15 Propositions About Tongues from 1 Corinthians 12–14

night-house-stars-churchWhat does 1 Corinthians teach about tongues?

That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with all year as we’ve preached through 1 Corinthians. In pursuit of understanding these chapters myself, I’ve written a number of blogposts. And here is a culminating post offering 15 propositions to crystallize what Paul says and does not say about tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.

More must be said about this subject, especially as it relates to redemptive-history and the book of Acts. Moreover, more could be said comparing and contrasting Acts and the rest of the New Testament. But what follows focuses on 1 Corinthians 12–14.

Here are the 15 propositions. You can find biblical expositions below.

  1. Tongues, as a spiritual gift, fit into the larger categories of what Scripture says about tongues.
  2. Tongues reverses the strife caused by the “gift” of tongues at Genesis 11.
  3. Tongues is a judgment against Israel.
  4. Tongues is a spiritual gift.
  5. Tongues was the least of the gifts.
  6. Tongues were not given to everyone.
  7. Tongues is not discussed in any other letter, not even 2 Corinthians.
  8. Tongues does not address men, but God—maybe.
  9. Tongues as private prayer language is not from the Spirit.
  10. Tongues are nothing compared to prophesy.
  11. Tongues are lexical languages.
  12. Tongues must be interpreted.
  13. Tongues in the plural may be different than tongue in the singular.
  14. Tongues are not absolutely forbidden by Paul, but they die the death of ‘one thousand qualifications’.
  15. Tongues are not a normative practice today.

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Is It Finished? Clarity and Conviction about the Miraculous Gifts (1 Corinthians 12–14)

sermon photoIs It Finished? Clarity and Conviction about Miraculous Gifts

On the cross Jesus exclaimed this glorious truth: Tetelestai! It is Finished!

Our eternal security is settled by this truth. And this week we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday because Jesus Christ finished his gracious work of redemption on on the cross. 

Strangely, we are less certain about the finished work of the Holy Spirit. Some might even question whether he has finished anything. Isn’t the Holy Spirit still working in our midst today? Of course he is, but this doesn’t deny his finished work of revelation and the inspiration of God’s Word. In the Bible, we find the Holy Spirit’s finished work.

Considering both the finished work of the Son and the Spirit, Sunday’s sermon marked the final message on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–-14, where I answered the question: Is the work of the Spirit finished?

After seven messages on 1 Corinthians 12–14, this message sought to summarize our findings  in those chapters, understanding their historical context and making practical application today. This was not intended to be a typical exposition of the text, but an doctrinal and applicational sermon answering many questions related to the cessation of the miraculous gifts and the continuation of their intended purpose—the confirmation of God’s Word and the ongoing work of the Spirit by that Word.

You can read the sermon notes here, listen to previous expositions from 1 Corinthians 12–14, and find discussion questions below. Resources for further study are also available below. Continue reading

Speech Therapy: Training Our Tongues to Build Up Others (1 Corinthians 14:1–25)

sermon photoProverbs says a soft answer turns away wrath. James 3 says that the tongue is a fire which can set a whole forest ablaze. 1 Corinthians 14 says to not forbid speaking in tongues, yet it also gives a long list of qualifications. With all these words about the tongue and tongues, how should we proceed?

Our words have incredible power for building up or tearing down.This is true in general and it is also true with the spiritual gift of tongues. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he learns that this gift was making divisions worse, and so he gives some important words about that gift and about how we use our tongues.

In Sunday’s sermon, I took the first step in trying to explain 1 Corinthians 14 and I spent my time focusing on the main point: build one another up in love by means of your spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. I defined what prophecy and tongues were, but I made most of the applications related to how we use our tongues. Next week we will finish up the chapter, and in two weeks, Lord willing, we will return to the whole chapter to answer questions about this confusing and often misapplied spiritual gift.

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study are also listed below. Continue reading

Love Never Ends (1 Corinthians 13:8–13)

sermon photoThis last Sunday we considered how love endures, looking at four movements in Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.

