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The Temporary Gift of Tongues

By Prof. Mario Velez, Th.M.


          The gift of tongues is prophesied in Isaiah 28:11 and is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:21.  In order to understand the temporary gift of tongues accurately there has to be a proper connection made between these two New and Old Testament verses.  Let us begin to understand this connection with what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:20-22).


“20) Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.  21) In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people (referring to the Jewish people) and yet for all that will they not hear Me, saith the Lord (“They” again are the Jewish people).  22) Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” (KJV 1 Cor. 14:20-22)


          That the Corinthian believers were preoccupied with the gift of tongues was yet another sad testimony of their carnal and immature ways, which Paul is attempting to change.  He has already called them “carnal” and spiritual “babes” in 1 Corinthians. 3:1-3.  In the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians he now quotes from the Old Testament.  Why?  The answer to this question is the key to understanding the primary purpose of the temporary spiritual gift of tongues. 


          Paul states that in the “law it is written.”  He then proceeds to quote Isaiah 28:11-12 to prove his point that tongues was for a “sign” to Jewish unbelievers.  The quote Paul uses lets us know that the prophecy of tongues began with Isaiah (Isa. 28:11-12).


“11) For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people. 12) To whom he said, ‘This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing:’ yet they would not hear.” (KJV Isaiah 28:11-12)


          The Lord had offered Israel “rest” and “refreshing,” but they refused it by rejecting the Lord and His message through Isaiah.  As a matter of fact, the degeneracy of the people had resulted in widespread drunkenness.  Isaiah begins in Isaiah 28:1 by calling the Northern Kingdom the “drunkards of Ephraim.”  Ephraim was the leading tribe that was representative of the ten tribes that made up the Northern Kingdom. 


          The drunkenness was so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom that even the “priests” and “prophets” were in a drunken stupor (Isa. 28:7-8).


“7) But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.  8) For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.” (KJV Isaiah 28:7-8)


          So, as a result of their degeneracy God would bring judgment, because instead of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles around them they were getting drunk and slurring their speech.  Their slurred speech sounded more like a Gentile language instead of their own Hebrew language.  


          Therefore, since the Northern kingdom would not learn in their own Hebrew language, God would speak to them in a language they did not understand.  It came in the form of judgment by the invasion of the Assyrians in 721 B.C.       


          The foreign language of the Assyrians was heard by the Northern Kingdom before the Assyrians eventually conquered them.  Yet, they did not respond to this warning sign of coming judgment.  So, God destroyed the Northern Kingdom in the fifth cycle of discipline because of their disobedience.[1]  The Southern Kingdom would eventually suffer the same fate at the hands of the Chaldeans.  Each time a foreign language was the “sign” of their impending judgment. 


          Israel should have known that the sound of a foreign language was an indication of their coming judgment and destruction because even Moses had written about the “sign” of cursing that would result from disobedience (Deut. 28:49).


“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue (or language) thou shalt not understand.” (KJV Deut. 28:49)


          Both the Assyrians and Chaldeans spoke a language that was unknown to the Hebrew population at large as they conquered the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and left the land “desolate” and the cities laid “waste,” as per the fifth cycle of discipline (Lev. 26:33).


“And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate,       and your cities waste.”(KJV Lev. 26:33)


          The land being “desolate” and the cities laid “waste” was what would mark the end of Isaiah’s ministry (Isa. 6:11).


“Then said I, Lord, how long? And He answered, until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate.” (KJV Isa. 6:11)


          Although this judgment came at the hands of the Assyrians and then the Chaldeans, there would be another time that the Jewish nation would suffer this fate.  It would be during Paul’s generation and this is the reason he quotes Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 14:21.


          Therefore, by quoting Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 14:21, Paul is teaching through Isaiah that Judah, as the last client nation, received the sign of Gentile languages as their warning of judgment because they were negative.  They had once again, failed to go out as missionaries to Gentiles.  Hence, the “sign” of Judah’s impending judgment came in the form of the temporary gift of tongues or Gentile languages that was used to evangelize unbelieving Jews. 


          Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and they began to speak the Gospel in Gentile languages to the Jewish pilgrims who were at Jerusalem.  These foreign-born Jews were pilgrims who had traveled to Jerusalem from all over the then known world.  They had lived in these other countries as a result of their ancestors being scattered to those countries, which included Africa, Turkey, Greece, Rome and other regions to the east; therefore, they spoke only the language familiar to their particular country, and were not familiar with the Hebrew language.  Therefore, numerous languages were represented (Acts 2:8-11).


8) And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?  9) Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,  10) Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11) Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” (KJV Acts 2:8-11)


          Acts 2:5 states that there “were dwelling at Jerusalem devout Jews, out of every nation under heaven.”  That they were “devout Jews” refers to them being religious.  Yet, these foreign-born Jews were unbelievers because they adhered to the false supposition that salvation came by the keeping of the Mosaic Law.


          We are told in Acts 2:11 that the disciples spoke to these unbelieving Jews in their own language the “wonderful works of God.”  Therefore, the message that they spoke had content as well as context, and was not some mindless mystery utterances.  The disciples’ message simply declared that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and had died on the cross for the sins of the world, as Peter further expounded to the crowd in Acts 2:14-36.  Isaiah’s “sign” of coming judgment to unbelieving Jews had once again occurred. 


          Isaiah’s prophetic “sign” began on the Day of Pentecost and continued for 40 years, upon which time Jews were periodically evangelized by the gift of tongues.  This gift was operational until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the fifth cycle of discipline.  When this destruction occurred the Jews had once again been dispersed and Jerusalem laid “waste without inhabitants,” as Isaiah had previously prophesied (Isa. 6:11).


