Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Are the Gifts of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Active Today? (Part Three)

By John Pappas, ThD

In the previous article, the Biblical definition of "the gift of tongues" was given as: a supernatural, spontaneous, giving of a known language used in the same way as that of Acts chapter two (Greek ‘glossa’ “tongue,” used metaphorically as “language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations”). Now that the background of 1 Corinthians has been explained, it is now time to look at the text of 13:8-10. Paul uses a great literary mechanism in this section as he uses the three terms: tongues, prophecy and knowledge. He now moves with poetic style, interjecting love into the equation.

1 Corinthians 13:8-10:
Love never fails.
But whether there are prophecies,
they will fail;
whether there are tongues,
they will cease;
whether there is knowledge,
it will vanish away.
For we know in part
and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect has come,
then that which is in part will be done away.

As you can see, the term prophecies, tongues and knowledge are now placed in their proper order – God’s word comes first, then the individual speaks God’s word in one’s own tongue which brings knowledge, but all this is superintended by the Holy Spirit.

Notice, Paul places love in contrast to the three. First, love will never fail (present tense), if there be prophecies, they will cease (Greek ‘katargeo’ Future Passive, “to cause to cease, render idle”). Prophecies will, in the future, be stopped as the passive means an external agent will perform the action.

Second, tongues will cease (Greek ‘pauo’ Future Middle, “to make to cease, to leave off, to stop”). Tongues will in the future, itself stop to be the only form of spreading the Gospel of Christ. That is to say, before the written word, the gospel was spread mouth to mouth or in the Greek language – tongue-to-tongue. Again, the Holy Spirit is superintending the word of mouth spread of the gospel. It will be spread by word of mouth from Jesus until the book of Revelation sometime in the AD 90s. Here the action of ceasing is in the middle voice meaning that “itself” will cease, a willing cessation in contrast to the passive voice which denotes a forced cessation (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

The last item is knowledge, and it too will cease (Greek ‘katargeo’ Future Passive, “to cause to cease, render idle”). Knowledge will also be rendered idle. Again, the action will occur in the future and will be accomplished by an external agent – the Holy Spirit. What does it mean that knowledge will cease? This is the same supernatural knowledge that is superintended by the Holy Spirit and spoken of earlier “for one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit” (12:8). That is to say, the knowledge here is supernatural spontaneous knowledge gifted to an individual for the purpose of understanding the word and applying God’s word to an occasion. This knowledge is different from the knowledge that associates with the work of the Holy Spirit today.

In fact, Chapter 12 is where all this starts and where these gifts are defined. Notice what Paul writes:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Cor. 12:1-10)

It is clear from the text that 'tongues' are normal known human languages that are used as instruments to clearly communicate the word of God to the world.

The next thing to identify is what is it that "we know in part?"

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” What in the world is Paul saying? The Greek really points out what this thing is that is known “in part.”

The “we” is Paul and the Church who currently know and prophesy part of the whole which is yet to come. They know some, but not all of what God has to bring to them. In verse 10, Paul adds that in some point in time (the Greek aorist describes action at a point in time) the whole will come and their partial knowledge will no longer be needed, and in fact, will cease (Greek ‘katargeo’ Future Passive, “to cause to cease, render idle”).

The word for perfect is a neuter adjective (Greek ‘teleios’ “brought to its end, finished, perfect”) and points not to the Church, or the kingdom, or to Jesus’ return, but to the message, the thing that is known in part (Greek ‘meros’ neuter). When will that prophecy which is partial be complete? It is complete when the last book of the Bible is written. Context demands that this wonderful three part poem correspond with the word of God that is to be used throughout the world in one’s own language to be clearly spread.

Dr. Couch writes, “the prophets were important, as emphasized by Paul when he placed them in second position after the apostles (Eph. 4:11). But then the office of prophet ceased after the completion of the New Testament, like the office of apostle. The same thing happened with the Old Testament. Those ancient prophets disappeared when that testament was finished about four hundred years before Christ. (Mal Couch, gen. ed., A Biblical Theology of the Church, AMG, p. 59)

Much confusion has been spread concerning tongues especially with the great growth of the charismatic Church. While there are different interpretations within the charismatic church concerning tongues and their use, it needs to be pointed out that their use in the Corinthian church was in error and it involved pagan worship. Unknown 'secret' knowledge and the desire to be a special spokesman for God that only you know, is pagan! We have the plain Word of God. We would all do well to place that same excitement and enthusiasm into reading His written Word and use our individual gifts to build up the Church today.

John Pappas, ThD, is the author of BibleGreekVpod, a website dedicated to the teaching of the original Bible languages for those who want to learn them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Are the Gifts of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Active Today? (Part Two)

By John Pappas, ThD

The city of Corinth was located in the great Achaia providence and served as its capital. Politically it was ruled by the Romans, which captured the area two hundred years earlier. Spiritually it was still under Greek idol worship. A significant economy was built around the building and selling of idols carved out of wood and stone. Meat markets supplied the day’s sacrifice to the many gods. Beautiful temples were built and maintained. The Greek goddess Aphrodite, goddess of love and lust, held court in her temple above the Acrocorinth - the high place of the town. It was served by more than a thousand religious prostitutes. These Corinthians at one time attended services, participating with the temple prostitutes. These early Christians had overcome a great deal of fleshly sin, yet this cultural sin continued all around them.

