The Gift of Tongues
That Which is Perfect
David A. Green
If there are prophecies, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; or knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect comes, that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror, in an enigma, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall fully know just as I am fully known.
I Cor. 13:8-12
That Which Is Perfect
In the passage quoted above, the Apostle Paul taught that at the coming of "that which is perfect," three things were to happen: "Prophecies" would be abolished, "knowledge" (supernaturally revealed knowledge) would be abolished, and "tongues" (supernaturally acquired speaking of languages) would cease. "Prophecies,: "knowledge," and "tongues" were things that were "in part," incomplete or imperfect. Paul compared having them to still being a child and to looking through a mirror dimly instead of "face to face, and the doing away of those things as the coming of maturity (perfection).
Based on Paul's words in this passage, the only question as to whether or not the gift of "tongues" exists today as it did in Bible times is a question of timing: Has "that which is perfect" come?" If it has, then tongues have ceased. But if "that which is perfect" has not yet come, then tongues have not ceased and God has meant for tongues to continue on throughout the centuries as a normal practice in the Church up to our present day.
First, to determine whether or not "that which is perfect" has come we must determine exactly what "that which is perfect" is. The Greek word for "perfect" here is telios, and it means "complete," "full grown" or "mature." It refers to something that has been brought to its end or goal. Paul was looking forward to a coming maturity or completeness.
There are two other places in the New Testament that speak of that perfection to which Paul and the 1st-century Church were hoping to attain. From those two passages and their contexts we will be able to determine exactly what "that which is perfect" was to be, and also when it was to come. The two references are Eph. 4:13 and Heb. 9:11. Let us first look at Eph. 4:13:
The Perfect Man, The Temple of God
...until we all may come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown [TELIOS] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ...."
Here we see that "that which is perfect" was to be the full-grown Body of Christ, the mature Church." God was building up Christ's Body, the Church, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the end that the Church would grow up in Christ-likeness unto the mature or perfect (telios) Man (Eph. 4:11-13).
And Eph. 2:21 teaches us exactly what this final perfection of the Body of Christ was to mean:" When the Church finally reached maturity or perfection through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was to become God's Temple." Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Church was "being built together into a Dwelling-place of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22)." The Apostle Peter also referred to that future perfection when he wrote, "...you also as living stones are being built a spiritual house...." (I Peter 2:25)
That which is perfect" then was to come by means of the Holy Spirit and was to be the consummation of the work of the Holy Spirit." The gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to the end that the Body of Christ (the Church) would eventually become the perfect (telios) Dwelling/Temple/Tabernacle of God.
Now according to the Bible, when exactly in history was the work of the Holy Spirit in perfecting the Body of Christ to be consummated or finished so that the perfect Temple of God would be come in its fullness bringing about the cessation of tongues?" To answer this, let's look at the final New Testament reference to the coming of "that which is perfect."
The Perfect Tabernacle and the Imperfect Tabernacle
But Christ having appeared as a High Priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect (TELIOS) Tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation....
The "more perfect Tabernacle" here is that heavenly "Temple" or "Dwelling" unto which the Church was growing through the power of the Holy Spirit in Eph. 2:21,22." It corresponds to the heavenly "building," "house" and "home" with which the Church was expecting to be clothed in II Cor. 5:1,2,6; it is the "Abode" which the Father and the Son were going to make within believers (Jn. 14:23); it is the promised "Tabernacle of God among men" which the Church was anxiously awaiting (Rev. 21:3; 22:7,10,12,20)." It was to be the formation of Christ in the Church which Paul was eagerly expecting in Gal. 4:19." It was to be the realization of the first-century Church's hope of glory: "Christ in you" (Col. 1:27)." In very truth, it is that Kingdom which Jesus said is "within you" (Lk. 17:21).
When the book of Hebrews was written (c. A.D. 66), the saints knew that the Way into the heavenly, telios Tabernacle or Sanctuary (the face-to-Face Presence of God) had not yet been manifest to all the saints (cf. Heb. 11:39,40) because the first, earthly tabernacle was still standing (Heb. 9:8,9)." In other words, as long as the worldly, fleshly, old-testament tabernacle/temple of God was still standing, then "that which is perfect" ("the more perfect Tabernacle", the Temple of God; the complete, blood- perfected Church) had not yet come in its fullness." As long as the imperfect earthly house of God remained standing and its sinful ministers were still in power, the "more perfect tabernacle" was not yet established with finality in Christ's true people.
