A Review of the (Nine) Temporary Spiritual Gifts*


Diversity but not Division

Any time divisions are a result of exercising spiritual gifts, it is an indication that these gifts are not being used as God intended. The variety of gifts is parallel to the parts of the human body, and Paul uses this analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:4 17. "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:4). "And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord" (1 Cor. 12:5). "There are varieties of effects, but the same God" (1 Cor. 12:6).

Then Paul compares the variety of gifts to the human body and its various and necessary parts, "For even as the body is one and yet has many members" (1 Cor. 12:12). "If the foot says, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,' it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body" (1 Cor. 12:15). "If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?" (1 Cor. 12:17).

The Spirit Is the Giver of the Spiritual Gifts--(Source)

The word charismatic scares a lot of people, but it simply means gifts of grace. (Chars is the Greek word "grace.") Since every believer is endowed with one or more gifts, every believer is charismatic. "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:7; emphasis mine).

All believers will not have the same gift, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:4).

Three Basic Facts About Spiritual Gifts

1. Spiritual gifts are freely and graciously given. Gifts of grace cannot be earned, for you cannot do anything to get them in your own power. "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly" (Rom. 12:6; emphasis mine).

A gift is not earned or merited so a believer should not feel personal pride or self satisfaction due to his gift. "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Ephesians 4:7; emphasis mine).

2. Spiritual gifts are a means of serving in the Body of Christ. Gifts are not to exalt the person who has the gift; they are to enable that person to serve other believers. "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pet. 4:10).

3. Spiritual gifts necessitate the activity of the possessor. You will discover your gift as you function. Many do not recognize their gift because they are inactive. Just as a baby is born with all the necessary parts, he must learn to use those parts through activity. Many Christians are sitting around waiting to be discovered. In their waiting they become frustrated because they are not functioning as God intends.

The Permanent Spiritual Gifts

1. Teaching
2. Helps (Ministering)
3. Administration
4. Evangelism
5. Pastor-Teacher
6. Exhortation
7. Giving
8. Mercy
9. Faith
10. Celibacy

The Temporary Spiritual Gifts

1. Apostleship

First Requirement of an Apostle--An Eye Witness to the Resurrection

In Acts 1, Judas (the one who betrayed Christ) had already committed suicide and the remaining eleven apostles want to replace him. The name apostle is a particular name of these twelve men even though there are other men that probably have the gift of apostleship such as Barnabas, Silas, possibly James and a couple of others. However, the prime focal point is on these twelve men. As the eleven apostles seek to replace Judas, there are certain requirements that person will have to meet.

The first requirement of an apostle is that he must have had a firsthand experience of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. "One of these (apostles) must become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:22). Paul defends his apostleship with proof that he, too, had seen the resurrected Christ. "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1).

Some have said that Paul was not really an eye witness of Christ's resurrection just as the Corinthians were doubting Paul's right as an apostle. In answer to that doubt, Paul reviews Christ's order of appearances, "and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve" (1 Cor. 15:5). "After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time . . . then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:6,7). Then Christ appeared to Paul! "and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also" (1 Cor. 15:8).

There Are No Apostles Today

In light of the fact that a definite requirement of an apostle was that he must have seen the resurrected Christ, apostles ceased to exist when these first-century men died. Today, some will say that apostles and missionaries are the same thing. It is true that missionary is the Latin word for the Greek word apostle, and both words mean "one who is sent with a special message." However, the similarity ends there, for the twelve apostles had to have seen the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Second Requirement--Apostles Possessed Miracle Gifts (Signs, Wonders and Miracles)

The second qualification of an apostle carries us into some of the other gifts. Paul's second evidence that he is a true apostle is that God has given him supernatural power in the form of miracle gifts. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (2 Cor. 12:12). Now if there were all kinds of Christians running around Corinth doing miracles, Paul's statement would lose any validity, for then miracles cease to be a sign of a true apostle.

It is consistent throughout the book of Acts that every time the miraculous happens, it is always in connection with the ministry of one of the apostles. "At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people" (Acts 5:12). Romans 15 is speaking about Christ's accomplishments through Paul by use of the miraculous. "In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit" (Rom. 15:19). Is Paul saying miracles were being done by all the Christians? No! He is talking about particular miracles being done by Paul as an apostle.

