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THE CESSATION OF "..PROPHECIES, TONGUES AND KNOWLEDGE."

Victor Budgen in his book "The Charismatics and the word of God" mentions in one paragraph on p.84, almost in passing, that if faith and hope are not needed in Heaven, then prophecies, tongues and knowledge would have ceased before then. This analysis of the sequence of events as set out in the Bible is so important that it is well worthy of amplifying and investigating in some depth. If the point can be proven, this would put a large question mark against these three practices that are such important features in many churches today.

The accepted sequence by many evangelical Christians and expositors is that none of the gifts have actually ceased, and are still available today. The three specially mentioned that will cease in I Cor. 13:8 are of course "..prophecies, tongues and knowledge..."

Before we go any further we should determine precisely what each of these three words actually refer to, as this important to see if these words in this passage have the same meaning as they are usually understood today.

Most people assume that "prophesies" are statements that foretell the future, as described in Acts 11:28 where Agabus predicted a famine. However, this is not the only meaning of the word, for in 1 Cor. 14:3-5 immediately following we read "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God...But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort...He who prophesies edifies the church...He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified."

Here we have not simply predicting the future, for this can hardly be considered as providing "strengthening, encouragement and comfort". Such descriptions concern aspects of teaching and instruction about the faith - most necessary before the canon of the Bible was available. There was seemingly more than just the predictive aspect involved in "prophecy", for it included a teaching aspect also. These two features may have been quite distinct, although the same word may have been used for them. If this were so, then it is most likely that the teaching part of "prophecy" is the one that Paul is referring to which was to cease. Some claim that there are known examples in recent years of famous people who were said to have the gift of prediction, but Victor Budgen in his book "The Charismatics and the Word of God" examined a number of these and found that they had no substance. Indeed, he found that some claims by charismatics had been fabricated in order to bolster their weak case.

Some may think that as we have to exercise "knowledge" still today, that therefore these three gifts are still being used and have not ceased. However, the "knowledge" Paul was referring to was quite definitely a special gift and not ordinary "knowledge" as we would think of it today. This is clearly stated in 1 Cor. 12:8 just before, which says "To one there is given through the Spirit the message of of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit." Almost certainly, this special knowledge was again a temporary means by which the emerging church received deeper understanding of the Christian faith by direct revelation from God before the Bible was available.

"Tongues" similarly had a purpose in edifying the church, provided it was translated, as Paul constantly urges. This can be seen in the verses of 1 Cor.14 set out above referring to prophecy.

That these three special gifts were for the edifying and building up of the church is further shown in one passage where they are all put together within the same context. In 1 Cor.14:6 it says "Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?" Thus these three gifts were for the prime purpose of teaching the early church - special and unique gifts that were to be withdrawn once the bible became the sole source of instruction for all future ages.

These very special gifts were vital for the emerging church. Several times in Acts, Paul made a few converts and then had to rapidly leave the area. Where were they to get their instruction from about their new Christian faith? God provided this by these temporary miraculous gifts to each small congregation, and they would be still operating when Acts and the Epistles were being written. When they were completed and available for instruction to the church for all future generations, these three special gifts were then withdrawn.

Having shown that these special revelatory gifts were given only temporarily and would be withdrawn at some future date, the next question to be asked is "When will they cease ?" Most would assume that it is when the "perfect thing is come", which is taken to be the Second Coming of Christ or Heaven, whilst faith, hope and love will continue to be required in Heaven. The picture would be like that in Fig. 1.


orthodox cessation

Some however do not accept this picture. As Budgen notes, foremost amongst them is Jonathan Edwards, recognised by many as an intellectual giant amongst Christian theologians. As an indication of Edwards's theological insight, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones said he was "amazing" and "He is one of the most honest expositors that I know. He never evades a problem. He faces them all." (This does not mean that MLJ endorsed Edwards's views on cessation - I mention it to show MLJ’s high esteem for Edwards). Others also have contended that the special gifts ceased on the completion of Scripture. As most Christians even today consider that the "perfect (thing)" of 1 Cor. 13:10 is the second comong of Christ, I have summarised Budgen's very full and convincing evidence that it is clearly the canon of Scripture in a separate paper on this website at -
Article on "The Perfect Thing" of 1 Cor.13:10
(To return to this site hit the top left "back" button.)

I find this evidence that the "perfect thing" is the canon of Scripture compelling, and it therefore proves that the three "gifts" ceased with the completion of the New Testament. However, that proof is quite independant of the arguments of this essay, which is dealing with the cessation of faith and hope whilst love continues for ever. The sequence is important.