In light of the above, we are now in a position to answer the question, When in history did the Tabernacle/Temple/Body "which is perfect" come? The answer is, When the tabernacle/temple/body which was imperfect went; that is to say, when the old-testament temple was thrown down and the old-testament world and way of worship passed away and vanished (Heb. 8:13)." At that time, tongues ceased.
Jesus said concerning the old, imperfect temple at earthly Jerusalem,
Do you not see all these things?" [the beautiful stones and gifts and buildings of the temple]" "Truly I say to you, there shall not be left here one stone on a stone which shall not be thrown down."
In A.D. 70, about 40 years after Jesus' prophecy, the old temple and the old covenant world were thrown down." God's heavenly Temple was then completely established among men." That which is telios had come!" God gathered His elect into His House (Kingdom) when the earthly, hand-made" house was thrown down (II Cor. 5:1)." The Church was complete in the New Covenant Presence of Christ.
To sum up, prophecy, knowledge and tongues came to an end when:
1. the Church became the TELIOS Tabernacle/Temple/Body of God through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit,
2. when the Way into the heavenly, TELIOS Tabernacle of God was made manifest to all the saints,
3. when the non-telios, old testament tabernacle was thrown down by the judgment of God and the saints in the consummation of the old covenant age in A.D. 70.
I Cor. 14:21 and 22
Tongues, a Sign of Israel's Destruction in A.D. 70
The gift of tongues was given in the Last Days of the old covenant age as part of the process of covenantal transformation." It was a sign of the then-impending end of the old covenant (cf. Heb. 8:13):
It has been written in the Law, 'By other tongues and by other lips I will speak to this people, and even so they will not hear Me, says the Lord.'" So that tongues are not a sign to those believing, but to those not believing." (I Cor. 14:21,22a)
Paul quoted this passage from Isa. 28:11 and 12 where Isaiah in his day warned of the approaching invasion of apostate Israel by the Assyrians, a foreign nation which spoke in a foreign tongue." In the first century A.D., God gave the sign of "tongues" to apostate Israel ("those not believing") as a warning of impending doom for themselves, their temple and their city." But as Isaiah had predicted, "they would not listen."" (cf. Deut. 28:49 and Jer. 5:15)" Their house was left to them desolate, and they were destroyed in A.D. 70." The Kingdom was taken from them and was given to the blood-perfected Church --the true Nation, House, Body, Temple and City of God.
Tongues Have Ceased
Now if we no longer live in the era of covenantal transition wherein God was changing His dwelling from the symbolic, man-made temple to the true, heavenly Temple in the heart of His redeemed people; and if the destruction of unbelieving, old covenant Israel and its imperfect temple took place in A.D. 70, then it is manifest that tongues ceased by A.D. 70.
Does this mean that no one ever speaks in tongues today?" Surely, if God wants someone to miraculously speak in another language, then that's what God will cause to happen." God can do whatever He wants." But the question should not be so much whether or not anyone ever speaks in another language by the Spirit of God today; the question should be whether or not Christians speak in tongues en masse as they did in the first century.
It has been taught by some lately that God has re-poured His Spirit upon all flesh and has re-started the first-century tongues movement in our day because we are now, again, in "the last days."" But why would God return His people to those imperfect, partial things which were to exist only while the old testament form of worship was still being imposed upon fleshly Israel in its last waning years?" Are we to believe that God will return His people to the days of the child (the old testament age; cf. Gal. 4:1-7)?" Will we have to go back to the days of transition (from Biblical Judaism to Christianity, from old covenant to New Covenant) when God's people saw Christ as through a mirror in dimness and not face to face as we do now since Christ long ago removed the veil at the Consummation of the old-testament age in A.D. 70 (II Cor. 3:13-16)?
The condemning, old (covenant) things passed away long ago." All (covenant) things were made new." Since the old-testament temple fell, Christ in the heart is forever the true "Tabernacle of God among men." Now in Christ our Redeemer -our Forgiver- the Church is enabled to realize the chief End of mankind: to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and body; and to love his neighbor as himself." Revelation (prophecy, knowledge and tongues) ceased, but the love of God in our hearts remains (II Cor. 3:11)." Amen.
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