost, at the house of Cornelius, in Ephesus and possibly with the Samaritans appears to be the speaking of extant human languages as already discussed.  The tongues discussed in Corinthians  as a spiritual gift appears to also be extant human language given for the purpose of witnessing to non-believers and as a vehicle for the private worship of God. This gift involved the giving to Christians the ability to speak in a language they had never learned and could only be understood by them and others provided they or someone else translated it into a language they and others understood.

       As already discussed, modern day tongues' speaking has not been shown to be extant human language.  If the tongues speaking reported and discussed in the NT is the speaking of extant human languages, which it certainly appears to be, then the tongues speaking practiced by some Christians today is not what we see in the NT and there is no Scriptural basis for calling such tongues a gift of the Holy Spirit. We do not see present day Christians speaking in identifiable human languages they have never learned and having those languages understood by others who speak such languages.  

       It is apparent that tongues, as seen in Scripture, are no longer available as a gift of the Holy Spirit as we do not see tongues practiced today as was practiced in the early Church.  What about other gifts such as prophecy, healing, wisdom and knowledge. Are they still available as gifts of the Holy Spirit? In 1 Corinthians 12 is a list of available gifts provided by the Spirit.

       1 Corinthians 12:8-10:  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

       1 Corinthians 12:28-31: And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.   And now I will show you the most excellent way.   

       Are these gifts extant in the Christian Church today?  Have they been extant throughout Church history?  Were they only temporary and given to achieve a specific purpose and then discontinued?  Let’s begin to investigate this matter. 

Mark 16:15-18:

       Some present day tongues speakers believe speaking in tongues was to continue throughout Church history because it is part of the “great commission” initiated by Jesus before His ascension. 

       Mark 16:15-18: He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

      It is to be noted that Mark chapter 16, ends at verse 8 in two of the oldest extant Greek manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.  Both these manuscripts are dated from the middle to late fourth century.  Scholarly analysis claims the rest of Mark 16 reveals a different style of writing, vocabulary and structure from what is seen in the first eight verses of this Gospel.  Therefore, it is believed verses nine through twenty were added at a later date. Because of this, most modern translations omit these verses or footnote them to reflect the above findings.

       However, it must be noted that theologian Irenaeus (130-202 AD) quotes verse 19 in his writings and a number of second and third century theologians show the presence of the longer ending in various translations to other languages from the extant Greek manuscripts of their day.  This indicates portions of 9-20 were included in some manuscripts prior to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  Greek manuscripts of the NT produced since the fourth century include various versions of a longer ending and some notate the longer ending as being spurious. For the sake of those who believe 9-20 was written by Mark, we will assume the authenticity of these verses for this discussion.

       Were the signs mentioned in the “great commission” narrative to be present throughout Church history?  Mark 16:14 shows it was the Apostles Jesus was addressing when He gave them the instructions seen in 15-18.  After His ascension, it is recorded that “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20). 

       In reading through the NT, we see accounts of the Apostles and others demonstrating the exact signs Jesus spoke of.  They cast out demons, spoke in tongues they had never learned, were unharmed when handling serpents (Acts 28:3-5), healed the sick etc.  Where these kind of signs to continue beyond the first century all the way to our time?    

       As clearly demonstrated in this series of essays and to once again make the point, the tongues spoken by Christians in NT times were extant human languages.  The speaking in tongues extant today and at various periods of Church history is not extant human language. Therefore, the tongues Jesus spoke of and NT Christians practiced have not been in evidence throughout Church History and are not in evidence today. The historical absence of the kind of tongues spoken in the NT Church is evidence tongues were limited to first century Christians. What about the other gifts of the Spirit Paul speaks of?

       As a note of interest, there is a branch of Christianity called the Appalachian Snake Handlers.  These folks make it a point of their Christian practice to handle venomous snakes to demonstrate that what Jesus purportedly said about not being hurt when picking up a snake is still valid.  Unfortunately, many of these folks have been bitten by snakes and some have died as a result of their practice. 