Miracles Validated the Apostles' Ministries

"God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" (Heb. 2:4). Even at this point in writing (about 68 A.D.), the miracles are written as something that is a past event -- that those who heard salvation from Christ had their ministry confirmed (validated) by signs and wonders and different kinds of miracles. All the verbs in Hebrews 2:3 are in the past tense (even before 70 A.D.). "After it was (past tense) at the first spoken (past tense) through the Lord, it was confirmed (past tense) to us by those who heard (past tense)" (Heb. 2:3; emphasis mine).

There is no longer a need for gifts for which the prime purpose is to validate a ministry of direct revelation. God's Word is complete! The argument is sometimes given that because people do not believe in the Bible, we need the miraculous just as it was needed in the apostles' day ( la John Wimber and the Vineyard movement). Read Luke 16:27 31, where Abraham tells a man in Hades that if a man does not believe the written Scriptures (Moses and the prophets), he will not believe even if someone is raised from the dead. The proof of that is obvious. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and people still did not believe -- and still do not believe today.

The Apostles and the Prophets Laid the Foundation of the Church

The gift of apostleship is a foundational one and the most important gift of all the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:28). The ministry of the apostles and prophets was to lay the foundation of the Church. They brought the truth regarding the one Body in Christ to mankind. In Ephesians 2:19, Paul says we are "fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God's household." The importance of the apostles and prophets is explained in Ephesians 2:20, "Having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."

Once you have laid the foundation, there is no other foundation that needs to be laid. There is no other truth that needs to be conveyed for the Church to be constructed. There is no need for more apostles or prophets. When constructing a building you would begin to worry if the workers came to lay the foundation after the building was half built, wouldn't you? The same is true in a spiritual sense. The apostles and prophets have finished the foundation of the Church and no one should be trying to lay a new foundation. The foundation is done, settled and secure. We are building on that foundation. The gift of apostleship is finished.

Summary of the Gift of Apostleship

The gift of apostleship is the most important gift given, but it was a temporary gift (one that has not continued down to our present day). There were two qualifications for an apostle. First, he had to have been an eye witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (He had to have seen Jesus Christ bodily after the resurrection.) The second qualification was that miracles had to accompany an apostle's ministry to validate or confirm his position as an apostle. Paul met both qualifications as an apostle.

Apostleship does not continue today simply because people have not seen Jesus Christ in His bodily resurrection. The apostles have completed the foundation of the Church, and God's Word is complete. No new revelation is needed.

2. Prophecy

What Is a Prophet?

Basically, a prophet had the ability to receive direct revelation from God and then to communicate that revelation to men.

Some identify the gift of prophecy with the gift of preaching today, but that is not correct because the key element is missing -- a preacher does not get his messages directly from God. A pastor gets his message from the Word of God (hopefully), but God does not appear to him in dreams and visions or by speaking directly to him. Since a prophet got his message from God, it was free from error, which obviously is not the case today! God cannot communicate mistakes! If God had so garbled the message He wanted to reveal to man and there were so many mistakes that the meaning was not clear, then God would not have revealed Himself at all.

Prophecy Is Necessary Only for Additional Revelation

The gift of prophecy is only necessary when God wants to give additional revelation (when He wants to reveal more of Himself than He has revealed up to that point in time). A person who says the gift of prophecy is present today is in the same breath saying the Bible is not complete and that we need more material revealed from God. However, God says the Bible is complete and there is no additional revelation. "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18).

The Revelation the Apostles and Prophets Received Is the Foundation of the Church

Just as the apostles received direct revelation from God, so did the prophets. That revelation is the foundation upon which the Church is built. Many times in both the Old and New Testaments, those who received the direct revelation were given the power to perform miracles and foretell the future. "One of them (the prophets) named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit (prophesy) that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius" (Acts 11:28). Later, Agabus was prophesying the imprisonment of Paul (Acts 21:11).

There were female prophets as well as men. "Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses" (Acts 21:9). The Old Testament also has examples of prophetesses such as Huldah, Deborah and Miriam.

Paul is classified among the prophets and teachers as well as an apostle (Acts 13:1). Not every prophet was an apostle, but in all probability every apostle had the gift of prophecy.

