Uncertain Thoughts on Spiritual Gifts and Tongues Today

I recently wrote this for a class I am taking but I thought I would share it with all of you since it concerns a question I get asked quite a bit.

Peter Enns in the Moody Handbook of Theology contends that spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing and tongues are no longer in use today.  His basic argument centers on the ideas that each of these gifts were “sign gifts” that were used to verify the validity of the gospel message in absence of a settled canon of Scripture.  Now that we have an authoritative canon, these gifts are no longer needed and thus not in use today.

I believe a clear reading of the book of Acts gives this view credibility.  When we see miraculous events take place in this book, they are usually in conjunction with a gospel presentation and response.  It seems clear that the purpose of these events was to point men to Christ.  Since “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (II Peter 1:19) we do not need these same evidences.

When it comes to prophecy and healings, I believe this might just be the case.  The argument does make sense.  However, absent a specific verse that states explicitly that these gifts would disappear upon the settling of a canon, we cannot be dogmatic about this.

The passage that Enns, and others,  use to prove this case is I Corinthians 13:8-10 which states, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”  These sign gifts will pass away when that church is perfect comes.  The assumption here is that “that which is perfect” is a reference to the completion of the New Testament canon.  However, that is not explicitly stated here in the text. This may be a case of eisegesis, reading your particular view into the text.  Others would suggest this phrase could be referring to the Second Coming.  It seems as though given the context, each of these interpretations have equal standing as the text itself if simply not clear.

I would also contend Enn’s assumption that “There is no evidence that the tongues of Corinthians were different from the ones in Acts” seems to be faulty as well.  In Acts 2:1-13, at Pentecost, each men heard the message in his own language.  There was no need for an interpreter.  However, in I Corinthians 12:10 and 14:5 there is a clear need to interpret what is saying in tongues.  Also, it seems as though I Corinthians 14:2 indicates that the gifts of tongues in Corinthians was not given to speak to the church but to speak to God.  This is a clear difference between what happened in the book of Acts.  This difference would seem to assert that the usage of this particular gift (unlike prophecy and healing) was not merely a sign gift to verify the gospel message absent a settled canon.

I have never spoken in tongues and those who claim to have gifts of prophecy and healing make me nervous.  I am concerned that the employment of these “gifts” will lead others away from a firm dependence on the sufficiency of the Word of God.  However, I do not believe there is enough Biblical warrant to state dogmatically that these gifts cannot and are not used today.

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One thought on “Uncertain Thoughts on Spiritual Gifts and Tongues Today

  1. I just finished Strange Fire and I was really perplexed at MacArthur’s passionate attempts to assert that the only use of the gift of tongues in Scripture was for speaking new languages at Pentecost. I really enjoyed this read and as someone who is wrestling with this issue a lot, I am glad to see cessationism represented in a way that admits the mystery of God and the challenges of interpretation.

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