  • From the temporary to the eternal (v. 8)
  • From the partial to the perfect (vv. 9-10)
  • From the child to the man (v. 11)
  • From the mirror to face to face (v. 12)

Sermon audio is available online; discussion question and study resources are listed below.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Discussion Questions

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Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 1): The Church’s Three Foundational Offices

 

churchThe apostleship was the Divine expedient to meet the emergencies of the Church at its first establishment and outset in the world, and not the method appointed for its ordinary administration; and the peculiarities distinctive of the office, to which I have now referred, could not, from their very nature, be repeated in the case of their successors, or be transmitted as a permanent feature in the Christian Church.
— James Bannerman, The Church of Christ 223 —

In his discussion of the Church and its founding, James Bannerman notes the way in which Apostles played a peculiar (and unrepeatable) role. In his second volume ofThe Church of Christ, he shows from the corpus of the New Testament how we should understand these “pillars,” whom God used to found the church (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20).

In what follows, I’ll trace his argument to help us better understand the uniqueness of these men. My hope is that by understanding their place in God’s new covenant temple, we will better understand our need for their message and the discontinuity of signs, wonders, and mighty works which accompanied their ministry. I believe local churches have risen and fell with commitment to the apostles’ gospel, not the continuation of their miraculous gifts. But in our charismatic age, this distinction is often missed.

We need to recover an understanding of God’s designs for the early church, and how though dead, the words of the Apostles still speak. In the next post, I will consider the Prophets and Evangelists—two offices that complement the Apostles. But for today, we will look at the unique role of the Apostles. Continue reading

Why the ‘Founding of the Church’ Is Different from the ‘Founded Church’: James Bannerman on the Uniqueness of the Early Church

pillarsAnd he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
— Ephesians 4:11–12 —

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he says that the exalted Lord has given gifts to the church (4:7–11). These gifts, he lists, are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. (The last two words describing one office). From these four “word workers”—i.e., men who preach the word—the church is equipped to build itself up in love (4:12–16). Yet, what are these four offices and how do they work in the history of the church?

Answering that question, James Bannerman writes a chapter in the second volume of his The Church of Christ that masterfully shows the unique role of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Like last’s weeks look at Ebenezer Henderson’s ‘Divine Inspiration‘, with its look at spiritual gifts, here is another old book worthy of our reading.

What follows is an introduction to these three offices. Tomorrow, we’ll return to see what he says about each office and how they work to lay the foundation of the church. For those looking for a better understanding of why the miraculous, sign gifts do not continue today, I cannot commend Bannerman and Henderson’s works highly enough.

On the Origination of the Church

Bannerman first considers the genesis of the church. He begins,

In discussing the question of the kind of Church Government delineated and appointed in Scripture, it is a matter of some importance to fix the date when the Christian Church was formally organized or set up. It is plain that this is a question of considerable moment in the discussion; for, by a mistake as to the date of its formal establishment, we may be led to confound the extraordinary circumstances of its transition state with the ordinary circumstances of its normal and permanent condition. (214)

From this introductory question, Bannerman goes on to posits that the church in its institutional formation began after Christ’s resurrection. To be sure, the people of God, who he calls a church, were extant before the time of Christ, but the church in its formal membership did not come into existence until Christ was raised and the Holy Spirit was sent. Bannerman explains why this is and show us how the church was founded in the days of apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 2:20). Continue reading

The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (1 Corinthians 12:1–13)

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The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (Sermon Audio)

This week’s sermon looked more closely at the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10. I argued that the sign gifts were given to the apostles and prophets to “lay the foundation” of the universal church, which is described as Christ’s body in 1 Corinthians 12:13.

Just as Paul described himself as a wise master builder (1 Corinthians 3:10), the first generation of Christians understood the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to have a unique calling to preach the gospel and the lay the foundation of the universal church. Accordingly, God confirmed their ministries with signs, wonders, and mighty works of power (see Romans 15:13–21 and 2 Corinthians 12:12). This view is called cessationism, and it argues that the miraculous gifts do not continue today.

In this sermon, however, I do not make a strong argument for the “cessation” of the gifts. Rather, I argue for the divine intention for these gifts to establish the infant church. In so many ways, the cessationist position does not, should not, revel in the cessation of spiritual gifts. Rather, we celebrate the way these supernatural gifts confirmed the message of the apostle and prophets. The gospel we find in the New Testament was confirmed by these workings of power.