God Gave Prophets Direct Guidance

Connected with the gift of prophecy is direct guidance from God. "A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying 'Come over to Macedonia and help us' " (Acts 16:9). God does not communicate in visions to Christians today. There is no need for God to appear in visions. He has given us the Bible as our guide for direction in our daily lives. In a number of other places the Spirit directly reveals Himself to Paul and tells him something concerning his future activities (see Acts 18:9-10; 22:17 21; 27:23,24).

Summary of the Gift of Prophecy

We have noted that the gift of prophecy was temporary. There are three main reasons which we have covered:

1. When the New Testament was completed, there was no reason for additional revelation and the gift of prophecy is always connected with receiving new material from God. You do not find prophets getting material from God just to reiterate what God has already done or said.

2. The apostles and prophets were the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). When the foundation was laid, the material for the foundation was given. When the foundation was complete, there was no longer any need for apostles or prophets.

3. Since there is no longer a need for prophecy, the gift of prophecy came to an end with the completion of the New Testament. "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away" (1 Cor. 13:8).

3. Miracles

Gift of Miracles Is the Ability to Do Supernatural Works of Power

The gift of miracles is one of the most exciting gifts, along with healing and tongues. These gifts probably generate the most interest and discussion today. The gift of miracles is broad and includes much more than miraculous healing. Any act which includes God's intervention into natural processes is included in the gift of miracles.

Miracles Are Always Done in Connection With an Apostle In the New Testament

Acts 5 is the familiar account of Ananias and Sapphira with Peter as the apostle. Ananias and Sapphira had sold some land and had given some of the proceeds to the Church, but they pretended that they were giving all the proceeds to the Church.

Peter knew they had plotted to deceive the Church, and he performed a miracle through the power of God. Peter tells Ananias that he not only lied to men, but also to God. "And as he (Ananias) heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it" (Acts 5:5).

The same fate befell Sapphira in Acts 5:10. This is not like the miracles we think of usually, but still it is a miracle. Obviously God is not doing this today. Some of us can be thankful He isn't! Why did God do that type of miracle then? God wanted to establish the ministry of the apostles, and this type of miracle caused the people to fear and respect the instructions and messages the apostles were giving. Not only did God confirm the ministry of the apostles, He guaranteed the purity of the Church at its inception (2 Cor. 12:12).

Tabitha Came Back to Life in Peter's Ministry

Tabitha (Dorcas) died and Peter the Apostle came and performed a miracle by bringing her back to life. "But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up" (Acts 9:40). This miracle might be classified as a gift of healing, but it goes beyond the scope of just healing. It goes into the realm of the gift of miracles, although the two gifts are closely related.

Paul Stops a Magician With a Miracle

Elymas the magician was causing problems for Paul and hindering his ministry. Paul looked the magician right in the eye and said, " 'Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.' And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand" (Acts 13:11). This is a miracle of divine intervention by the Lord through Paul.

Other Miracles in Paul's Ministry

Paul was holding a late meeting and a certain young man named Eutychus was listening from a third floor window. He fell asleep and fell out of the window and was killed. Paul brought Eutychus back to life. "But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, 'Do not be troubled, for his life is in him' " (Acts 20:10).

Another miracle occurs in Acts 28:3 6 when Paul is bitten by a poisonous viper. Paul just shakes the snake off, and his hand does not even swell.

Three Main Periods of Miracles in the Bible

The first period of miracles occurs during Moses' ministry and the events surrounding it. Each time there is a miracle, the purpose of the miracle is to validate the message and testimony of Moses.

The second period was perhaps at the low point in Israel's spiritual condition, although Elijah and Elisha did mighty miracles. For example, Elisha was sitting on a hill when fifty of the king's men came to get him and Elisha did a great miracle, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty" (2 Kin. 1:10). The king sends another fifty soldiers to get Elisha and again they are consumed by fire from heaven. The third group of soldiers came crawling to Elisha with profound respect. The miracle validated the ministry of Elisha.

The third period of miracles takes place during the time of Christ and his apostles. Although other miracles occur in other times in the Bible, they are not as concentrated as during these three periods. God did miracles to validate the message He had given. He never used miracles to validate previous revelation.

God Does Miracles Today

God performs miracles today, but the gift of miracles is not in use today. The gift of miracles is seen in examples in the book of Acts where a given individual has a supernatural ability to do those works of power as a result of the Holy Spirit within him. God does the miraculous today in various ways, one of which is answering the prayers of believers.

