CON Contact Us DON Donate
Our History General Assembly Worldwide Outreach Ministries Standards Resources

Report of the Committee on the Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit

From the Minutes of the Forty-fifth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1978), pp. 148-159.

[Note: General Assembly reports (whether from a committee or its minority) are thoughtful treatises but they do not have the force of constitutional documents—the Westminster Standards or the Book of Church Order. They should not be construed as the official position of the OPC.]

Introduction

Previously, this committee, as the Committee on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, reported to the Forty-second General Assembly (Minutes, pp. 133-35). That assembly "determined to refer Sections 5 and 6 of the report back to the Committee on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in order that it may more fully supply the exegetical and theological argumentation necessary to establish clearly the truth of the statement which the committee makes on the subject of tongues, prophecy, healing and other miracles" (Minutes, p. 163).

Since the last General Assembly, this committee has met three times in an effort to draft a final report, largely on the basis of previous studies prepared by members of the committee. Mr. Frame, elected by the Forty-fourth General Assembly to serve on this committee, found it necessary to resign after its first meeting. Former members, whose contributions have benefited the committee, are Herbert S. Bird, George W. Knight III, and John J. Mitchell.

The committee presents the following expanded statement as its effort to comply with the directive of the Forty-second General Assembly. The first section is a slightly modified restatement of those points in the original report which were not referred back for further elaboration.

I. The Baptism (Gift) of the Holy Spirit

1. The baptism with (gift of) the Holy Spirit, as the fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist (Luke 3:16) and of Jesus (Acts 1:4, 5), is a once-for-all event in the history (or accomplishment) of redemption, along with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, with which it is most closely associated (Acts 2:32, 33).

In keeping with Jesus' words in Acts 1:8 ("in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth"), baptism with the Holy Spirit is realized as an event in four stages: (1) on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the entire body of Jewish believers (Acts 2:1-4); (2) in Samaria, when the Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17); (3) in Caesarea, when the Holy Spirit fell upon all the Gentile listeners, the initial nucleus of the far-flung church among the Gentiles (Acts 10:44); and (4) at Ephesus, when the Holy Spirit came on previously bypassed disciples of John the Baptist in close conjunction with their being baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:1-7). Baptism with the Holy Spirit is thus associated with the once-for-all foundation and the ongoing witnessing nature of the church of Jesus Christ.

2. Every believer comes to share in the baptism with the Holy Spirit (along with death, resurrection, and ascension with Christ) through his union with Christ at conversion (1 Corinthians 12:13; cf. Romans 6:3 ff.; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:5, 6; Colossians 2:12, 13; 3:1-3). Baptism with the Spirit, therefore, as an experience of individual believers, is not an event subsequent to conversion, or enjoyed only by some believers.

3. To share in the baptism with the Spirit means to have a place in the church, as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:21, 22), where the Spirit is at work for the blessing and mutual edification of believers according to His will.

a. As the Spirit of adoption, he indwells each believer (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

b. As the Spirit of Christ, he indwells the whole body enabling each member to contribute to the edification of the whole (Ephesians 4:1-16).

c. As the Spirit of truth, he has given through the apostles and prophets the completed revelation of Christ and continues to empower the church to bear witness of Christ to all nations (John 14:26; 15:26, 27; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; Acts 1:8).

4. Being filled with the Spirit is not to be equated with the baptism with the Holy Spirit, but has reference to the continuing activity of the Spirit in the life of the believer (Ephesians 5:17-21; cf. 1:13, 14), based upon that baptism.

II. The Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Three passages figure most prominently in the discussion of what are commonly referred to as spiritual or charismatic gifts. They are Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4:4-16. Building upon these and related passages, the committee would like to draw attention to seven biblical truths which must direct our thinking in this area.

1. It is essential to recognize a distinction between the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. The former refers to the work of the Spirit experienced by all in the church, and the latter to those workings variously distributed within the church. The gift of the Spirit is intrinsically bound up with the salvation revealed in Christ (repentance unto life, Acts 11:18). It involves those blessings that are a foretaste of the eschatological inheritance (Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14). The gifts of the Spirit, on the other hand, (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:4-6), are provisional and subeschatological (not part of the final order). The latter would appear to be one of Paul's points in the much disputed passage, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Prophecy and tongues, among other gifts, have a provisional and partial character and so are temporary. They are destined to give way before the enduring works of the Spirit such as faith, hope and love. The demand, then, in considering this subject, is to do justice, on the one hand, to those activities that are eschatological in character and experienced by all, and on the other hand, to those subeschatological functions which are not universally distributed.

