The Cessation of the Gift of Tongues
In 1 Corinthians 14:21-22, the Apostle Paul indicated a connection between Isaiah 28:11 and the gift of tongues in the New Testament Church. The previous article examined that connection and Paul’s conclusion concerning the purpose of the gift of tongues. Paul concluded that God purposed tongues to be a sign to that wicked, unbelieving generation of Jews which heard and saw Jesus Christ but then killed Him — a sign to the effect that that generation of Jews was subject to the severe judgment of God and that God was now working in a unique sense with those (the Church) who exercised the gift of tongues.
The Verification Of This Purpose
That this was the God-intended purpose for the gift of tongues in the New Testament Church is verified by what happened when the Church was born on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). God brought the Church into existence and gave it the gift of tongues just 53 days after the generation of Jews of Jesus’ time had Him killed. On that day of Pentecost, the Church exercised the gift of tongues for the first time in the presence of thousands of Jews who belonged to that generation and who had gathered to Jerusalem from many nations to observe Pentecost (vv. 4-6). After the tongues speaking had drawn the attention of the Jews to the tongues speakers, Peter spoke to the crowd of Jews (v. 14). He addressed them as “Ye men of Israel” (v. 22) and accused them of killing Jesus of Nazareth, whom God had clearly demonstrated to be the Messiah, had resurrected from the dead, and had exalted at His right hand in Heaven (vv. 22, 32-33, 36). Having thereby pressed home the fact that their generation had killed God’s ultimate prophet spokesman, Peter issued the following warning to these Jews: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (v. 40). That warning implied that that generation oj Jews was heading for judgment because of what it had done to Jesus. It is significant that Peter issued such a warning in the context of the Church receiving and exercising the gift of tongues for the first time. Thus, on the first day of its existence, the gift of tongues was associated with the concept of God’s judgment coming on the generation of Jews which killed God’s ultimate prophet spokesman.
Three observations should be made concerning what happened on Pentecost (Acts. 2). First, just as the Old Testament principle which was expressed in Isaiah 28:11 involved the speaking of actual human language of an earthly nation, so the gift of tongues on Pentecost involved the speaking of actual human languages of earthly nations (vv. 6-11). The Spirit gave the believers the ability to speak human languages which they had never learned. The believers were not speaking ecstatic utterances.
Second, even though each Jew on Pentecost could understand what was said when the tongues speakers spoke the language which was native to his own country, he could not understand when the tongues speakers spoke the other languages which were foreign to his own country. For example, a Jew who had come to Jerusalem from Phyrgia (v. 10) could understand what was said when the tongues speakers spoke his Phyrgian language, but he could not understand when they spoke the languages of Arabia (v. 11) and Parthia (v. 9). Thus, just as the Old Testament principle which was expressed in Isaiah 28:11 involved language which was foreign to the Jews, so the gift of tongues on Pentecost involved languages which were foreign to the Jews.
Third, some believe that the purpose of the gift of tongues on Pentecost was evangelism. According to this view, the Spirit enabled the believers to speak the languages of all Jews present so that they could communicate the gospel in all those languages. There are problems with this view, however. First, Acts 2 does not state that the gospel was communicated through the tongues speaking. It does state that the tongues speakers spoke “the wonderful works of God” (v. 11). Perhaps that involved a declaration of the gospel, but no one can be certain of that. Second, if the gospel had already been communicated to the Jews through the tongues speaking, then why did Peter declare the gospel to the same Jews after the tongues speaking stopped on Pentecost? The major part of Peter’s message would have been unnecessary if the gospel had already been given immediately before he preached. Third, the gift of tongues was not needed for the purpose of evangelism in New Testament times. The Greek language had become a universal trade language by those times. It would have been understood by the Jews who had come to Jerusalem from different nations. Thus, there was no language barrier to the presentation of the gospel on Pentecost. The Jews who were there would have understood a Greek language declaration of the message. If tongues were necessary to evangelize all the Jews on Pentecost, then how did Peter present the gospel to them after the tongues speaking had stopped on that day? It seems obvious that Peter preached to the crowd of Jews in one language — probably the Greek language.