Summary of Gift of Miracles

The primary purpose of miracles was to validate the message of one of God's spokesmen (either apostle or prophet) or their ministry. That does not mean that others did not do miracles, but it means that the miracles were always the result of the ministry of an apostle or a prophet. For example, the Corinthian church had a gift of miracles, but they had that as a direct result of the Apostle Paul's ministry.

The gift of miracles is temporary because there are no longer prophets and apostles and no new revelation for God to validate. The Bible is the complete revelation of God and nothing more needs to be added for men to know the plan of salvation.

4. Healing

Definition of Gift of Healing vs. Miracles

The gift of healing is a variation of miracles, but it is more limited because healings had to do with restoring the physical body back to health.

Miracles went beyond that. Miracles included the negative aspect in that the supernatural power was used not just to heal blindness, but to make the seeing blind; not just to bring to life but to put to death. The gift of healing was limited to the positive aspect of healing all types of illnesses at will.

The gift of healings is usually referred to as plural but when we refer to the gift of healing it entails all ramifications of supernatural power to heal (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30). The church at Corinth had the gift of healing, but they had that ability as a result of the ministry of the Apostle Paul in their midst. Healing is inseparably linked to the ministry of one of the apostles.

Gift of Healing Began to Fade During Paul's Earthly Ministry

When Paul was writing to Timothy he advised him on his health. "No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim. 5:23). Why didn't Paul just heal Timothy? Timothy had enough problems without having stomach problems. Why didn't Paul just use his gift of healing instead of giving him some advice on how to help the problem?

In 2 Timothy 4:20, Paul had to leave Trophimus behind at Miletus because Trophimus was so sick. Why didn't Paul, who had raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:10), just heal Trophimus? The only explanation seems to be that this ministry -- this particular gift of healing -- is being phased out, because in 2 Timothy, Paul is close to the end of his ministry. It was no longer necessary to validate Paul's ministry by the miraculous -- Paul's writings were beginning to be recognized as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15 16).

Philippians 2:27 gives another example where Paul does not (cannot) heal a fellow Christian, "For indeed he (Epaphroditus) was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow." That is strange as you think of Paul's power as a miracle worker in the earlier part of his ministry.

God Does Heal Today in Response to Prayer

It is important to remember that God does heal today and He still does the miraculous in various ways. We do not put limits on God's power, but there is Biblical evidence that the gift of healing has been taken away and that there are not people today who have special power to heal. ( Note: James 5:14,15 is in the broader context of sin in the life of a believer and the illness incurred is the punishment for that sin (1 Cor. 11:30). The calling for the elders is indicative of a desire to deal with the sin. As such, this passage is not related to the gift of healing.)

Experiences Do not Negate God's Word

Your experience does not determine what is genuine; the Word of God determines what is genuine even if you say you saw someone healed on television or as an eye witness. You must first determine what the Word says about this subject and adjust your thinking accordingly. Do not adjust God's Word to the experience.

Summary of Gift of Healing

The main purpose of the gift of healing, just as the gift of miracles, was to validate God's message. Each time the gift of healing was administered, it was done in connection with one of the apostles. Since the apostles were primarily teachers of the Word and not healers, when the message they brought was authenticated and established, there was no longer a need for the gift of healing nor any of the other miraculous gifts.

5. Discerning Spirits

Definition of Gift of Discerning Spirits

"And to another the distinguishing of spirits" (1 Cor. 12:10). The gift of discerning spirits was the supernatural ability to discern what was true and what was false. This was a crucial gift when men did not have the New Testament. Believers needed men who had the ability and insight to discern what teaching and which men were really from God.

Discerning Takes Place in Light of the Scriptures Today

Now that we have the completed revelation from God, discerning takes place in light of the Scripture. We do not need a special gift. If I want to know if a teacher/preacher is genuine, I listen to what he says and teaches and measure that in light of the Word. They could not do that when they did not have the entire Bible.

"If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting" (2 John 10). What John is saying is simple, if someone does not bring the teaching the apostles have brought (the teaching that we now know as the New Testament), do not let him into your house or even greet him! Believers in the early church were to discern teachers in light of what the apostles had taught -- as we are to do today.

