Tongues | Special Revelation and Conclusion

The following belongs to a series on the continuation or cessation of the miraculous phenomena of tongues-speaking. Read the previous post here.

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Special Revelation and Tongues-Speaking

If no other argument up until this point has been persuasive, this next argument is the most decisive point cessationism has. The argument is as follows: 1) since tongues-speaking is revelatory (1 Cor 14:6, 26)1 and 2) since the canon of scripture (special revelation) is closed, then 3) no tongues utterances can be given in this age. Denying the second premise is dangerous business and places one outside of historical evangelicalism. Consequently, in order to deny this argument continuationists typically deny the first premise by arguing that the revelation given via tongues is different than that of scripture, and therefore, tongues’ continual existence is not inconsistent with a closed canon.2 However, problems surface when such a distinction is made.

In claiming that the special revelation of tongues is distinct from that of scripture, continuationists unapologetically claim that the content of tongues is inferior or subordinate to scripture.3 Such an explanation sounds acceptable at first until confronted with the question, how can one word of God be any less authoritative than another word of God?4 God’s word is authoritative because it is just that—God’s word—not because humans have acknowledged it as such (canonical).

Some seeing this problem respond by claiming that tongues utterances, although from a divine source, can include error due to the involvement of fallible human agents in mediation of the message.5 This is to explain why tongues revelation is inferior to scriptural revelation. However, this same logic applied to scripture, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit but written by fallible human agents, results in the potential (more like probable) existence of errors in scripture, denying the Bible’s inerrancy.

And further, even if one was to claim the infallibility of tongues in order to avoid this last conclusion, he has now eliminated any reason for the inferiority of tongues utterances to scripture. And in addition to this, he is now left to answer as to why tongues utterances many times contradict one another and even scripture. The only escape route to this conundrum is a neo-orthodox, subjective, pluralistic view of inspiration.6

In summary, no matter which route continuationists take, they only shoot themselves in the theological foot and, if they take their theology to its logical conclusion, place themselves outside of historical evangelicalism. Continuationism denies the sufficiency of scripture practically7 and excludes the doctrine sola scriptura logically.

Conclusion

To recap all that has been said, the true Biblical manifestation of tongues, the utterance of unlearned human language, as regulated by Paul’s guidelines is not practiced or existent today. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 certainly allows for the cessation of tongues and fits quite well within the cessationist framework. Church history is silent on the existence of genuine tongues while the Church Fathers are outspoken concerning their belief in the cessation of tongues. Scripture reveals that tongues’ functions were temporary and that tongues’ existence was essentially provisional. And lastly, the closed canon and the existence of continual revelation (such as tongues utterances) are mutually exclusive. Therefore, having examined these five significant areas concerning the continuation or cessation of tongues, it is safe to conclude that, even though never blatantly taught in scripture, a cumulative assessment of Biblical truth attests to a cessation of tongues which correlates with the closing of the canon.

Notes

1.  This is seen by 1) tongues’ prophetic function (Acts 2:17; 19:6) and 2) in 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 when Paul states that uninterpreted praise and praying done in a tongue is unintelligible even to the tongues-speaker, implying that the source of the content is divine and not at all human. In other words, all tongues-speaking (despite functional differences) is inspired and therefore authoritative.

2. As C. Samuel Storms says, such an argument “might be true only if New Testament prophetic revelation yielded Scripture quality words from God” (“A Third Wave Response to Robert L. Saucy” in Four Views, 162).

3. As Oss says, “Pentecostals do not vest canonical authority in these [tongues] utterances, but rather submit them to the authority of scripture” (“Pentecostal/Charismatic Response to Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.” in Four Views, 92).

4. Some might respond by referencing 1 Corinthians 14:29 where Paul instructs the Corinthians to weigh prophetic utterances, implying that the Corinthians are to subject the prophecy to already known revelation. However, such an instruction is not a comment on the nature of genuine prophetic revelation. As with Old Testament prophets, Paul wants these prophetic utterances to be tested to see whether they are genuine, not because a genuine prophetic message is less authoritative then the revelation they already have. The fact that Paul does not give a parallel instruction to test tongues most likely indicates that tongues’ miraculous nature is understood as sufficient authentication.