2. To refer to gifts and activities listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 as charismatic in order to distinguish them from presumably non-charismatic gifts, is misleading. This can be seen most easily by surveying the use of the key term charisma. This word is distinctively and almost exclusively Pauline. Surely, Paul is the first to make of it a theologically important term. What especially bears emphasizing here is the relatively wide range of meaning that charisma has for Paul. It does not refer only, as in Romans 12:6 and 1 Corinthians 12:4 ff., to a variety of specific gifts present in the context of the congregation for edification. In 2 Corinthians 1:11 it has reference to the apostle's experience of God's deliverance from a specific peril (cf. verse 10). In 1 Corinthians 7:7 celibacy under certain conditions is regarded as a charisma. The capacity granted to Timothy for the faithful exercise of his ministerial office is termed a charisma (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). The plural usage in Romans 11:29 probably brings into view the various covenant privileges of Israel (cf. 9:4; 3:1, 2). Particularly noteworthy is the more general force that charisma has in Romans 5:15, 16. There it overlaps in meaning with charis and has a quite sweeping reference to the righteousness and life graciously revealed in Christ. To charisma is the deliberate parallel to "the grace of God and the gift by grace" (verse 15) and "the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness" (verse 17; cf. verse 20). Similarly, in Romans 6:23 to charisma is, quite comprehensively, eternal life.

Charisma, then, is a flexible term, capable of being used in various senses. Its flexibility arises from the fact that every charisma is a manifestation of charis, and any manifestation of charis can be termed a charisma (cf. Rom. 12:6). Further, since in its origin and continuation the church exists solely by divine charis, the whole church in all its aspects and activities is properly seen as charismatic. The life of faith as such is by grace (Eph. 2:8) and is thus, in its entirety, from beginning to end, charismatic. To identify certain gifts in the church as charismatic and in this way distinguish them from others is to make a distinction that has no basis in Paul's perspective. Similarly, the way in which the distinction between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is often made betrays a schematization foreign to the apostle. Some gifts obviously involve distinctive endowment beyond the natural capacities of the recipient (e.g., revelatory gifts), yet Paul's teaching is that any capacity of the believer brought under the controlling power of God's grace and functioning in his service is a charisma. Biblically speaking, "Charismatic" and "Christian" are synonymous.

3. To refer to the gifts listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 as "spiritual" gifts is only approximately correct. The work of the Spirit is inseparable from the work of Christ in view of the functional unity that exists between them, dating from Christ's exaltation (1 Cor. 15:45). Accordingly, in Ephesians 4:7 ff. it is the ascended Christ who gives gifts. In the same way, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (cf. Eph. 4:4-6) provides a distinctly trinitarian perspective on their bestowal. In Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 it is either implicitly the Father or more generally God who is the giver. This breadth in outlook corrects a one-sided emphasis on the Spirit in relation to gifts in the church and should not be ignored.

Still, there is a special accent on the Spirit, particularly in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The giving of gifts is a matter of "the manifestation of the Spirit" (12:7; cf. verses 8, 9). And it is the Spirit who distributes to each one as he wills (12:12). Whether or not the term was in common use, Paul in 14:1 has made "spiritual," as a substantive, a virtual synonym of charisma. The expression "some spiritual gift" in Romans 1:11 (which is best taken indefinitely, without Paul having in mind any one particular gift) shows how closely he associated the Spirit with gifts given to the church. He naturally and appropriately described them in terms of the Spirit's work. His point in Romans 1:11 is hardly to distinguish some gifts from others not of the Spirit.

4. All gifts variously distributed are given for service in the church. This can be seen, for instance, in what is perhaps the best understanding of 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. In the triadic structure of these verses "gifts," "ministries," and "workings" do not have reference to different entities, but the latter two serve to identify the character of the former. They make plain that the gifts listed in the verses that follow (8-10) are to function for service within the context of the church. The (diverse) manifestation of the Spirit is "for the common good" (verse 7). The consideration that identifies the purpose of all gifts and regulates their exercise is the edification of the church (14:13, 26). Beneficial experiences that the exercise of a particular gift may bring to its recipient are not aspects of it independent of this principle of the edification of the body. These benefits are strictly ancillary to that principle.

5. As a consequence of the above, no gift can claim a "privileged" position by having its place in the life of the church maintained as a component in a "second blessing" or Spirit-baptism theology. The continuation and use of each gift must be considered in its own right and examined, so far as possible, in terms of its specific function for the edification of the church. The popular view that tongues serves to evidence baptism with the Holy Spirit as a distinct (usually) post-conversion experience finds no true support in the New Testament. In fact, it runs counter to its teaching on the baptism (gift) of the Holy Spirit (cf. Part I).