Let’s now return to Paul. 

       After Paul describes a number of gifts facilitated by the Holy Spirit, he encourages Christians to eagerly desire the greater gifts but speaks of there being a more excellent way (12:13).  He goes on to show what that more excellent way is.  It is the way of love as explained in chapter 13.  After speaking about the superiority of love over gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 13:1-5, Paul makes the following statement.

       1 Corinthians 13:6-8: Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease (Greek: katargeo); where there are tongues (Greek: glossa), they will be stilled (Greek: Pauomai); where there is knowledge (Greek Gnosis), it will pass away (Greek: Katargeo).

       Prophecy, tongues and knowledge are three of the gifts of the Spirit Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12. In Chapter 13 he indicates that prophecy; tongues and knowledge are imperfect and will disappear when perfection comes

       1 Corinthians 13:9-10: For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection (Greek Telios) comes, the imperfect disappears (Katargeo).

       As if to further demonstrate the replacement of the imperfect with the perfect, Paul goes on to analogize the move from imperfect to perfect with moving from childhood to manhood and from seeing a poor reflection in a mirror to seeing face to face and from knowing in part to being known in a full manner.

       1 Corinthians 13:11-12: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me (Katargeo). Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

       As covered earlier, “tongues” is the Greek Glossa and means the physical tongue, language or to speak.  It is used in all these ways in the NT.  The word rendered “cease” is the Greek katargeo which means to render idle, inactive, and inoperative, to cause something to have no further efficiency, to be derived of force, influence or power (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).  This word is used 27 times in the NT and translated abolished, destroyed, done away, without effect, etc.

       “Stilled” is the Greek pauomai and means to make to cease (Thayer’s).  Perfection is the Greek telios which means something brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary to its completion, full grown, full of age, mature, perfect, to finish, (Thayer’s).

       Paul writes that when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  The imperfect appears to be a reference to prophecy, tongues and knowledge. What perfection is Paul talking about and when does it come?  Is Paul simply comparing the inferiority of tongues, prophecy and knowledge to love?  Is love the perfection Paul is talking about?  In speaking of reaching perfection is Paul simply showing the perfection of love versus certain gifts of the Spirit?  When is this perfection reached?  Can it be reached in this life?  Is Paul showing that perfection is something attained in the afterlife when we see God face to face and all things will be fully known?      

       In Ephesians 4 Paul speaks of various offices in the church as being there to prepare God’s people for works of service with the end goal being the attainment of the whole measure of fullness of Christ.

       Ephesians 4:11-15:   It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature (telios), attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

       Is this process still going on today? Are we still looking for that unity in the faith and maturity attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?  Needless to say, the Christian Church has been in disarray since its beginning in the first century.  There are thousands of different perspectives on what the Scriptures teach which has led to thousands of church denominations and many different worship practices.  Has this process of seeking unity been going on for 2000 years and counting?  It certainly doesn’t appear we have made much progress in reaching a unity of the faith.

       In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthians they lack no spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for the revealing of Christ and that Christ will keep them strong so they will be blameless on the day of Christ which appears to be an allusion to the return of Christ.  A careful reading of the NT will reveal that the NT Church had high expectations that Jesus was going to return in their lifetime.

       1 Corinthians 1:5-8: For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge--because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end (Greek telos), so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

       Paul is addressing first century Christians and telling them they lack no spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for the revealing of Christ. The revealing of Christ is the return of Christ which is what was being anticipated by first century Christians as an imminent event (See my series entitled, When Does Christ Return).  If the return of Christ has not yet occurred and is still future to us, the gifts of the Spirit should still be extant in the Church, including the gift of speaking in languages one has never learned.

       However, as already discussed, the kind of tongues seen in the NT is not in evidence in the Church today and doesn’t appear to have been in evidence since the first century.         While there are some reported instances of Christians and non-Christians speaking in a known human language they have not learned, such occurrences are rare. 