In light of the connection which Paul made in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 between God’s Isaiah 28:11 statement and the gift of tongues in the New Testament Church, another observation should be made. Since the Old Testament principle expressed in Isaiah 28:11 involved the speaking of actual human language of an earthly nation, and since Paul based his conclusion concerning the purpose of the gift of tongues upon the principle expressed in Isaiah 28 and presented the conclusion in his discussion of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14, it would appear that the tongues to which Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 14 also involved the speaking of actual human languages rather than ecstatic utterances. In line with this observation is the fact that in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13) Paul consistently used the same word for tongues as was used by Luke in Acts 2 for the tongues of Pentecost (which, as noted earlier, were also actual human languages in line with the principle expressed in Isaiah 28).
The Duration of the Gift of Tongues
Paul concluded that God purposed the gift of tongues in the New Testament Church to be a sign specifically to that generation of Jews which killed Jesus Christ—a sign to the effect that that generation of Jews was subject to the severe judgment of God and that God was now working in a unique sense with those (the Church) who spoke the tongues.
Jesus foretold that the judgment upon that generation would include the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and its inhabitants (Lk. 19:41-44). The judgment came in the form of The Jewish War which the Jews waged against Rome in the land of Israel from May, 66 A.D. to May, 73 A.D. The Romans responded to the Jewish revolt with a vengeance. They systematically destroyed or captured the revolting cities. In fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, the Romans besieged and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, with the final destruction of the city taking place on September 26, 70 A.D. During the course of war, great multitudes of Jews were tortured and slaughtered, many by crucifixion. Thousands suffered and died from the horrors of famine and pestilence. Large numbers were captured and sold into slavery.1 Josephus, the famous Jewish historian who wrote an extensive eyewitness account of the war, recorded the number of Jews who died or were captured. According to one scholar, the totals of the numbers recorded by Josephus were as follows: 1,356,460 Jews killed from the beginning to the close of the war, and 107,700 taken prisoner.2
Josephus recognized that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s judgment because of the wickedness of the generation of Jews which was in that city. He wrote: “I believe that, had the Romans delayed their punishment of these villains, the city would have been swallowed up by the earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or, like Sodom, consumed with fire from heaven. For the generation which was in it was far more ungodly than the men on whom these punishments had in former times fallen. By their madness the whole nation came to be ruined.”3
Eusebius Pamphilus, who lived around 265-339 A.D., served as bishop of Caesarea in the land of Israel and wrote a significant work tracing the history of the Church from its beginning to 324 A.D.4, wrote the following statements concerning The Jewish War:
The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evildoers from the earth.5
For it was indeed just, that in those very days in which they had inflicted sufferings upon the Saviour and benefactor of all men, the Christ of God, destruction should overtake them, thus shut up as in a prison, as an exhibition of divine justice….The divine vengeance did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against Christ of God.6
These statements by Eusebius are significant for two reasons. First, they indicate that the early Church regarded the horrors of The Jewish War to be God’s judgment upon the generation of Jews which had killed Christ. Second, they also indicate that this judgment did not fall upon the Jews who had believed in Jesus, even though they were part of that same generation.
Both of these reasons correspond precisely with what has been noted concerning Paul’s expressed purpose of the gift of tongues in the New Testament Church—tongues had the purpose of being a sign of God’s judgment to the unbelievers of the generation of Jews which had killed Christ. It was not a sign of judgment to the believers of that generation.
In an earlier article it was noted that the duration of a spiritual gift is determined by its purpose or function. Once a gift fulfills its purpose or function, it is no longer necessary, and God does away with it. In light of this principal and the purpose of the gift of tongues in the New Testament Church, it can be concluded that the gift of tongues fulfilled its purpose or function by the time God poured out all the judgment of which the tongues were to be a sign. Since the gift of tongues was to be a sign of judgment to the generations of Jews which killed Christ, and since that judgment came in the form of The Jewish War from 66 to 73 A.D., it can be concluded that the biblical gift of tongues fulfilled its purpose or function by 73 A.D. and, therefore, ceased around that time.
- Josephus, The Essential Writings, trans. and ed. By Paul L. Maier (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1988)m pp. 281-382.
- Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews, Vol. II, p. 388; quoted by Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975)m p. 400, footnote 2.
- Josephus, The Jewish War, Book V, Chapter 13, Section 6 quoted by Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. I, p. 399.
- Earle E. Cairnes, Christianity Through the Centuries, second revised edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 143.
- The Ecclesiastical History Of Eusebius Pamphilus, Book III, Chapter V, trans. By Christian Frederick Cruse (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1955), p. 86.
- Ibid., p. 87.