Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pondering Cessation

I've been working incessantly on a cessationist paper (ha) for a class on 1 Corinthians. Today it's been Grudem's non-cessationist thoughts against Robert Thomas' pro-cessationist thoughts.

Let me briefly outline the argument. Those who believe that tongues have ceased (called cessationists) point to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 as a prooftext for tongues no longer being in effect. Some state that tongues pass away when "the perfect" comes, and then define "the perfect" as the whole canon of Scripture. Others state that the Greek verb for "cease" is such that tongues were shortly going to "burn out" of use. They back this up with Paul's allusion in 1 Corinthians 14:22 to Isaiah 28:11 (more on this below and later).

A few observations:

1) My historic understanding of the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 has been that it is inconclusive when it comes to determining what "the perfect" is. As I study it out more, it seems that "the perfect" cannot mean anything less then the return of Christ or our assumption into heaven. Looking at the context, "being known as also I am known" cannot be misconstrued to mean anything less then being in His presence. A big part of Paul's point is setting up a "now" versus "then" dynamic. Included in this is when prophecy will pass away... if tongues is connected with prophecy as being contemporaneous (at the same time), then neither prophecy nor tongues will pass away until Christ returns.

However, the argument goes that the verb usage of "cease" is different from "fail" for prophecy, and indeed the verbs are different. There may be something in παυσονται ("shall cease") being offset from the other two (καταργηθησονται is the word translated both "fail" and "vanish"). However, as is noted by many, the use of the middle voice for "cease" here is inconclusive. The idea that many cessationists propound (that this verb cannot be connected with "the perfect" coming) really plays against the natural reading of the passage, and seems to delve into such technical realms as to make their argument dependent upon guesswork.

To speak in layman's terms, cessationists say that tongues "ceasing" is not tied into the perfect coming, as prophecy is in verse 10 and 11. As such, they believe that tongues will "burn out" on their own, due to their interpretation of "cease".

2) The historic basis against tongues still being in effect is very strong. Multiple authorities throughout history, including Augustine, Calvin, and Spurgeon, indicate that tongues have ceased. It is only in the previous hundred years that this has been challenged. For instance, John Chrysostom speaks about tongues and "their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place." In other words, since there was no evidence for them continuing, it's only natural to assume that they stopped.

3) It should be noted that the modern charismatic movement is so far from the Biblical model of tongues that there should be no doubt as to its invalidity. Tongues were a literal language, not just gibberish or ecstatic speech.

4) Finally, it should be noted that at least one of the purposes for tongues has ceased. Tongues were, at least in part, a sign to unbelieving Israel that God's covenant was no longer exclusively with them (I will follow up on this in another post). As per Paul's loose quote of Isaiah 28, the miraculous gift of tongues was designed to show Israel that God was speaking through another people now. The need for tongues ceased in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed and God's hand of blessing was explicitly removed from the system of religion known as Judaism.

A final question for pondering: is the Scriptural argument from 1 Corinthians 13 against the tongues movement valid? Can we not simply state that the modern charismatic movement is in error, and appeal to the both the usage of tongues in its day and the subsequent historic record? Must we parse verbs into line with our theological system? I'm inclined to leave the 1 Corinthians 13 passage alone and leave open the possibility that God might still use tongues, while clearly arguing that modern charismatics are in error.


1 comment:

C Viz said...

Well, you know how I think on the matter. And like I said, just because Chrysostom, Augustine, et. al., hadn't seen it in their experience didn't mean it wasn't happening where they were not. Certainly they, and Calvin and Spurgeon, could be said to have dwelt in Christendom -- lands where folks were Christian, at least in profession. There would be no need for the Holy Spirit to bring the message of Christ to folks in other languages, if belief and language were monolithic. And too, length of time does not make a false belief true. Else Catholiscism is right -- they've been teaching all sorts of non-biblical stuff for a long time, and using "tradition" to interpret the scriptures. I'm not fond of the charismatic movement, and don't consider it to be what the Bible was talking about at all, only what the Bible rebukes. It is self exalting. We Christians have all sorts of ways to do that. I know I personally fight it in my flesh every day.

Anyway, good stuff, this. And it IS "bold humility". Love you.