       The vast majority of tongues speaking seen in Christianity and other religious groups over the past 2000 years has not been the speaking of unlearned extant human languages but the uttering of the kind of ecstatic speech seen in segments of present day Christianity and some non-Christian groups as well. This kind of tongues speaking is not what is in evidence in the New Testament.  Therefore, modern day tongues speaking cannot be seen as the kind of spiritual gift Paul sees tongues as being. 

       Does the absence of NT tongues speaking in the church for nearly 2000 years signify tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit listed by Paul have ceased?  If they have, does this in turn give evidence to Christ having returned as expected in the first century and He being the “perfect” Paul speaks of? 

       Paul shows God appointed various gifts which include tongues and prophecy. If the gift of tongues came to an end as a result of a first century return of Christ, what about all the other gifts?  Why would they still be extant?  If Christ is the perfection that was anticipated, why do we need prophets and teaches, gifts of healing etc?  Have these gifts disappeared as well?   

       Are the offices described in Ephesians chapter four still valid for today?  The Church still has pastors and teachers and some that claim to be apostles, prophets and evangelists.  What about the gift of healing.  Some certainly claim to have this gift.

       Those who believe Christ returned in AD 70 in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem believe the gifts of the Spirit discussed by Paul were for the express purpose of making the Church ready for the expected return of Christ in their generation.  It is believed these gifts and offices are seen as specific to the 40 year time frame between the Pentecost event and the return of Christ in association with the AD 70 events. 

       It was at the return of Christ in AD 70 that the perfection Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 is believed to have been achieved.  Such perfection is seen as being achieved when living Christians were either raptured to heaven in AD 70 or experienced a spiritual transformation were eternal life was now resident within them. 

       After this was accomplished, the church continued to develop and grow but without the Spirit granting the specific gifts discussed by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.  The gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healing, miraculous powers, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, administration, etc. were all for the purpose of preparing the believers for AD 70.  All these gifts were special abilities granted to believers to bring them to a point of readiness for the return of Christ.

       Since AD 70, these abilities are not operative in the church as a result of Christians being gifted by the Holy Spirit.  Where there are such dynamics as wisdom and knowledge present in the church today and where there are abilities to teach and serve, it is the result of Christians using the Spirit of God dwelling in them to cultivate attributes they are born with and abilities they have developed through education, training and the experiences of life.

       The ability to speak in a foreign language without having learned such language is no longer available as a gift of the Spirit.  However, one can certainly pray for the ability to quickly learn a foreign language to be of service to the church.  The gift of healing is no longer available as it was in the pre-AD 70 church.  We don’t see modern day Peter’s and Paul’s performing the kind of miracles attributed to them in the NT. On the other hand, healing can still be obtained through appeal to the mercy of God.  

        Acts 2:16-21 appears to provide evidence that tongues and spiritual gifts have ceased. Some hearing the Apostles speaking in tongues accused them of being drunk.  Peter instructed that what they were hearing was not the result of being drunk but of a prophecy of Joel coming to pass.

       Acts 2:16-21:  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

       Joel 2:28-32: And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.  And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls. 

       All that Peter says is in the context of the last days. Are the “last days” still going on?  If Christ has not yet come and the last days are still in progress, then the kind of tongues seen as a gift of the Spirit should still be in evidence in the church today.  However, this is not what we see.  The kind of tongues currently practiced by Pentecostals and others is not the tongues we see spoken of in the NT.  Present day tongues speakers claim their speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  If that is the case, it is a very different gift from what we see in the NT, a gift that is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures.

       The last days Peter speaks of appear to be the period of 40 years between Pentecost and AD 70. This was a specific last days and these “last days” have long passed. Therefore, it is purposed that all that is spoken of in Acts 2:17-21 has passed as well. Tongues, along with prophesying and the showing of wonders and signs were to continue until the coming of “the great and glorious day of the Lord.” The sun being turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord is the same kind of apocalyptic language seen in the Olivet Discourse which pertained to the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.

