Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Sign Gifts

Here's an ongoing exchange I had at "MacArthur & Co." Blog, about the sign gifts.

I'll leave the post as is for now so you can see what the major questions, disagreements, and misunderstandings are.

I learned that we should be cautious when we are dealing with God's Word! Yes, we should be dogmatic, but there should be some awe and reverence when tackling such an explosive topic esp. when John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Wayne Grudem, many friends, and the greatest Christian figure in my life - My father - are on the other side).

For the best series I heard on this go here: Dr. S. Lewis Johnson's Pneumatology Series Lectures 19-23


Part 1:

Here are a couple of quick verses which I believe, as you say “stick to the purposes of Paul” and differentiate the gifts (yet still be for edifying the Body of course:

1) Difference in degree or quality of gifts as pertaining to validating the Apostles’ ministry

2 Corin 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”

Heb 2:4 "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."

Of the gifts you mention, not all of them are used as signs of a true apostle ie to validate their ministry.

2) The temporality of the offices/gifts:

The office of Apostleship is temporary and yet it is nowhere stated in Scripture as such. Therefore to draw a conclusion that just b/c it doesn’t say they will cease won’t work; The Bible also never does say that all of the gifts will continue equally. (or worse come and go with the passage of time ie 1906)

3) For certain gifts it is specifically and explicitly stated that there purpose are for signs:

Tongues: 1 Corin 14: 22 “So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers;…

Prophesy: (same verse)…but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.”

Wonders: 2 Corin 12:12 and Heb 2:4

Miracles: 2 Corin 12:12 and Heb 2:4


Part 2

I think I was trying to establish a Biblical precedence for the temporality of the gifts, gifts for Apostolic validity, and specificity of gifts - many people question all of these things.

As for your exegesis on tongues I simply cannot agree with your 1 Corinth 14:2 and I believe you’ve made a common misinterpretation.

“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.”

This is not a commendation, yet many people use it as such. The Apostle here is condemning the use of tongues in that stance, basically “If you speak in a language that no one understands, only God does” not “Speaking in tongues is speaking to God.”

Don’t believe me? Go look at that chapter,especially that section and you’ll see there are no commendations for tongues - all negatives, including that one.


1 Corinthians 13 explicitly says Love is not self-seeking/self-edification. He denounces this strongly! So why would he than turn around and say that tongues is for SELF edification? He doesn’t, but shows all the negative aspects of it by comparing it to prophecy.

I believe you made a false analogy/parallel with prayer and tongues. Prayer is a generic command for all, while tongues are a gift. The Bible has plenty of "pray like this..." including Jude 20, however

1) I don't think that verse, nor the other prayer verses, can be applied or fulfilled with by tongues b/c 1 Corin 14:14 "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." Jude 20 is hardly talking about unfruitful prayer.

2) I would agree w/ what your saying in verse 16-17, but he doesn't say anything of personal edification. I guess I have to start with this - that the focus of ch 12-14 are about the gifts their, purpose, utility, and goal.

i) Purpose: 12:1 "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware."

ii) Utilitly 12:8 "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

This is especially important b/c this frames what the Apostle thinks of using the gifts which are for the common good, on the self ie that it is contrary to its uses. As you can see, prayer is not one of these gifts – it is something totally separate where Jude 20 can to build oneself up.

iii) Notice where tongues ends up in the listing of gifts in 12:28 (last) and 30 (next to last).

iv) Paul says to seek love, why? B/c it is greater and why so because one of the things he points out is “it does not seek its own” (1 Corin 13:5)

v) Goal: Now here come all the slams against tongues in ch 14. Paul is using prophecy as the measuring rod to show the negatives of tongues.

v1 Seek prophesy
v2 No one understands
v5 Tongues = prophecy when there is interpretation. In what context? In the church. Paul has always been focused on the gifts and not its corporate sense, ie there is no switch from personal to corporate; just straight analysis of the gift [edit: He was trying to say that Paul was specifically talking about using the tongues in prayer, but what he was acutally was doing was talking about tongues, not just in certain context, but regarding its entire usage]
v12 – The goal is edification of the church
"So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church."
v13 "Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret."
v14 Why do you need interpretation? Well one reason is your mind doesn’t even know what’s going on
"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." I can only take this to be something negative. Paul has not said anything positive about tongues apart from edifying others, why? b/c that’s the purpose of tongues – not for self b/c if you pray in tongues even your mind is unfruitful.
v22 Seeing as how the Apostle has made the distinction of the purpose of gifts ie for others and how the using tongues in circumstances other than for "others" is unfruitful and is self-edfying ~ something that is looked down upon in context. He just flat out tells us the purpose of tongues and guess what its for others, others, others –
"So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe."