6. Any tension or dialectic between gift (Spirit) and office, properly exercised, is foreign to the New Testament. This is clear, among other considerations, from the use of charisma in the Pastorals (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6), as well as the plain office character of the apostolate. The one and same Spirit is the Spirit of both ardor and order.

7. The lists of gifts in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11 are not complete but selective and representative. So far, however, Paul's rationale for selection in each instance has not been demonstrated conclusively. Still, it is possible to make at least two generalizations about the composition of these listings taken as a whole.

a. Despite the inclination of Western mentality with its penchant for the specialist, too sharp a line should not be drawn between many of the gifts. For instance, it is difficult to distinguish clearly between gifts of healing and working of miracles (1 Cor. 2:9, 10). There is clear overlap between exhortation and teaching (Rom. 12:7, 8). This suggests a degree of overlap between certain gifts, as well as the exercise in some instances of more than one of them by a given individual.

b. The apparently representative character of the lists should not cause us to miss the fact that each of the charismata may be seen to belong to one of two basic categories: word-charismata and deed-charismata. The two are, of course, inseparable and closely supplement each other. Yet, at the same time, the distinction between verbal and nonverbal activity ought not to be overlooked or minimized. Any particular charisma is either a service in word or a service in deed, with several, notably apostleship, involving both kinds of ministry.

Confirmation for this view is found in 1 Peter 4:10, the only occurrence of charisma outside of the Pauline corpus. "Each one should use whatever charisma he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's charis in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God supplies...." Peter clearly summarized all types of service as either in word or deed.

III. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophecy and Tongues

At the dominating center of controversy over charismatic gifts are tongues, prophecy, and, to a lesser degree, healing. Accordingly, in this section discussion will be focused on the former two gifts along two lines: (A) the nature of these gifts and (B) the question of their cessation. Again, it will only be possible to delineate lines of discussion without developing them fully.

A. The nature of these gifts

The only place in the New Testament where either prophecy or tongues are dealt with in a sustained, more than passing fashion, is 1 Corinthians 14. This discussion is set in the context (chapters 12-14) of Paul's treatment of spiritual gifts operative in the church at Corinth. Several considerations are on the surface of the chapter and may be immediately brought into view. First, 1 Corinthians 14 is above all a passage about prophecy (not tongues). Prophecy is the main point in the sense that throughout tongues are essentially a foil that serves to show the relative superiority of prophecy. A deliberate contrast between them provides the basic structure of the entire chapter (cf. verses 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 22, 23 and 24, 26-28 and 29-32, 39). Further, tongues are to be interpreted (verse 13, cf. 5), and when interpreted, are functionally equivalent to prophecy (verse 5). Prophecy is superior or preferable to tongues (if uninterpreted), because only prophecy edifies others in the church (cf. verse 4).

On the background of this brief overview of 1 Corinthians 14, what, more exactly, is the nature of each of these word gifts?

1. Prophecy

According to the New Testament, all believers are, in a sense, prophets. Analogous to the universal priesthood of believers, we may speak of the "prophethood" of all within the new covenant community in this sense: the words of God (the covenant oracles, cf. Rom. 3:2) are accessible to all and the laws and statutes of the covenant are a testimony written in the hearts and manifested in the lives of all (cf. Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:27; 2 Cor. 3:3 ff.; 1 John 2:27). With apparently no exceptions, however, the New Testament vocabulary for prophecy is not used in this sense. Rather, it has reference to a gift or function given only to some, not all, in the church. And furthermore, that gift is revelatory in character, bringing to the church the word of God in the primary and original sense. In these respects, New Testament prophets are in close continuity with the apostles as well as Old Testament prophets. Apparently, the designation prophet refers to those who exercise the gift frequently or with some regularity, while the gift itself can function temporarily in others or on particular occasions (cf. Acts 19:6).

Prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is undoubtedly of this latter, more definite and restricted kind. That it is a gift given only to some in the church is clear from 12:10, 28, 29 (cf. Rom. 12:6; Eph. 4:11), as well as other indications throughout the passage. Also, while it is the case that Paul here somewhat flexibly associates prophecy with all speech "with the mind" (14:19; cf. verse 6), it is plain that the element of revelation is at its core (14:30; cf. verses 26 and 6). The effort is sometimes made to tone down this last point by maintaining that prophecy is a kind of low level revelation or admixture of revelatory and non-revelatory elements whose authority is ambiguous. Appeal is usually made to the need for the complementary gift of discernment (14:29) or distinguishing of spirits (12:10). This understanding is at best contrived, without support elsewhere in the New Testament. The discrimination required by Paul has to do with determining either the source of an alleged prophecy (whether or not it is genuine, from the Spirit or from a false spirit; cf. 1 John 4:1), or its significance for the congregation. Perhaps both aspects are involved. At any rate, it seems closely related to the affirming "proving" or "testing" that bears not only on prophecy (1 Thess. 5:21; cf. verse 20), but also on the word of the apostle itself (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:10; cf. Deut. 13:1-5).