The letters to the Corinthians are the third written (probably AD 56). These were written after Galatians (AD 48) and after the letters to the Thessalonians (AD 51). The Holy Spirit was doing things in the Church in an active, visible, supernatural way. And as is the case, God uses man to spread His word throughout the world. The quick rise of Christian Churches throughout the region brought a rise in cultural problems within the Church. Each group had its own problems, but common to all the letters of the New Testament is sin, as the worldly desires of the flesh and self-seeking glory move into the Church. Paul points out the problem saying, let me show you a more excellent way. And he says:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor. 13:1-7)

The statement “[t]hough I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” expresses the thought of “all languages,” even the language of angels, if there is such a thing. Paul is addressing a perversion of their use, and indeed, the very idea of the “gift of tongues.” Originally, the Christian idea was that of Acts chapter two where the apostles were supernaturally and spontaneously gifted with all the different languages of all the Jews present that day. They were from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) as they gathered for the feast day – the Day of Pentecost. And the use of tongues was to spread the gospel of Christ to all the nations – to communicate clearly the word of God.

Some of the Corinthians, however, brought their pagan culture into the Church and desired pagan tongues. Dr. Mitchell writes, “The Corinthians apparently considered these tongues to be languages of the angels. Such was the association of tongues-speaking in pagan worship at Corinth. When a priest or devotee spoke in tongues, it was considered that he spoke in the language of the gods. The first hint that the writer is concerned about syncretism is in 12:2, where he reminds his readers that they were ‘led astray to the dumb idols.’ Ironically, it was to these mute gods that many of the people were formerly drawn and with whom they communicated in various forms of ecstatic speech.” (Dan Mitchell, First Corinthians, AMG, 2004)

The application of a 'tongue' is used in a wonderful way as Paul associates the instrument (the tongue, the sounding brass and clanging cymbal) which makes a loud sound and applies it with love. A real language must be used in love otherwise it is just noise (and again, probably a reference to the pagan Greek liturgy using cymbals and other brass instruments). It is clear that at the time of writing 1 Corinthians, tongues were a supernatural gift and used in the same way as that of Acts chapter two - a known language (Greek ‘glossa’ “tongue,” used metaphorically as “language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations”), speaking the message of God clearly.

The purpose for 'tongues' is to communicate God’s word to the world. The term prophecy has two uses in Scripture: (1) repeating Scripture; and (2) forth-telling or future telling in the classical sense. Context determines which way it is being used. In this case, it appears that there is still prophecy, namely, doctrine that needs to be spoken since the testimony of the New Testament has not yet been completed. First Corinthians is an early book and there are 22 more books that need to be written down before the Holy Spirit seals the cannon.

John Pappas, ThD, is the author of BibleGreekVpod, a website dedicated to the teaching of the original Bible languages for those who want to learn them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Are the Gifts of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Active Today? (Part One)

By John Pappas, ThD

There is much confusion concerning the gifts presented in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. There are many who speak of the tongues in this section of Scripture as some kind of unknown “angelic language.” In fact, they claim to speak this language. With the tremendous growth of the charismatic church around the world, this error is growing. Is their growth in numbers a proof that this is a Biblical doctrine? This article answers the question: what are the knowledge gifts and when Scripture says they will cease when will that be (i.e., what does "the partial is perfected" mean)?

There are two main issues here. The first has to do with identifying what the tongues are, and the second has to do with what “perfected” means. First, let’s look at how Paul introduces the section in order to clarify the problem within the Corinthian Church.

Some in the Church were boasting in their spiritual gift: 1 Corinthians 12:27-30: "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way."

Paul identifies who they are: they are individual members participating in the one body, the body of Christ – the Church. The goal of the individual gifts is to serve the body to build up the Church. However, sin is (as usual) getting in the way. Some are apparently boasting in their spiritual gift. Predictably, the bragging was accompanied by envy and strife as believers sought the highest perceived gift. This is indeed a problem throughout the Church in the Greek culture. Because the Greek culture was deep into Greek philosophy, Paul had no choice but to address the common problem of the culture creeping into the Church. In this case, the Gnostic desire of reaching that “higher spiritual level” elitism had become a big problem along with special knowledge of the "mysteries." There were spiritual elitists among them who craved the best of gifts to show off – "secret" knowledge was the highest thing to aspire to. Understanding the "mysteries" was hugely popular in pagan Greek culture, just as popular then as it is today in our increasingly pagan culture. Does this happen in your Church? Are there some in your Church who put on a show, being super-spiritual, but never seem to get around to using their gift to help others? Do you ever see their fruit? This is part of the problem that Paul is addressing.

John Pappas, ThD, is the author of BibleGreekVpod, a website dedicated to the teaching of the original Bible languages for those who want to learn them.