Conclusion: Tongues are not for self-edification, neither are any of the gifts, that’s why prophesy is better b/c its usage benefits others right away, while tongues is made specifically for unbelievers or in conjunction w/ interpretation.


Part 3

Thanks for the reply and I really do appreciate the refining and constant challenge to understand the Word better.

1) First you said, ”If I understand you correctly, Paul is generally critical of the exercise of the gift of tongues. Do correct me if I am wrong in this.”

What I meant was that he is critical of it outside of its designated purpose ie on others.

2) You said,“Paul makes a distinction between speaking in tongues in private, and speaking in tongues in public. Paul wrote, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (I Cor14:18-19)

Paul never says he prays in tongues aka personally prayer language, agreed? He just said he spoke it more than they did and that’s it! You assumed it out of context he was talking about private prayers. All the verse says is he spoke tongues more than them and I believe never out of the limits he sets in the same chapter as I have illustrated in my previous post. See Pentecost Acts 2, Acts 10 at Cornelius’ house, Acts 19 with John’s disciples here are times where people spoke in tongues and circumstances like these are most likely what he’s talking about. I cannot agree with your exegesis here.

3) You also state that “Tongues are not for self-edification.” Yet Paul wrote that “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”
I wrote about this in my first post which you may have missed. Basically you have mistaken a denouncements as a commendation . *see part 2”

Summary is = You’ve taken the verse out of context and read it by itself, but go back and look starting from chapter 12 how its all about others, than ch 13 outlines love its superiorities an that it is not self-seeking. Now he comparing tongues with prophecy (all of which is negative and only at best equal w/ interpretation) and what is one of those critcisms self-edification! the very same thing Paul is saying not to do, charismatics tend to pick up and say they do it!

You also wrote, “I challenge you to look for anything that says that we can just shut off our minds and glorify God and be blessed somehow.” Please look at what Paul wrote: “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.”

Once again, I covered this in my first post, and it is an obvious criticism of tongues not a praise and most certainly not anything to seek after.

4) I’m sorry, but you are in total disagreement with what Paul wrote. “If there is no interpreter present, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.” This seems fairly clear to me.

Well I don’t think you’re seeing it clearly. B/c you seemed to have this verse 14:28 say “the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself in tongues and to God in tongues.” All Paul saying here is just talk to meditate to God and not exercise your gift? Don’t believe me, he gives the exact same command for prophecy and women to simply “keep silent.”

28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

30But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.

34The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.


You inserted words into the verses that were never there and have come out with some common misinterpretations:

I will insert in bold the changes you force in and change the understanding of the verse.

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you in a private prayer language. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (I Cor14:18-19)

14:28 “the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself in tongues and to God in tongues.

And that (see part 2) if you look at every instruction on prayer and every prayer in the Bible there is no instruction for your spirit (not the Holy Spirit on your behalf) to pray without your mind. In fact there are no things that treat your spirit as a separate mind able to do things like praying thinking, apart from your mind. That was my original challenge, to find anything like that outside of this verse and it should be noted that there would be mass chaos if we could just pray, talk, and worship only in spirit without our minds. To have only our spirit edified is a foreign concept and one Paul here, with the correct interpretation, is declaring as a clear negative.



Part 4

I think many people on both sides, wrongly parallel the Holy Spirit descending in Acts with the gift of tongues. Surely, I know you would agree, that you don’t control when where or how the Holy Spirit comes, but as you said he comes to you.

That’s the way we see it in Acts 2,10, and 19. However, the gift of tongues is different - it’s able to regulated. So, I think both sides push it with strict analogies.

I’m not fully decided on my position, but I am def. leaning towards the fact that the gift of tongues and prophecy can be “on command” to some extent and be a direct “at that moment” revelation from the Lord you are compelled to say. As I said those experiences in Acts 2, 10, and 19 are not the “2 or 3 at a time in church” sorta deal. Also, note the 12 and 70 in the Gospels and how they were able to use their gifts on command:

Matthew 10:8 "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give."

If someone knows a lot about this, please feel free to teach. I’ve been hearing mixed things from both sides on the issue.



My concluding thoughts:

I personally see it as a sign of defeat when you give an argument and the other person doesn't respond to your argument, but rather restates the very thing you refuted! When I kept pushing the distinction between prayer and tongues they did not respond to my arguments, but kept saying the same things. They could not and did not address the gifts in regard to self-edification either. You should watch for these things, not only in this debate, but any other.

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