5. As Oss says, “Can something that is inspired of God be less than canon? Yes it can. These utterance are coming through fallible human speakers” (“Response to Gaffin,” 92). See also, Storms, “A Third Wave View,” 207-210.

6. Ruthven heads this direction when he states that claiming no present revelation is given by the Spirit “effectively freeze-dries almost all the biblically-described activity of the Spirit and incarnates him into the text of scripture” (Cessation of the Charismata, 76).

7. For even if one claims tongues only gives explanation to scripture, this can easily lead to practices parallel to the Roman Catholic view of tradition. Fresh revelation, which can answer theological and contemporary issues, easily usurps scripture’s authority, at least practically speaking. But more so, this notion implies scripture is not sufficient, something admitted by Storms who states, “Scripture never claims to supply us with all possible information necessary to make every conceivable decision” (“Response to Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.,” in Four Views, 83), and, “Surely we are not prepared to suggest that the Bible . . . is sufficient to do what Jesus could not [do apart from the miraculous]” (“A Third Wave View,” 200).

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4 thoughts on “Tongues | Special Revelation and Conclusion

  1. I don’t find a problem with revelation from God not being cannonized, since it is clear from scripture that all that God has revealed has not been cannonized and never intended to be. Therefore, where is the force in this argument? Since God has revealed matters to particulars that where not intended to be written in scripture, why could this not still continue? Thus, the cannon is close and Gods extra-biblical or biblical in nature revealtion is still authoritive. And of course all prophecy must be tested according to scripture for its legitimacy, and if it clears the test, then how does is undermine the authority and completeness of the Bible?

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    • Well, in “closed canon” I am presuming sola scriptura as I believe is accurate to do. Sola scripture implies a closed canon that has no equal authority (hence the “sola“), for instance, no ongoing revelation such as tongues.

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  2. See, I too believe in sola scriptura (in a sense); however, that is pertaining solely to giving scripture preeminence in matters of truth, namely, doctrine and rightful living. And like I’ve said before, there many instance in scripture that indicate revelation from God not being recorded in scripture, yet nevertheless authoritative and true; for instance all of the teachings and works of Jesus that are not recorded, or the revelation that God revealed to John but told not to record it. Additionally, there are other means of revelation such as general that is both from God and authoritative, particularly, who God is and what he demands of us, revelation so true and authoritative that it leaves us all without excuse.

    So, this may not be the same understanding as the reform view of sola scriptura, but if it is, then I would reject it on scriptural grounds. If you accept his this, then my former argument still stands: Since neither is it necessary for all revelation to be recorded in scripture, nor is it (based on scripture), then there is no problem or reason from scripture that revelation of a different sort can not still continue, i.e. Muslims having dreams about Jesus and the Gospel, or a tounge that is interpreted that encourages the church, or revelation that someone in the congeration committed a certain sin (as happened with Spurgeon a few times), or a holy sence in the heart to do, say, or go somewhere, etc.

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    • I agree that not all revelation is recorded in scripture, both special and general revelation. So, yes, as I assumed in my post, it is not necessary that all revelation be recorded in scripture (i.e., the Corinthian church’s tongue-speaking). My point is not about whether revelation must be included in scripture.

      My point is that with the closing of the canon (which logically includes the doctrine, sola scriptura), no other special revelation can be given.

      My argument was as follows:
      ~ Scripture alone is authoritative for faith and practice (sola scriptura). It has no equal.
      ~ Ongoing revelation would be an equal authority (key word being, “equal”) which would violate sola scriptura.
      ~ Therefore, tongues, being revelatory, cannot exist today.

      What may be causing some confusion is the second bullet point in my argument. This point is in a sense the crux of my argument that I make in the post above. If tongues were a lower level of revelation or a fallible form of revelation, then one could make an argument that it’s current existence would not violate sola scriptura, because it would be subordinate revelation. But I argue that tongues revelation is of equal authority to scripture and therefore it’s current existence would violate sola scriptura.

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