          The Roman General Titus and his Roman legions had reduced Jerusalem and its temple to piles of shapeless ruins.  It is estimated that over one million were eventually slaughtered and over ninety thousand were taken captive and scattered throughout the known world.


          The Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus documents the devastation left behind by the Roman legions in his account of the “War of the Jews.”  He states that the “carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench.”[2]


          The Jewish nation had once again experienced the devastating judgment of God in August of A.D. 70 by means of the Roman war machine because they had once again failed to see the “sign” of God’s looming judgment.  As the presence of the Holy Spirit was manifested “like a dove” at the baptism of the Lord (John 1:32); in like manner, the presence of the Holy Spirit was manifested on the Day of Pentecost as “tongues like as of fire.”  That Acts 2:3 describes “tongues as of fire” was an indication of, not only the presence of the Holy Spirit, but also of Judah’s approaching judgment since fire also signifies judgment in scripture (2 Thess. 1:6-9).


“6) Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7) And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8) In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9) Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power;” (KJV 2 Thess. 1:6-9)


          With the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews in A.D. 70, Isaiah’s prophecy had concluded.  The “sign” of tongues was no longer needed and ceased at that time (1 Cor. 13:8-10).


“8) Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail [katargethesontai]; whether there be tongues, they shall cease [pausontai]; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away [katargethesetai], 9) For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10) But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away [katargethesetai].” (KJV 1 Cor. 13:8-10)


          The words “fail” and “vanish away” in verse 8 are translated from the root word [katargeo] meaning “to be rendered ineffective.”  They are connected with the “perfect” of verse 10.  The words “done away” in verse 10 are also a translation of the root verb [katargeo].  The “perfect” refers to the completed Canon of Scripture.  In other words, when the Bible was completed, then “prophecies” and “knowledge” were rendered ineffective.  The verb [katargeo] is in the passive voice signifying that the noun is being acted upon by an agent.  The nouns “prophecies” and “knowledge” are acted upon by the coming of the “perfect,” which is the acting agent.  The “perfect” was the factor that would terminate the gift of prophecy and knowledge.


          The gift of tongues, on the other hand, has a different verb associated with it.  The word for “cease” in verse 8 is from the Greek verb [pauo] meaning “to stop.”  [Pauo] is in the dynamic middle voice signifying that it did not require an agent, but instead would expire on its own.  The gift of tongues would terminate on its own when it was no longer needed.  Thus, with the destruction and dispersion of Judah as a client nation tongues was no longer needed as a “sign” of warning to unbelieving Jews.  This was the reason it “ceased” in A.D. 70, but the gift of prophecy and knowledge would continue until A.D. 96 when the “perfect” or Bible was completed.


          There are those who state that the “perfect” refers to either the Second Coming of Christ, or the Millennium, or heaven, but the context and grammar disqualify these views.  To begin with, the word translated “perfect” is [teleion] and is in the neuter gender, which eliminates the view that it refers to the second coming of Christ since this view would require it to be in the masculine gender.  If the second coming of Christ was in view here, there would be no reason why Paul could not have just simply written, “But when the Christ (ho Christos) is come…” instead of “But when that which is perfect (to teleion) is come…” 


          The Greek word [teleion], translated “perfect” will connote a qualitative state, something without any flaws or a utopian state.  The word also connotes a quantitative aspect.  In all the places that [teleion] is used in Scripture, it is used in its quantitative aspect and this exact form of the word is found in six other places besides here (Eph. 4:13; Rom. 12:2: Col. 1:28; James 1:4, 17, 25). 


          The word refers to a state that was arrived at, a state to which the previous effort and action was directed towards.  Thus, the “perfect” is the completed that Paul is contrasting with the “in part” or what is fragmentary.  James also uses [teleion] with the same idea as he writes about believers looking at the “perfect law of liberty,” (James 1:25)


“21) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness, and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  23) For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (KJV James 1:21-25)


          From the context of what James is writing we can conclude that the “perfect law of liberty” is a reference to God’s completed Word.  Thus, the “perfect” of 1 Cor. 13:10 is the conclusion of all the New Testament Epistles of the church age being reduced to writing, a process that culminated in the completed Word of God, “the perfect,” the agent that caused prophecy and knowledge to stop.


          Today, the continuation of tongues is Satan’s method of distracting professing believers from the Plan of God.  Extreme emotions can cause columns of air to move through a person’s epiglottis, which produces strange sounds from those still claiming this gift is still operational.  The epiglottis is simply the flap of cartilage that covers the windpipe when people swallow and it keeps food from entering the windpipe.  In the case for unbelievers this type of practice can include demon control of their vocal organs.


          In order to prevent abuse of the gift of tongues, Paul laid down some restrictions.  He could not forbid its use entirely, as the gift was still operational at that time, since Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed by the Romans (1 Cor. 14: 27-28).


“27) If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course (one at a time); and let one interpret. 28) But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” (KJV 1 Cor. 14:27-28)


          The first restriction is that the speaker had to be a “man.”  In addition, no more than three could speak and only one at a time and only if there was an interpreter.  It is amazing that those being distracted in the tongues movement today seem to be ignorant of these restrictions.  Either that, or they simply reject the restrictions because they have chosen to redefine Scripture, by having their “experience(s)” to take the place of the knowledge of God’s Word, choosing rather to follow their “belly” (appetites, emotions, lusts) which is their “God” as described in Philippians 3:19.


“Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”( KJV Phil. 3:19)




[1] God uses what may be referred to as His five cycles of discipline found in Lev. 26:14-39 to induce either negative believers or client nations to return back to His purpose.

[2] Flavius Josephus, “The War of the Jews,” 6.1.1