So far as the content of prophecy is concerned, 1 Corinthians 14:3 gives pronounced emphasis to its hortatory character. Some have, therefore, wished to confine the activity of Christian prophets to that of "forthtelling." There is no warrant, however, for divorcing or dissociating in any important respect the activity of the Corinthian prophets from that recorded of prophets in Acts, where the element of specific prediction, notably in the case of Agabus (11:28; 21:10, 11; cf. verse 4), is given prominence. Acts provides a picture of the activity of Christian prophets in local church situations like that at Corinth, and that picture in general appears to be one of marked continuity in functions between Old and New Testament prophets. The "prophecy" character of Revelation (1:3), including even the letters to the seven churches, bear out this continuity.

2. Tongues

Prophecy is a word gift that functions to bring inspired revelations to the church. What is the nature of the "word-gift" of tongues which is so closely associated with prophecy? Further examination of Scripture will show that tongues is also a mode of inspired revelation. This conclusion is confirmed within 1 Corinthians 14 along two lines.

a. The most definite indication of the origin of tongues is given in 1 Corinthians 14:14. Paul says that the mind of the tongues-speaker is bypassed ("unfruitful"). At the very least he means that his intellect is not used in the production of what he says. The meaning of the clause usually translated "my spirit prays" is a matter of some dispute. The noun pneuma most likely has the sense of its immediately preceding usage in verse 12. There the noun, which refers to the person of the Holy Spirit, is used by extension, in the plural, to describe spiritual gifts, accenting that those gifts have their origin in the person of the Spirit (cf. the similar usage of pneuma with reference to prophecy in verse 32). To take pneuma in verse 14 as referring to a volitional and emotional, yet nonintellective, preconceptual capacity in man is at best doubtful and without support elsewhere in the New Testament. In fact, Paul's use of pneuma in an anthropological sense is plainly contrary to the view that man's "spirit" has functions which are distinct from or in tension with the cognitive capacities of his "mind." For instance, in Romans 1:9, Paul's "service" of God in his (human) "spirit" takes place in the intelligible word ministry of gospel preaching (cf. Rom. 12:1 ff., where believers' "service" of God is termed "rational," "spiritual" (logikos), and results from the renewing of the "mind"). The virtual synonymity of (human) "spirit" and "mind" is apparent from Ephesians 4:23 ("the spirit of your mind"). Accordingly, in 1 Corinthians 14:14 pneuma is the Holy Spirit and describes the gift of tongues as a particular reception of the Spirit himself by the speaker ("the Spirit in, given to, me"). Tongues are inspired, Spirit-worked speech of the most direct and unmediated kind. The speech capacities of the speaker are taken over by the Spirit such that the words are not the speaker's except in the sense that his voice is employed.

b. So far as the content of tongues is concerned, their revelatory character is seen first of all in the fact that they, as words of the Holy Spirit, are capable of being interpreted. Furthermore, verse 2 states that the one who speaks in a tongue speaks "mysteries." Elsewhere in Paul this term is one of the central categories of revelation employed by him, accenting that what is revealed is inaccessible to man apart from the sovereign disclosure of God. It has reference to the eschatological salvation revealed in Christ, either comprehensively (e.g. Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:3 ff.; 6:19; Col. 1:26, 27) or to specific aspects related to that salvation (e.g., Rom. 11:25; 1 Cor. 15:51; 2 Thess. 2:7). There are no compelling grounds for giving its usage here (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2) a sense that falls outside this basic range of meaning. At the same time, the term perhaps serves to accent the unintelligibility to others, apart from interpretation, of what is spoken in tongues, analogous to its usage in connection with the parables of Jesus (Matt. 13:11; cf. verses 10-17).

The point to be appreciated, then, is that as with prophecy, so with tongues there is a revelatory aspect at the core of the gift and inseparable from it. The functional equivalence of prophecy and interpreted tongues, already noted, extends beyond the fact that they are both edifying, to the fact that they are both inspired revelation.

In the light of this overview of prophecy and tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 we can address ourselves briefly to three questions frequently raised with reference to tongues.

