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