Bible Bite – 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 and the Cessation of Tongues

Bible Bites Teeth

Okay.  Bible Bite on 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.  I’m guessing what you’re wondering:  “Unger is going to talk about the cessation of tongues in a few paragraphs and solve the issue for us?

Well, no.

I am going to talk about one issue related to 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 and point out something that many people miss.  Here’s the text (ESV):

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, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Now many say that tongues will cease when the “perfect” comes, and the perfect is basically the second coming of Christ. Sounds good. That seems fairly straight forward from a surface reading of 1 Corinthians…or does it?

Many walk through 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 and seem to gloss over the actual the words.  Notice how in verse 9, the partial refers to knowledge and prophesy but not tongues? We “know” in part and “prophesy” in part but why don’t we “tongues” in part?

The language of 1 Corinthians 13:8 gives a hint:

Prophecy and Knowledge “will pass away” (both are a future passive indicative of “katargeo“). Same verb for both – “will be placed to the side”

Tongues is different. Tongues “will cease” (future middle indicative of “pauo“). Totally different verb in a different form gives us a hint that something is different (I know, this is rocket science). The verb means “will stop by itself”.

Katargeo means basically that something will be placed away when it’s done (i.e. coasting to a stop in your car and pulling to the side of the road), but pauo carries a much more abrupt idea of stopping (i.e. hitting the breaks in your car when something runs out in front of you).

So for the sake of argument, even if the “perfect” is the second coming of Christ, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 gives us reason to think that the cessation of knowledge and prophecy is in a different category than tongues; tongues isn’t necessarily going to stop at the same time as knowledge and prophecy, or in the same way.  The whole talk about “the perfect” arguably doesn’t even apply to tongues and I’d suggest that people who go off about “the perfect” with regard to tongues aren’t paying close as close attention the words of the text as they think.

Just some thoughts for those who may have not noticed that before.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “blogging in absentia” Unger


13 thoughts on “Bible Bite – 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 and the Cessation of Tongues

  1. This was my understanding of these verses as well. I tried to tell a couple people this over in the comments section of the recent Brown articles and actually didn’t get any response from anyone. I thought that was odd. I enjoyed reading this btw.

    • Thanks Sara! It’s my finding that most Christians aren’t necessarily prepared to argue at the level of careful exegesis; it’s intimidating and ends up burning one’s pride more often than not.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed it though!

  2. Okay. In anticipation of the first guy to drop by here and raise DA Carson as the infallible refutation to this view, let me ask you what your take is on his “exegesis” that says that conclusion is wrong.

    Because, as he argues, the same verb form is used by Matthew (or one of the Gospel writers. the reference escapes me at the moment) when speaking about Jesus stilling the storm. The text says “and the winds ceased.” Well of course, argues Carson, they didn’t cease on their own. Jesus caused them to cease. So this perfect, whatever that is, causes the tongues to cease.

    See! see! Carson-Keener-Grudem, your argument is invalid!

    • Carson makes amazingly unconvincing arguments on this one, like he cannot be bothered to actually take cessationism seriously and tosses them a piece of licorice but claims that it’s a steak.

      The winds and rain stopped at Christ’s command, yes. They stopped all by themselves though…as in there wasn’t a strong wind introduced that blew the clouds away. The rain just stopped with no “normal” means of cessation of rain present (i.e. the sun didn’t come out).

      Also, pauo only appears in Luke 8:24 and it’s an aorist, not future. Different tense = different form.

      Thirdly, the idea of pauo is one of quickly stopping, not one of stopping “in and off itself”. That’s something that Dr. Thomas makes a point of, and it’s based on the “middle” voice of pauo in 1 Corinthians 13. I don’t really need to make that same argument, since the consistent usage of pauo in the NT demonstrates that the idea behind the term is one of “quickness” as opposed to “gradualness”.

  3. In verse 9, “tongues” are not mentioned for the reason the Paul is not being overaly specific in his discourse of the prophetic gifts. He is simply including tongues( and dreams, visions, and other forms of revelation) as part of “prophesying” that he mentions in verse 9.
    1 CORINTHIANS 14:6 – The context of this verse is Paul teaching that tongues need to be interpreted. Here he is saying that a tongues interpreted would be a “revelation”, “knowledge” or “prophecy”

    In other words, a tongue interpreted is a prophecy. There are many times in the Bible the word “prophecy” is used to describe tongues, or their interpretation.
    Tongues may be expressing a “revelation”, a “mystery” or some kind of prophetic “teaching” and may be described as such (when interpreted)
    The lack of the word “tongues” does not indicate it is not relevant in the church today.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Sherry T.

      So your argument boils down to 2 points (if I’m understanding you):

      1. Paul is being general in his description of prophetic gifts (which would include tongues, dreams, visions, and “other forms of revelation”).

      2. Tongues is a sub-category of prophesy on the basis of 1 Corinthians 14:6.

      Is this correct?

      Also, you said “There are many times in the Bible the word “prophecy” is used to describe tongues, or their interpretation.”

      The gift of tongues only appears in Acts 2, 10, 19 and 1 Cor 12, 13 and 14. I know you’ve already suggested that such is the case in 1 Corinthians 14:6. What are the others?

      You also wrote “The lack of the word “tongues” does not indicate it is not relevant in the church today.”

      Yup. I wholeheartedly agree. I didn’t make that argument, so I’m wondering why you’re rebutting a point I didn’t make?

  4. An insight I’ve heard: whereas we see in v. 8-10 that prophecy will fail and tongues will cease, in v. 13 we read that faith, hope and love will endure with the greatest being love. Faith and hope themselves will NOT be eternal: they will be fulfilled by the church’s unfettered eternal fellowship with Christ in the New Jerusalem. This implies that prophecy and tongues will cease before faith and hope: something that “ceases” or “fails” would seem to be less durable than something that “endures.”

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that too.

      I’m not convinced about the relation of prophecy and tongues to faith and hope…at least in suggesting that there’s some sort of temporal order to their cessation. I would argue that the whole point of 1 Corinthians 13 is that love should be the over-ruling quality of spirituality and spiritual gifts (i.e 1 Corinthians 13 sets up the talk about using tongues in 14), since love is greater and enduring beyond both spiritual gifts (prophecy and knowledge) and spiritual virtues (faith and hope).

  5. Pingback: Evaluating Holy Water Part 3 – Chapter 4 | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

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