(1) What are tongues, according to the New Testament? Existing foreign languages or an unknown, perhaps heavenly language? Or both? First, they must in some sense be language; some type of unstructured, preconceptual vocalization, whether or not "ecstatic," is excluded by the quality already noted above of (genuine) interpretability. Is the phenomenon described in Acts the same as or different than that found in Paul? In Acts 2:11 tongues are clearly existing languages understood by their hearers, who spoke them natively. That tongues in Corinth were also existing languages is less obvious, but this issue is not crucial. What is crucial to the New Testament teaching on tongues is the consistent pairing of tongues and prophecy in Acts as well as in Paul. In Acts 19:6 this pairing is made explicit (cf. also the other summary description in Acts 10:46; 2:11, particularly the former). Noteworthy, also, is that in Acts 2 the tongues at Pentecost, in the light of the fulfillment of the Joel citation, are seen as prophecy (verse 17 and especially the insertion into the citation at the end of verse 18; cf. verse 11). The revelatory character of this prophecy is clear from the parallelism and, therefore, identification of prophecy with "seeing visions...dreaming dreams" (cf. Num. 12:6; Deut. 13:1, 1 Sam. 3:1, Jer. 14:14, Lam. 2:9). Further, the close association between prophecy and "mysteries" in 1 Corinthians 13:2a provides yet another indication of the tie between the former and tongues (cf. 14:2, discussed above). Taken together, these observations confirm what was said above concerning the functional equivalence of prophecy and interpreted tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. Regardless of the linguistic nature of the phenomenon in Corinth, in both Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14, tongues are properly viewed as a mode of prophecy.

(2) In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is evidently and primarily occupied with the use of tongues in the public assemblies of the church. But what about the private exercise of tongues? The passage does contain indications that appear to point toward some kind of private exercise of the gift (verses 18, 19; even less clearly, verses 4 and 28). Such indications, however, can hardly be used to support the kind of developed and, in some cases, even consuming preoccupation with a private or devotional use of tongues that is sometimes advocated, largely by appeal to this passage. Such private uses as may be within Paul's purview here would be controlled by the following considerations, among others: (a) Any private use of tongues is not a gift somehow separable from, in addition to, or independent of its public exercise (together with interpretation). Rather, the former is strictly ancillary, a subsidiary benefit enjoyed by the recipients of the latter.

Perhaps the most instructive parallel at this point, including the "self-edifying" value of tongues (1 Cor. 14:4a), is the experience of Paul himself mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:1 ff.: The sublime and inexpressible experiences (verses 2-4), about which the apostle would prefer not to boast (verses 1, 5, 6), are not an end in themselves. They are rather an accompanying, somewhat subordinate feature of the visions and revelations (verses 1, 7) which lie at the base of his gospel (cf. e.g., Gal. 1:11-17). These intensely personal experiences do not fall within some private sector of personal religious experience in distinction from his apostolic ministry, but, as the larger context (chapters 10-13) makes plain, are an attendant aspect of that ministry.

b. The principle of distribution (e.g. esp. 1 Cor. 12:30) that applies to tongues also includes any private use of the gift. It is often claimed that the public use of tongues is only given to some in the church, while their private exercise is for all. This view puts a construction on 1 Corinthians 14:5, 18, and 23 that they do not teach.

(3) It is sometimes maintained that the gift of tongues brings to its recipients deeper devotion to Christ, greater fervency and freedom in prayer, and a more intense desire to witness. But surely the overall thrust of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (especially chapter 13) is precisely in an opposite direction (particularly with a view to tongues): such qualities, which are to characterize every believer, are not dependent upon or directly associated with receiving a particular gift.

B. The Question of Cessation

It is widely held that the New Testament does not teach the cessation prior to the parousia of the charismata mentioned in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. It is held that the view that certain gifts have ceased is the a posteriori rationalization of a church embarrassed by the absence of these gifts in its midst. There are, however, several lines of New Testament teaching that in their convergence point clearly to the conclusion that prophecy and tongues are intended to cease prior to the parousia, and have in fact ceased:

1. Anyone working with the New Testament is bound to recognize the temporary character of the apostolate. It is a fair generalization to say that in the New Testament the term has one of two basic references: (a) It can refer to the representative of a particular church temporarily delegated for a specific task (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25; perhaps Acts 14:14). (b) The more important and dominant reference, as in 1 Corinthians 12:28, 29 and Ephesians 4:11, is to the apostles of Christ. In this latter sense the apostles are limited in number (just how many can remain undiscussed here) and confined to the first generation of the church's history. This temporary character of the apostolate is seen among other ways: (1) in the requirement that the apostle be an eye and ear witness of the resurrected Christ (e.g., Acts 1:8, 22; 4:33; 10:41; John 15:27; 1 Cor. 9:1); (2) in the indication Paul gives that he is the last of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:8, 9 cf. 4:9); (3) in the fact that Paul does not designate as an apostle Timothy, who more than anyone else can be viewed as his personal successor. According to the New Testament "apostolic succession" in a personal sense is a contradiction in terms. This brings with it the recognition, then, particularly in view of the situation contemplated in the Pastoral epistles, that the distinction apostolic-postapostolic is not one imposed on the New Testament but is a distinction given by the New Testament itself. This, in turn, carries a further responsibility, especially in view of the obvious and central importance of the apostolate. It is a responsibility to determine what elements of the church life described in the New Testament are so integrally associated with the ministry of the apostles that they disappear with the passing away of the apostolate and what elements continue on into the post-apostolic period of the church.

2. The single most important activity of the apostles is surely that of bearing witness (e.g. Jn. 14:26; 15:26, 27; Acts 1:8). The passage in the New Testament that perhaps provides the most comprehensive perspective on this task is Ephesians 2:19 ff. In this passage Paul is viewing the New Testament church as the result of the great house-building activity of God in the period between the resurrection and return of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-8). Paul calls the apostles, along with Christ as cornerstone, the foundation of the church (verse 20). This is not said in order to obscure the finality of the person and work of Christ as the only foundation (1 Cor. 3:11), but to include the activity of the apostles in a specific respect. The apostles supplement the work of Christ, not by additional redemptive labors of their own, but by bearing witness to that work. To the once-for-all, foundational work of Christ, which has reached its climax in his death and resurrection, is joined the once-for-all, foundational witness of the apostles to that work (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10 ff.). The period beyond this foundational period is not a matter of perpetually relaying the foundation but is the superstructure built upon that foundation. In terms of this foundational witness we can appreciate the emphasis on the apostolic tradition to be held fast, found already in 2 Thessalonians (2:15; 3:6), and on the "deposit" to be kept, in the Pastorals (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14, Jude 3, 20). This emphasis establishes lines that prepare for and point the way to the eventual emergence of the New Testament canon (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16).

3. In Ephesians 2:20 Paul includes the prophets with the apostles in the activity of foundational witness or word ministry. (That New Testament prophets are in view is plain from Ephesians 3:5 as well as the word order [apostles first] in both verses.) From this we conclude that, like the apostles, the prophets have a foundational, that is to say, temporary, noncontinuing function in the history of the church and so pass away with the apostles with whom they are closely associated here. The following observations support this conclusion and bear on efforts to resist it:

a. As a guideline for interpretation, the overarching priority of Ephesians 2:20 relative to other passages on prophecy needs to be appreciated. 1 Corinthians 14, for instance, may well reflect circumstances in other churches, but in most of its considerable detail, it has a relatively narrow focus confined to the particular situation at Corinth. Ephesians, on the other hand, while certainly occasional like the other letters of Paul, is probably a circular letter originally addressed to more than one congregation, and 2:20 is part of a section that surveys the church as a whole in a most sweeping and comprehensive fashion. Ephesians 2:20 with its broad scope, then, makes a generalization that applies without exception to statements in other passages concerning New Testament prophets and their activities.

b. The frequent counter to the above conclusion is that, in addition and more or less parallel to the foundational function of prophecy (which has ceased) are other functions (in view, for instance, in 1 Cor. 14). These, it is said, are intended to continue on in the church. However, granted the fully revelatory character of prophecy (cf. the above discussion of the nature of prophecy), such a view results in a dualistic understanding of revelation: canonical revelation for the whole church—private revelations for individual believers or groups of believers. This understanding contradicts the covenantal, redemptive-historical character of all revelation. The appeal to the prophecies of Agabus to support the notion of privatized, localized revelation for specific individual needs and circumstances is particularly unfortunate. In this case their redemptive-historical character seems apparent. In the one instance (Acts 11:28) prophecy is directed toward cementing the newly established bond of fellowship within the church between Jew and Gentile (verses 29, 30; cf. 20). In the other instance (Acts 21:10 ff.) it is directed toward the unfolding of Paul's apostolic ministry (cf. 20:23).