Believers Are to Test the Spirits Via God's Word

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The spirit here refers to the speaker, the teacher, the pastor. There are false teachers, and we are to discern them by sifting what they say through the Word of God. John gives the standard, but he does not say to use the gift of discernment. Instead he says to measure what they say against what John is going to teach them. That is the same standard we are to use today -- the Bible. John taught the Bible verbally; we have it in written form.

Summary of Gift of Discerning Spirits

The main purpose of the gift of discerning spirits was to separate the phonies from the real messengers of God until the complete revelation of the Word was finished. Once the Word was completed and available to men as the truth, the gift of discerning spirits was no longer needed.

6. Word of Wisdom

Definition of Word of Wisdom

The gift of word of wisdom is the supernatural ability to discern and apply the Word of God. It was used for the specific and temporary purpose of giving wisdom before and during the time the New Testament was being revealed. In 1 Corinthians 2:7, Paul connects wisdom with his ministry and he connects it with special revelation (which indicates that this gift is in the context of special revelation). They did not have the written Word for obtaining wisdom as we do.

Summary of Gift of Wisdom

Since wisdom is connected with discernment in the revelation of God's Word, it must be classified as temporary. Some limit wisdom to applying Bible truths to the specific needs of others, and as such, classify it as permanent. It is preferred to classify the gift of wisdom as a temporary gift as there appears to be more evidence that the wisdom was directly related to the revealing of God's Word in laying the foundation of the Bible.

7. Word of Knowledge

Special Knowledge as Direct Revelation From God

"And to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:8). The knowledge referred to here is a supernatural knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 13:8, we are told that knowledge shall pass away. The knowledge has to mean supernatural or special knowledge from God because knowledge in a general sense will never cease to exist. Throughout all eternity we are going to have knowledge of God and grow in that knowledge.

Before men had the New Testament, they needed those who had special knowledge from God so they would know about God and know what they were to do and not to do. Today we can examine the Word to know what God has to say.

Relationship to the Gift of Prophecy

The gift of knowledge is closely related to the gift of prophecy in that both involved the reception of direct revelation from God. However, prophecy is presented as a more important and prominent gift. It evidently included revelation on a broader scale (including future events) as well as having a greater emphasis on the proclamation of the revelation received.

Summary of Gift of Word of Knowledge

The gift of word of knowledge was a temporary gift to establish the truth of God and mankind. This was accomplished with the New Testament. The word of knowledge was a special supernatural knowledge, not the knowledge that comes as a result of studying the Bible.

8. Tongues

Tongues Refer to Earthly Languages

The gift of tongues was a supernatural ability to speak an earthly foreign language without special training. Tongues comes from the word glossa, so the word glossalalia means "to speak in tongues." The word tongues (glossa), when used in the New Testament, either refers to the physical tongue and its basic meaning or to the language that the tongue speaks.

To begin a study of tongues, get a concordance and look up the word tongue (glossa), and look at all the places it is used and how it is used. In the following references (not a complete list) every time the word tongue (glossa) is used, it always refers to an earthly foreign language: Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9.

Law of First Mention

In hermeneutics (the study of interpreting the Scripture), there is a Law of First Mention which simply refers to the fact that the first mention of an area, a fact or a word, becomes a pattern for subsequent uses of that word or expression or phenomenon.

The first mention of speaking in tongues in the Bible is found in Acts 2:4: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." Other "tongues" is the Greek word glossa. All the different people present are listed in verses 9 and 10. These various groups of people are saying that they hear what is being said in their own language (verse 11).

Tongues an earthly language is further substantiated in Acts 2:6, "And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language." The Greek word used here for language is "dialect," but glossa and dialect are used interchangeably so glossa has to mean an earthly language. (Dialect is also used in verse 8.)

The gift of tongues was Spirit-motivated speech (Acts 2:4) in a particular language as we have already established. Now it would be hard to believe that the Spirit today is motivating believers to speak in babblings or ecstatic speech, because that is contrary to what God did when He first gave this ability. Unless there is good reason to think that God changed this particular ability and gift, we have to assume that the gift of tongues will be the same throughout the entire Bible.

Gift of Tongues Was a Sign to Unbelievers and a Sign of Judgment to Israel

"So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers" (1 Cor. 14:22).

In verse 21, the Old Testament is quoted to substantiate that one of the basic purposes of tongues is to be a sign for unbelievers, but also tongues were a sign to the Jewish nation that they were to be judged for their unbelief (Deut. 28:49).

