What does it mean that tongues will cease (1 Corinthians 13:8)?
First Corinthians 13:8–10 says: "Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away."
In 1 Corinthians 12—14, Paul is writing to the church about the various spiritual gifts and how they should be used for the benefit of the church. At the end of chapter 12, he talks about how the church, which he refers to as the body of Christ, should function as a body. Each part of the body is essential and valuable, so there should be proper emphasis given to all. The Corinthian church was focusing on the spiritual gifts themselves rather than showing each other love with the unique gifts they had each been given, which is why Paul addressed love in chapter 13. In chapter 14, Paul encourages the Corinthians to "strive to excel in building up the church" (1 Corinthians 14:12). Paul says that certain gifts will cease "when the perfect comes" or "when completeness comes," but love will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8–10). People question how to know what the sign of perfection or completeness is and how to know when it has come. There are a couple common viewpoints on this.
One of them, the "cessationist" view, believes that the miraculous spiritual gifts were only in operation until the completion of the New Testament—this is what cessationists consider to be the sign of "completeness" the apostle Paul was talking about. When the church was able to read the New Testament for themselves, the miraculous gifts, such as speaking in tongues, were no longer necessary and faded away. Cessationists believe that if the miraculous spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy and the like continue that the knowledge and revelation gained from them would essentially be adding to the Scripture, which should not be added to. However, most cessationists would admit to sensing that God "told" them something and that the Holy Spirit does actively lead people today; yet this communication from God is not adding to Scripture. At the same time, most continuationists would not view prophecy or tongues or other personal revelations from God to be on par with Scripture.
The other view is that of the "continuationists" who believe that miraculous spiritual gifts are still in operation today. Continuationists do not view any knowledge or revelation gained by operation of spiritual gifts as adding to the Scripture, but rather providing insight into it and enhancement of the Spirit's leading in Christians' daily lives. They believe that the "completeness" Paul mentions is the eternal state, which he indicates in 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." Until we are in the perfect eternal state and know fully, we have spiritual gifts, including the miraculous gifts, to help us continue to know God better while here on the earth. Continuationists admit that miraculous spiritual gifts will not consistently operate at a uniform level; the presence of the miraculous gifts may ebb and flow, but they did not abruptly end upon completion of the biblical cannon.
There are good arguments for both cessationism and continuationism. However, 1 Corinthians 13:8 is not a good support for the cessationist argument, nor does it support all the claims made by today's continuationists. When we look ahead into 1 Corinthians 14, we see that Paul spends the entire chapter discussing the proper use of the gifts within the church. Paul spends these three chapters (1 Corinthians 12—14) discussing the proper operation of spiritual gifts in the church along with signs of their misuse. Regardless of one's personal position on whether miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased or continue, these chapters are part of inspired Scripture and are therefore useful for the equipping of the church (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
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