c. The issues mentioned in the preceding point inevitably raise the question of the relationship between prophecy and the canon. Is continuing prophecy compatible with a completed canon? It will hardly do to reject this as a false or irrelevant question. The foundational period of the church is a period in which the content of the new covenant canon is in the process of formation. Prophecy is one of the principal word gifts operative in this period. It operated not only in producing what is eventually recognized to be canonical (e.g., the Book of Revelation, which as a whole is called prophecy, 1:3, 22:7, 10, 18, 19) but also and primarily in meeting contemporary needs in the church arising from the incompleteness of the canon of Scripture. For prophecy to continue on into subsequent generations of the church beyond this foundational period would necessarily compromise the completed character of the canon.

d. Ephesians 2:20 points to the need for a certain flexibility in our conception of the apostles and their role. On the one hand, the apostles are "super-gifted," apparently exercising the principal, if not all, gifts listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. Therefore, the foundational period is by way of preeminence properly called the apostolic age. Yet, others, like the prophets, are associated with the apostles and share in one or another of the gifts. The overall picture seems to be that the apostolate is the immediate nucleus or source in the church of the gifts given by the exalted Christ in this period. Certain more spectacular gifts (like tongues?) can be referred to as "the signs of an apostle" (2 Cor. 12:12; cf. Heb. 2:3, 4), though they are exercised by others who are not apostles, because their presence in the church depends upon and flows out of the existence of the apostolate. In Acts every instance of the conferring of sign gifts takes place with the personal presence or oversight of apostles (2; 8:14-19; 10:44 ff.; 19:6).

4. The cessation of tongues.

Tongues, being always closely associated with prophecy in the New Testament and when interpreted, functionally equivalent to it (a mode of prophecy, cf. above), pass out of the life of the church along with prophecy and whatever other foundational gifts are bound up with the presence of the apostolate in the church. This conclusion follows by inference along the lines laid down in the preceding points. (Any evidence available from before the fourth century such as that sometimes cited against this conclusion, notably Mark 16:17 and Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, vi, 1, is to say the least, too isolated and obscure to be decisive.) Further, the problem of compromising the canon, already raised with reference to prophecy, again necessarily surfaces in connection with tongues.

5. In 1 Corinthians 14:20-22 Paul provides the most pointed indication of the purpose of tongues in the entire chapter. These verses pose several difficulties, particularly the use of the Old Testament in verse 21 and the progression in thought from verse 22 to verses 23-25. However, it appears that Paul is appealing to Isaiah 28:11, 12b, not as a loose historical analogy illustrating a general truth, but as a genuine prophecy concerning Judah. In that case the most likely understanding of the passage confirms the conclusion that tongues cease with the close of the foundational age of the church's history. Isaiah 28:11 ff. records judgment pronounced on the old covenant community because of its contempt for God's Word. This judgment is proximately realized in the foreign-speaking invaders (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 33:19; Jeremiah 5:15). Yet, according to Paul, it has its ultimate fulfillment in the unintelligible tongues-speaking present in the new covenant community. Tongues are a sign for (against) unbelief that is primarily, although not exclusively, Jewish. The distinctiveness of tongues as a mode of revelation lies in the fact that they are a sign of judgment against unbelieving Israel. Tongues indicates, along with other developments in this foundational and transitional period (that reach a certain consummation in the destruction of Jerusalem), that the kingdom of God has been taken away from unbelieving Israel and given to a nation that will produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43). In this respect there appears to be a connection between tongues and the covenant-historical function of Jesus' parables (Matthew 13:10-15; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10) and signs (John 12:36b-41). (Note the appeal to Isaiah 6:9, 10 and the judgment prophesied on Israel common to the passages cited, cf. Acts 28:23-28.)

This understanding of Paul's argument in these verses takes on added weight by recognizing that the Old Testament verses cited are part of a textual unit. This unit, with the same judgment in view, refers to the foundation-laying realized in Christ and the apostles (Isaiah 28:16). This verse is not only quoted in 1 Peter 2:6 and evidently underlies Ephesians 2:20 (the church-house passages), but is also cited in Romans 9:33 (cf. 10:11) with explicit reference to the offense taken by unbelieving Israel at the gospel. The time of God's activity of laying a foundation in Zion is also the time of judgment upon the unbelief in Zion provoked by that activity.

This understanding of 1 Corinthians 14:20-22 takes on added plausibility from the fact that, according to the record in Acts, Jewish opposition to Paul and the gospel was as intense at Corinth as anywhere. It would have been very much of a reality to his readers (Acts 18:1-17).