Anytime there is a foreign language being spoken among the Jews, it is a sign that God is judging the nation Israel because these foreigners would have conquered Israel (Isa. 28:9 13). Isaiah foretells the judgment God is going to bring on Israel. The particular people here who have stammering lips and a foreign tongue are the Assyrians. The presence of the Assyrian language in Israel is an indication and a sign to Israel that God is judging them for their unbelief.

Tongues Were One of the Sign Gifts

The sign gifts, remember, were temporary gifts to validate the ministry of the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). Tongues are specifically called a sign in 1 Corinthians 14:22.

Once a message had been confirmed by signs and wonders, there was no longer a need for further confirmation (Heb. 2:3 4).

The Gift of Tongues Is not Present Today

What about the ecstatic speech that is a common phenomenon today? Speaking in tongues as it is practiced today is not Biblical tongues. (We have already established that Biblical tongues refers to foreign languages.) The babblings of today have their origin in the mystery cults of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, and it was practiced by unbelievers.

Experiences Can Be Contrary to the Bible

Be careful not to sift your Bible through what is going on -- instead, know what the Bible says and determine your experiences in light of the standard -- the Word of God! That can be very difficult because you cannot deny your experiences. However, a person on drugs might have beautiful mind-boggling experiences, even religious experiences, but those experiences are not bringing him closer to God. His experience is wrong and drawing him farther away from God's truth. Some experiences are distractions from God's Word.

Book of Acts Is a Transition Book From Old Testament to New Testament

The Book of Acts records a transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God deals differently with men in the New Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Abraham all the way down to Acts 2, God was dealing primarily with one group of people -- the Jews. Then in Acts 2, God begins a totally new work; He is going to deal with all peoples and all nations and make them one people.

To make sure that there is not a Jewish church developing and a separate Samaritan church developing, the Samaritans are brought under the umbrella of the apostles' leadership in Acts 8. They can be sure that God is working through the apostles to lead and teach them because they receive the Holy Spirit.

You can readily see the importance of tongues as a sign gift -- as a demonstration of God doing a new work and in doing that new work, He is also judging the nation Israel for their unbelief.

Tongues Were a Sign to the Jews That Gentiles Were to Be Part of the Body of Christ

In the first part of Acts 10, God had to give Peter a special vision so that Peter would be willing to speak to Cornelius and his household (Gentiles). "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message" (Acts 10:44). What was the reaction of the Jewish believers? "And all the circumcised believers (Jews) who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also" (Acts 10:45). The Jews recognized this sign and its significance (Acts 11:15 18).

What was the sign that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles? The sign is found in Acts 10:46, "For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God." So again, the gift of tongues was proof that God was not only going to include Jews and Samaritans, but Gentiles as well into the one body God was making. Once the fact had been established, it did not have to be repeated. Once the Jews knew that the Gentiles were to be a part of the Body of Christ, it does not make sense that every time a Gentile believed, he had to give the evidence, for that had already been established. That is the foundation we are to build upon.

God Began a New Work in Book of Acts

In Acts 19, when Paul meets the disciples of John at Ephesus, Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit and they answer, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit" (Acts 19:2). Now some people take this verse as proof that you do not receive the Holy Spirit when you first believe. However, if you read on in Acts 19, you find out they have been baptized "into John's baptism." If they have been part of John's ministry, they know that there is a Holy Spirit (John 1:33), so Acts 19:2 cannot mean they did not know about the Holy Spirit. What it obviously means is that they had not heard whether the Holy Spirit had been given -- that the Holy Spirit was here performing His baptizing ministry.

"And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying" (Acts 19:6). God wanted to demonstrate that He was doing a new work, and when you recognize that it was a new work, you have to recognize that the book of Acts is mainly about the transition from Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Ephesians 2 stresses the fact that God was indeed doing a new work, a work that is today revealed through the Apostle Paul's writing, "Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12; see also verses, 11 16).

Then in Ephesians 3:4 5, "And by referring to this when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." Note that this was not previously revealed; it was new revelation. As a new revelation, it needed the signs and miraculous evidence that it was indeed revelation. "As it has now been revealed" to whom? -- all the apostles and prophets!