Hence, today the sign gifts (listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10) still bear fruit by pointing us to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We celebrate the way these gifts recorded in Acts and the rest of the New Testament secure the foundation of the church, and remind us that no additions are needed to bolster the church’s firm foundation. This does not, in any way, diminish the power of God. Instead, it understand the power of God to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16–17 and 1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are resources for further study.

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In Praise of Old Books, Like Ebenezer Henderson’s Work on Divine Inspiration and the Spiritual Gifts

boooksI love old books. Even more, I love old books that I find by serendipity—a real research method (see Thomas Mann, The Oxford Guide to Library Researchpp. 23, 61). That is to say, I love when I go looking in one book (or one bookstore) for one thing, and find something else even more helpful.

That took place last week as I read Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:8–11. There in Calvin’s translated work, the Scottish editor inserted a footnote which reads: “One of the most satisfactory views of this subject is that of Dr. Henderson in his Lecture on “Divine Inspiration . . . ”

This comment sent me searching and what I found was 500-page work by Ebenezer Henderson, a nineteenth century, Scottish Reformed Congregationalist or Baptist (if his training under Robert Haldane means anything). As the Dictionary of Scottish History and Theology puts it, Henderson was an “agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society . . ., linguist, and exegete” (398). In his lifetime, he spread the gospel and gospel tracts to the nations of Denmark, Russia, and Iceland. He founded in the first congregational church in Sweden in 1811. In this countries, he also “distributed vernacular Scriptures and encouraging formation of local Bible societies” (ibid.). Thereafter, he participated in Bible translation in Russia and Turkey, and after political turmoil in those places led him to resign his post wit the Bible Society, he received an appointment to the Congregational Theological College in Highbury, Scotland.

From that location, “he edited and revised a number of translations and exegetical works and published his own Old Testament commentaries” (ibid.). In this period, he also wrote the work cited by Calvin’s editor, a series of lectures whose title would make any Puritan proud. In 1847, he published, Divine Inspiration; or, The supernatural influence exerted in the communication of divine truth and is special bearing on the composition of the sacred Scriptures : with notes and illustrationsToday, this book can be found online, as well as through various reprints. (Incidentally, the online copy was owned by William Henry Green, an eminent Old Testament scholar from Princeton). Continue reading

Holy Spirit Power: The Gift, the Giver, the Goal, and the Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1–11)

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Holy Spirit Power: The Gift, the Giver, the Goal, and the Gifts (sermon audio)

Despite their obvious flaws, Paul loved the church at Corinth. And in his section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14, he aims to help his spiritual children come to a true understanding of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the spiritual gifts.

Important for us standing twenty centuries removed is the way he begins with the Holy Spirit as the greatest gift in 12:1–3, followed by an understanding of the triune God in vv. 4–6. When questions about spiritual gifts come up, we must begin here: the greatest gift is the Holy Spirit himself. He is the one by whom we might know the triune God.

Only after nailing down this truth can we move to understand the purpose and particulars of the spiritual gifts. Therefore, as I preached on this passage, this is where I focused—on the Gift and the Giver. We also considered the purpose or goal of the spiritual gifts and how these gifts functioned to promote the gospel in the early days of the church.

Next week we’ll focus more on the particular used of the sign gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, but for now you can listen to yesterdays sermon on Holy Spirit Power. Sermon notes are also available. Discussion questions and resources for further study are listed below. Continue reading

Understanding the Spiritual Gifts: A Few Translation Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:1–11

focusFirst Corinthians 12:1–11 is a glorious passage but also intensely debated. As I prepared to preach this passage on Sunday, I found that it is more than the theology that is challenging in these verses; it is also the translation of the text.

What follows are a few notes on what Paul is saying in these verses that help hone in on who he is speaking to and what God is doing. As we will consider this passage again next week, I will try to put up a few more translation notes as we consider this challening passage.

1. The ‘Spiritual Ones’ (v. 1)

The ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) all translate πνευματικῶν as “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1. Others (e.g., CSB), however, have recognized the ambiguity of Paul’s language. While 1 Corinthians 12–14 pertains to spiritual gifts (χάρισμα = 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31), there is good reason for rendering πνευματικῶν as “spiritual things” or “spiritual persons.” Let’s see why. Continue reading