I would suggest that there are three divisions of the Christian ages - the Apostolic era, the Christian era (present day), and the Second Coming (or heaven - which we are equating for this presentation). I cannot see that there are any other divisions that can be justified as being relevant to these gifts.

The major question is of course "Are hope and faith required in heaven?" From the following passages it would be quite clear that they are not.

The clearest verse demonstrating that hope is NOT needed in Heaven is Rom. 8:24 - "Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not have, we hope for it patiently".

Other verses with the same implication are - Heb. 11:1 "Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of the things not seen".

I Pet 1:9 "You are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Col. 1:5 "..the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven."

In this last reference, it is obviously not the "hope" itself that is stored up for us, for we exercise that now, but the object of that hope that he is referring to.

From these passages, quite clearly, hope and faith are to be increased in this life, but once their object is realised in heaven, then they are no longer required, and therefore will cease. Love however, being "the greatest" will last for all eternity.

Some theologians, such as Hodge, try to claim that they will still be needed in heaven, but this is against the clear teaching of the passages given above. Having made the earlier decision that "the perfect thing" is heaven, then they have to find an explanation for the continuation of faith and hope. Hodge claims that they change their form, for certain "exercises" of them will still be used in heaven. But this is only an assumption, and is a very weak argument when compared with the clear teaching of the four verses quoted.

Hodge also suggests that "abideth" implies permanency of state, but here he is also incorrect. The Greek word is "meno", and means dwell, be present, remain, stand, tarry (for), which does not emphasise lasting for all eternity. Indeed, the same word is frequently used to describe the "abiding" (temporarily) in a house and then later departing (e.g. Mk 6:10). Therefore, there is the idea that even these three characteristics of the present Christian life are not NECESSARILY permanent, but of course, "..the greatest of these is love." which is definitely everlasting.

Strangely, Hodge, in his exegesis of I Cor. 14:26 seems to contradict himself, for he also says " It was only so long as the gifts of tongues, of prophecy, of miracles and others of a like kind continued in the church that the state of things here described prevailed. SINCE THOSE GIFTS HAVE CEASED, no one has the right to rise in the church under the impulse of his own mind to take part in the services."

From this, if faith and hope cease when heaven comes, then tongues, prophecies and "knowledge" MUST have ceased at some previous time, as we have previously pointed out. When would this be? I would suggest that the only logical time would be at the end of the Apostolic era - when the Canon of Scripture would be completed. It was the Bible that was to render them unnecessary as it would take their place. As I have shown above, Budgen similarly points out that they are all revelatory gifts, whereby God spoke in a more direct form to the early church through men endowed with special gifts. On the completion of the Bible, He would expect them to study his new Word that was inspired by His Holy Spirit in the same way that they would have been studying the Old Testament.

The more correct picture is therefore as shown in Fig. 2.


proposed view of future

If this is the correct view of this passage, then it would show that the tongues, prophecies and special "knowledge" that the Holy Spirit inspired in chosen men ceased at the end of the apostolic era. It is my opinion (and Budgen fully confirms it) that this took place with the completion of the canon of Scripture and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The whole of the Jewish records of their genealogies was wiped out, resulting in no Jew ever being able to prove that he is a Jew. This was together with the virtual anihilation of the whole of the Jewish culture, leaders, centre of worship and loss of the land. The deep spiritual and historical significance of that tremendous event do not seem to be adequately recognised by the majority of Christians.
Despite efforts to prove otherwise, the historical evidence that these three gifts at least ceased at the close of the apostolic era is very strong, which is a further confirmation of this interpretation. Indeed, that they were possibly already declining before this time can be argued from Scripture.

What then of their present practice ? Are they perhaps simply the result of emotionalism and/or peer pressure, or even worse ? The way in which they are exercised today can be shown to be quite different in many respects from their operation as recorded in New Testament times.

I would suggest that these three "gifts", which are such prominent features of many churches, are really quite unscriptural. Despite this, it is extremely unlikely that their use will cease on that account. To acknowledge such an error would be too stressful for many, and some churches might disintegrate if such a fundamental belief were to be questioned.

The analysis presented may well be wrong, and will be strongly objected to by those who claim that they have had very convincing and heart warming experiences in the exercise of these gifts. It is essential however that those who disagree are able to demonstrate that the exegesis above is faulty by proving their case from the Bible alone. Here, once again, we have the touchstone of whether experience or the Bible is to be the final authority in the lives of Christians.

M. Bowden.


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