Self-Edification Was Never the Main Purpose of Tongues

The main purpose of tongues, as already pointed out, was to give a sign to unbelievers. Self-edification was a side effect that the believer enjoyed for merely exercising his gift of tongues (true of every believer who exercises his gift). The modern day Pentecostal movement, on the other hand, stresses edification for the individual believer and the Church, never as a sign to unbelievers.

Most people who are advocating tongues for today have quoted 1 Corinthians 14:2: "For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries." There are some problems here. In chapter 12, the purpose of the gifts in general is edification of other believers. Now, God does not need to be edified (built up to further maturity). First Corinthians 14:2 is not an encouragement to speak to God in tongues (a different language), for He will understand whatever language I use, including English. The advantage of my using English is that you and other believers will understand and that is the purpose of spiritual gifts -- to communicate, to serve and to build up other believers.

Not Every Believer Was Expected to Have Gift of Tongues

"All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they?" (1 Cor. 12:30). The gift of tongues was limited to a few, even back in the time of the apostles. How can people today say that to have the Holy Spirit a believer must speak in tongues? In light of 1 Cor. 12, that is clearly unbiblical.

First Corinthians 14:5 is often quoted to prove that the gift of tongues is still operative today: "Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying." Why do some put the emphasis on tongues when Paul said that he had a greater desire for the people to prophesy? I do not have anyone coming around to my door saying that I need to get the gift of prophecy, but I have people praying that I will get the gift of tongues. Paul is saying that he would like them to have all the gifts, but he would rather that they have the greater gifts. Paul is not saying that tongues is the gift they should have. If they should have any, it should be the greater gift of prophecy. The gift of tongues was the least important of all the spiritual gifts. It was last on the list (see 1 Cor. 12:28).

Summary of Gift of Tongues

It is not my purpose to put down the gift of tongues which was a very necessary gift at one time, but rather to evaluate whether or not that gift has continued until today. According to the Bible, the gift of tongues ceased to exist with the passing of the apostles.

The Scripture teaches that tongues was a special ability to speak in an earthly foreign language without special training. The purpose of such a gift was to be used as a sign to validate the ministry of the apostles as they laid the foundation of the Church. Once the foundation was complete, there was no need for special signs to confirm the validity of God's work.

The present day phenomenon called "speaking in tongues" (glossalalia) is characterized by indiscernible sounds. Since that could not be called a foreign language that is understandable by some group today, glossalalia cannot be validly called Biblical tongues.

9. Interpreting Tongues

Definition of Interpreting Tongues

The gift of interpreting tongues was the supernatural ability to understand a foreign language without special training, and then to communicate the message to other believers. Interpreting tongues was directly related to the gift of tongues. In the gift of tongues, God would speak directly through a person, and he would begin to speak in a language that they had never learned. Someone else would interpret even though he also had never learned that language, and the other believers were built up (edified) as they heard the special message from God.

Tongues Was of No Value Unless It Was Interpreted

Tongues had no value as a spiritual gift unless it was interpreted, because that was the only way the message was beneficial to the Church. When tongues was interpreted, it basically became a form of prophecy. A person received a message from God and gave that message in an intelligible form. If someone preaches the Word in Italian, it does nothing for me because I do not understand the language. Interpretation is the key, and you cannot have tongues without interpretation.

"But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" (1 Cor. 14:6). Paul is saying that tongues is of no benefit unless there is some understandable message (interpretation). Paul compares speaking in tongues with musical instruments producing meaningful sounds -- "Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?" (1 Cor. 14:7).

The message is clear. Anyone who speaks in tongues which no one understands is just talking into the air, signifying nothing: "So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air" (1 Cor. 14:9).

Summary of Gift of Interpreting Tongues

The combined purposes of the gift of tongues and interpreting tongues (you cannot Biblically separate the two gifts) were: (1) used as a sign to confirm the work of the apostles and (2) to edify the Church (never for personal edification).

Legitimate tongues and interpreting tongues are extinct today as their purposes have ended (see Heb. 2:3 4). Since those gifts have fulfilled their confirming purpose (which was their main reason for existing), tongues and interpretation have been withdrawn.


* This report has been adapted from a booklet by the same name, by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor, Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, NE 68510. This booklet in its entirety, as well as other booklets on other topics of interest by Gil Rugh, may be downloaded in "PDF" format from the IHCC web site.


Biblical Discernment Ministries - 12/97

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