       It is to be further noted that OT prophecy speaks of prophecy coming to an end at the time the Messiah would appear.  The Seventy Weeks prophecy is all about the coming of the Messiah, his death to atone for sin, bringing to termination the Old Covenant system and the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

       Daniel 9:24: "Seventy `sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end (Hebrew ghahtham to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up (Hebrew ghahtham) vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.

       Daniel 9:26-27: After the sixty-two `sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.  The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one `seven.'  In the middle of the `seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. "  

       The phrase “seal up” is from the Hebrew word ghahtham (khaw-tham) which means to shut, close, complete, finish. In a prophecy in Isaiah that appears to relate to the time of Christ we see this:

       Isaiah 8:16: Bind up the testimony and seal (Hebrew ghahtham) up the law among my disciples.

       All evidence points to a cessation of the gifts of the Spirit after AD 70 when Christ came in the unseen realm to bring judgement upon first century Israel and complete transformation from the Old Covenant system of death to the New Covenant system of life.  I again direct the reader to my series entitled, When Does Christ Return for a comprehensive investigation into the issue of the second coming of Christ.


       Christian tongue speakers claim their tongue speaking is generated by the Holy Spirit in the same manner as in the days of the early Church. This simply cannot be the case since the tongues generated by the Holy Spirit in NT times is not the tongues we see in the Church today.  If the Holy Spirit is generating modern day tongues speaking, it is generating a type of tongues speaking quite different from what is seen in the NT.  If this is the case, one must ask what is generating speaking in tongues in non-Christian religious systems. 

       Some modern day tongues speakers will argue that tongues spoken by non-Christians is a Satanic counterfeit of what Christians are doing.  Others will argue that tongue speaking among Christian charismatics is a Satanic counterfeit of first century tongues speaking. 

       There has been a great deal of psychological, sociological and theological investigation into the dynamics associated with modern day tongues speaking.  In view of all the research that has been done, it appears modern day tongues speaking is a humanly generated worship language directed to the divine. For the non-Christian it is a worship language directed to whatever it is that the non-Christian believes to be the divine.  To the Christian, it is worship language directed to the Christian God. 

      Since modern tongues speaking cannot be shown to be actual extant human language, when supposed interpretation of modern tongues occurs, there is no way to validate it.  As covered in Part One of this series, interpretation of tongues has been shown to be very inconsistent, unreliable and virtually fraudulent. This makes interpretation of modern day tongues as practiced by charismatics highly problematical.

       To this day I remember various "prophecies" being made when interpreters purported to interpret what was said by a tongues speaker in the church I attended as a youth.  Such prophecies often were of events about to occur including the imminent return of Christ.  I don't remember a single one of such prophecies ever coming true which obviously includes the purported imminent return of Christ. 

       In view of the evidence presented in this series, I do not see modern day speaking in tongues and the supposed interpretation of such tongues as being generated by the Holy Spirit. If this were the case, there would have to be a high level of validity to the interpretations given to tongues.  Such validity is greatly lacking as research and simple observation shows.   

       This all being said, I do not believe modern day speaking in tongues is a Satanic counterfeit or is generated by demons.  There are very dedicated Christians who speak in tongues and I have no reason to believe such tongues speaking is facilitated by powers of evil.  I do not believe tongues is some evil to be condemned.  It is a worship practice  performed by some Christians and some peoples of others religious persuasions that may have value to them as a protocol for interacting with the Divine.  

       Having said this, I would encourage modern day tongues speakers to carefully examine the evidence presented in these essays which shows NT tongues speaking to be very different from what they are doing. It is one thing to engage in a worship practice as simply a worship practice and another thing to believe such worship practice has Scriptural basis when in fact it doesn’t. I would be especially careful about taking at face value the sayings of those who purport to interpret tongues.

       I trust this series has been helpful in examining the issues here presented