A Case for Cessationism, Part 7


From Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal, Vol 3, No. 2, Fall 2013. Reproduced with permission. Read the series so far.

The Charismatics draw the faulty conclusion that the present-day Charismatic manifestations are fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32.

The Biblical Evidence

The evidence is to the contrary. Joel prophesied that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, dreams, and visions, v. 28) would be accompanied by divine supernatural manifestations in the physical world (blood, fire, smoke, the sun darkened, the moon turned to blood, vv. 30, 32). In other words, God’s supernatural work in the earth will accompany and vindicate the supernatural manifestation of the Spirit in God’s people. This pattern was fulfilled at Pentecost. The wind and fire accompanied the gift of tongues (Acts 2:1–4). These divine manifestations in nature will also mark the prophetic occurrences of which Christ spoke and John prophesied. See Matthew 24:29, 30; Mark 13:24, 25; Luke 21:11, 25; and Revelation 6:12.

We conclude that if there is to be a valid fulfillment of Joel 2:28–32 today, it must combine the element of supernatural phenomena in the physical realm with the supernatural manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit. Whether the Acts passage is a dual fulfillment of Joel, or whether it is an illustration of Joel’s prophecy as Feinberg argues, the Charismatics cannot demonstrate both these elements.

1 Corinthians 13:8–10

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 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.

Vehicles of Progressive Revelation

These verses deal with three separate spiritual gifts—prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecy is clearly a gift through which God gave special revelation to men (Heb. 1:1, 2; Eph. 3:5). The gift of knowledge was likely a channel for revelation also.64 Paul states flatly that all three of the gifts will end (v. 8). He teaches that these gifts are “in part” (v. 9). They are some of the means God used to give partial and progressive revelation. Further, Paul specifies the time when these gifts would cease. He says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (v. 10).

A Completed Revelation

In contrast to gifts that are “in part” (v. 9), Paul speaks in verse ten of “that which is perfect.” The meaning of “that which is perfect” is variously understood. Deere uses the term three times to refer to the partial knowledge of the prophet, whether present-day or apostolic.65 This does not seem to square with Paul’s statement that the prophecy itself was partial and stood in contrast to an anticipated complete revelation. Those who advocate a continuation of the sign gifts generally use the term in reference to the rapture of the church.66 McCune points out that this is not reasonable because the terms that refer to the rapture (parousia, epiphaneia, and apokalupsis) are feminine terms, while “perfect” is a neuter word. We have also previously noted that with the rapture God will begin a whole new era of revelation. He further notes that “perfect” cannot refer to Christ since it is a neuter term, and a reference to Christ Himself “would be masculine.”67 He comes to a forceful conclusion.

Since “that which is perfect” is in intended contrast with the partial or incomplete revelatory process (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10 with v. 9), and since it is the cause of the doing away of that which is “in part” (1 Cor. 13:10) the “completed thing” most naturally would refer to the completed process of revelation in the first century which is embodied in the New Testament canon.68

Gromacki adds detail to McCune’s position.

If the gift of tongues involved the revelation of truth from God to man or about man, then its purpose is no longer needed because God has completed His revelation (Rev. 22:18-19). The need for today is to understand what He has already revealed, not to have new revelation. The silence of church history will confirm the fact that the gift of tongues was not intended to become a permanent part of church life. Otherwise, how could the church of Jesus Christ have functioned in those centuries of silence?”69

The same author advances six lines of reasoning to support his conclusion.70 First, there is the blanket statement that “tongues shall cease” (glossai pausontai; 13:8). That the gift ceased in the apostolic era can be demonstrated by the fact that in the second century and subsequent centuries it did not occur.71

The second argument is that the phrase “that which is perfect” refers to the completed canon which formed the climax of the maturing process of the church. “Logically, to telion must refer to completeness or perfection in the same realm as that referred to by to ek merous. Since to ek merous refers to the transmission of divine truth by revelation, the other term to telion must refer to God’s complete revelation of truth, the entire New Testament (taken of course with its foundational book, the Old Testament).”72

Paul’s two illustrations (13:11-12) serve as a third argument. Progressive development from infancy to maturity in Paul’s personal life would best suit the development of the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12). There may be a subtle inference here to the gifts of tongues (“spake”), knowledge (“understood”), and prophecy (‘thought’) which would be “put away” or rendered inoperative by maturity (same word is used: katargethesetai, 13:8; cf. katergeka, 13:11). The second illustration is a little more difficult to understand. Weaver argued that it does not refer to the second coming of Christ: “If the mirror [glass] is metaphorical for something, then the ‘face to face’ experience is also metaphorical. If the mirror represents imperfect knowledge, then the face to face encounter is metaphorical for the complete knowledge.” This is consistent with the context of partiality and completeness. By looking into the partially revealed Word, man got a partial picture of himself; however, when the Word was completed, then man could see himself exactly as God saw him. Why? Because God had completely revealed the purpose of man and the church in the Word.”73

… Fourth, if the gift of tongues was also a sign to curious Jews (14:21-22), then that significance ended with the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70).

… Fifth, in books written after First Corinthians dealing with church problems and normal Christian living, there is no mention of the gift of tongues.

… Sixth, Morris regarded the contemporary ignorance of the basic nature of the gifts as an argument against their permanence. He wrote: “But, in view of the fact that they disappeared so speedily and so completely that we do not even know for certain exactly what they were, we must regard them as the gift of God for the time of the church’s infancy.”74

Prophecy was a God-ordained method by which God gave partial revelation to men in a progressive order. God stated that it would come to an end when His revelation was completed. With the completion of Scripture, we should look for no more revelation in this age. We have God’s completed Word. “The gifts which had to do with authority and the giving and discerning of revelation (apostleship, prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues) were temporary, whereas the other gifts were permanent.”75


64 Lester L. Lippincott III, “A Study of ‘That Which Is Perfect’ in First Corinthians 13:10” (Th.M. thesis, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 1990), 37–42, gives a concise analysis of the varying views of the gift of knowledge. He assembles convincing argumentation that it was a supernatural gift through which God gave special revelation. The account of Peter dealing with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11) is a case in point.

65 Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, 155, 245, 330.

66 McCune, 9. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1032-1035 makes a detailed case for this position.

67 McCune, 9.

68 Ibid.

69 Robert G. Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 119.

70 The following arguments are from Gromacki, 125-28.

71 Gromacki, 125-26.

72 Gilbert B. Weaver, “‘Tongues Shall Cease’: 1 Corinthians 13:8.” Unpublished research paper (Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1964), 12. Cited in Gromacki, 126.

73 Gromacki is citing Weaver, 14.

74 Gromacki is citing Leon Morris, “Gifts of the Spirit’s Free Bounty,” The Sunday School Times, December 12, 1964), 5.

75 Gromacki cites Harold Lindsell and Charles J. Woodbridge, A Handbook of Christian Truth (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1953), 322.