6. 1 Corinthians 13:8 ff. is frequently appealed to as teaching conclusively that prophecy and tongues are to continue in the church until the parousia. Such an appeal, however, reads Paul too explicitly in terms of the problematics of present day controversy over charismatic gifts. Unlike the Pastorals, Paul is not oriented here in terms of differences between the apostolic present and the postapostolic period beyond. Rather, he has in view the entire period up to parousia, without regard to whatever discontinuities may intervene during the course of that period. He writes in the interests of emphasizing the enduring quality of faith, hope, and especially love. The theme that serves this interest is knowledge. Note the progressive sharpening of the focus from prophecy, tongues and knowledge (verse 8) to knowledge and prophecy (verse 9) to knowledge (verses 10-12). Emphasis moves from gifts of revelation (verses 8, 9; cf. 1, 2) to the knowledge which comes by all forms of revelation (verse 12; cf. 10, 11). Verses 10-12 contrast the believer's knowledge at present and beyond the parousia (cf. the contrast between the believer's present knowledge and love that structures chapter 8). Present knowledge is fragmentary and opaque (verses 9, 12); the knowledge of the future, consummate, clear and direct (verse 12). (The contrast ek meros—to teleion (verse 10; cf. 9, 12) is qualitative, not quantitative, between what is constitutive of the present order of things and the future age in its absoluteness.) In this framework the point of verse 8 is to stress the temporary and provisional character of certain modes of revelation which produce that knowledge, but without intending to specify the time when any particular mode will cease. In the larger context here Paul singles out those modes which are of particular interest and relevance to the Corinthian church and which he goes on to treat in detail in chapter 14. Making the basic point of verse 8 in a different context, he might well have mentioned inscripturation as a mode of revelation.

There are different ways in which this passage could be interpreted and applied, but at least the above treatment shows that the passage does not demand that tongues and prophecy continue until the parousia. On the above interpretation, the most the passage teaches is that the present knowledge of all believers is partial and continues until the parousia.

7. It is important to emphasize the following general consideration in seeking to determine what activities of the Spirit were completed in the foundational period of the church and what activities continue beyond. Such determination is not merely a matter of distinguishing within lists like those in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 between gifts that continue and gifts that cease. The gifts mentioned in these lists are organically interrelated, and as such are an integral part of a living church situation. This situation taken as a whole is in certain respects discontinuous with postapostolic conditions. The continuities that exist between the two situations are to a large extent to be identified from the picture brought into view by Paul in the Pastorals. So far as the continuation of word gifts is concerned, the guiding principle is spiritus cum verbo: the Spirit working with the foundational, apostolic tradition or deposit, and hence eventually with the canon. In other words, the word gifts in view in the Pastoral Epistles minister the written word (or that which becomes the written word). Word gifts are not seen as ministering new inspired revelation.

IV. Conclusions Regarding Tongues and Prophecy

A. The function of New Testament prophecy and tongues was to bring God's inspired revelation.

B. Tongues were a temporary judgment sign against unbelievers in general and unbelieving Israel in particular.

C. 1 Corinthians 12-14 does not teach that a purpose of the gift of tongues is to create deeper love for God and for others, or a more intense desire to pray and witness. In fact, it teaches that matters such as even the greatest of these, which is love, are not dependent on these gifts.

D. The view that the tongues in Corinth, as well as on the day of Pentecost, were genuine language finds its support in the requirement of interpretation into the language of those present.

E. The private devotional use of tongues is not a gift separate from its public exercise with interpretation.

F. The gifts of prophecy and tongues are concomitant in the church with the gift of the apostolate and therefore ceased with the close of the apostolic age.

V. Gifts of Healing in the Church

A brief note may be added here about healing and related gifts. These stand in a somewhat different light than word gifts. The conclusion probably to be drawn is as follows: the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and encountered in the narrative in Acts (3:1-10; 5:12; 19:11, 12) are "signs of an apostle" in the broader sense indicated above and so have passed out of the life of the church (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4). At the same time, however, the sovereign power of God to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer, is a reality experienced and an expectation to be maintained throughout the ongoing history of the church (cf. e.g., James 5:14, 15).

Recommendations

  1. That the report be received and communicated to the churches for study.
  2. That the report be communicated to the R. E. S.
  3. That the committee be dissolved.

Respectfully submitted,
Leonard J. Coppes
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (chairman)
James C. Petty
William E. Welmers

OPC
© 2014 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church
o

Search OPC.org

MINISTRIES

Chaplains and Military Personnel

Diaconal Ministries

Historian

Inter-Church Relations

Pensions

Planned Giving

Short-Term Missions

RESOURCES

Church Directory

Daily Devotional

Audio Sermons

Trinity Hymnal

Camps & Conferences

Gospel Tracts

Book Reviews

Publications

Newsletter

Presbyterian Guardian