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  • Writer's pictureJonas Croissant

Why has the gift of speaking in tongues ceased?

Updated: Jun 22

For nearly two thousand years, the universal church of Jesus Christ has observed and understood that the gift of speaking in tongues had ceased. It was a beautiful gift with spectacular features. In our last post, we saw that the nature of speaking tongues was three-fold: (1) speaking in tongues was the miraculous utterance of previously unlearned human languages, (2) speaking in tongues was a public prayer and praise: a doxology, (3) speaking in tongues was speaking mysteries as new revelations in Christ.

We observed that in every single biblical passage concerning speaking in tongues, the gift was consistently performed in public because it was intended to be a sign for unbelievers. In this article, we explore the purpose of tongues as a sign and explain why it demands its cessation in the first century.

Speaking in Tongues was a Spiritual Sign

Paul explains in the book of 1 Corinthians and chapter fourteen that the gift of speaking in tongues was a sign for unbelievers:

"20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written:

“With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.

22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe" (1 Corinthians 14:20-22, NKJV, italics added to indicate an Old Testament quotation).

To explain these verses, let me first say that the Corinthians had it all wrong when it came to speaking tongues. They thought that the gift was primarily for Christians and self-edification. They used it to show off without love and in search of personal glorification when they all spoke simultaneously in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:23). Paul thus rebuked them for their lack of love and the seeking of their own interests by writing chapter 13. In chapter 14, he explains that speaking in foreign languages (the gift of tongues) required also a translation (the gift of interpretation of tongues). Otherwise, no one would be able to say "amen" to the "thanksgiving" (1 Corinthians 14:16) and be edified (which is the goal of any gift).

Then, in 1 Corinthians 14:20 cited above, he calls them to higher spiritual maturity, by stating that they should not remain babies in Christ. And here comes his surprising basis to explain the purpose of tongues as a sign, he quotes a seemingly obscure Old Testament passage in Isaiah 28:11. In the book of Isaiah, God rebuked Israel for not listening to His words in their language and said to them: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me" (NKJV). These "other lips" were "lips of foreigners" (NIV, ESV, NASB, etc). God spoke to Israel using other languages, the languages of foreigners.

But why? In the context of Isaiah 28, God is judging Israel with a message in a tongue foreign to them as they rejected a message in their own native language. God was about to make Israel fall through the Syrian invasion and the people would be deported away from the Promised Land. God spoke through the Assyrians, who were to lay a siege on the Holy City, to judge Israel for their sins!

If you're wondering: What in the world does that have to do with the gift of speaking in tongues? Well, it has everything to do with it because Paul says so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe" (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).

Paul says that Isaiah spoke of an event that was like the tongues in Corinth. And, after properly quoting the passage, Paul says in verse 22, "Therefore tongues are for a sign". First, it was not a sign to anyone, it was a sign to unbelievers and not Christians. Second, it was not any unbelievers, but Jewish unbelievers based on the context of Isaiah 28:11 since "this people" (v. 11) is defined as the Jewish "people in Jerusalem" (v. 14). Therefore, Paul says, tongues were a spiritual sign for the Jews. Now you might ask, is that what happened in Scripture?

When Tongues Occurred, it was a Sign for the Jews

The foreign language of the Assyrians was a judgment sign for the Jews in Isaiah 28:11, and the same phenomenon is recorded in the book of Acts. Notice the commentary of the Holy Spirit right after the first occurrence of tongues in the New Covenant:

"1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:1-5).

Our God sovereign decided for the birth of the church and the sign of tongues to occur "in Jerusalem" (v. 5), and Luke ensured that we take notice that on that day there were "Jews" (v. 5) in abundance to witness this miraculous sign. Paul later preached to this Jewish audience: "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words"(v. 14) and quoted Joel chapter 2 to demonstrate that the disciples were not drunk (as rebellious Jews from the city contented, v. 13) but had just received the Holy Spirit with a miraculous sign.

Peter appealed to even more signs afterward: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know" (v. 22).

This is because the sign of tongues just as any other sign was intended for the people of the Book predicting the signs, namely the Jews. Indeed, Paul wrote: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:22). The sign of tongues is for unbelieving Jews because they alone had the Old Testament Bible telling them to look for signs attesting to coming of the Messiah and the events of Joel 2.

Next, we consider the second occurrence of speaking in tongues in the newly born Chruch of Acts and we find was again that it was intended to be witnessed by Jews:

"44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:44-47).

In this passage, there was the conversion of a family of devout Gentiles and the "believers from among the circumcised" (v. 45, that is of Jewish background) were shocked that God would save non-Jews! They saw by the visible sign of tongues that the invisible Holy Spirit was "poured out even on the Gentiles" (v. 45).

Finally, it was the Jews again that saw the disciples of John the Baptist speak in tongues next to the synagogue of Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10), and even in Corinth where the sign of tongues was greatly used by the believers, we also note that "Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household" (Acts 18:8) and that Paul and his fellow Christians were witnesses before the Jews (v. 1-11).

Tongues was a Sign, but a Sign of what?

The Greek word sēmeion translated "sign" is defined by Larry Pierce's outline of biblical usage as a "prodigy [...] an unusual occurrence, transcending the common course of nature" which points toward "remarkable events soon to happen". It is like a street sign indicating fifty miles to reach a city. The sign points to or signifies something greater than itself.

In the book of John, Jesus performed "signs" (John 2:1-11, 4:46-54, 5:1-15, 9:1-41, 11:1-44) and each of these signs pointed to something greater. For instance, one sign was the multiplication of bread to feed thousands and then Jesus gave the meaning of the sign: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35). Another sign was the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus also explained what the sign meant: "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die" (John 11:25). Christ also gave sight to blind and said: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Therefore, the sign of tongue was meant to show something greater than itself and we do not have to guess as Peter tells us its meaning: "But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2:16-17). Joel 2 goes on to explain that the Spirit was given to men and women, servants and masters, young and old, and this is a picture of the diversity in the Church of Christ (Acts 2:17-18; see also Galatians 3:28).

Note also that "all flesh" (Acts 2:17) meant at that time "all nations", and not just the "Jewish flesh". Consistently with the remarks of the Jews in Acts 10:44-47 considered earlier, the sign of tongues therefore meant that God was not saving just the Jews.

Tongues were a sign of the birth of the multi-ethnic Church of Jesus Christ where Jews and Gentiles and made into one! This is why all these languages were spoken because you and I, mostly Gentile readers I assume, can praise God through Jesus Christ as well! Alleluia, tongues are a superb biblical sign of our inclusion into the people of God. May God be magnified!

And what was a blessing for the Gentiles was also a judgment for the Jews (Romans 11:12). The sign of tongues was a judgment against Israel who had rejected their Messiah (Matthew 23:37-39). Jesus had said in a parable that the vineyard of His kingdom would be given to others as the Jews killed the prophets and the Son of the Owner: "He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others" (Luke 20:16). And these "others" are elect Jews and Gentiles in the new covenant Church. The sign of tongue showed the impending judgment of God upon Israel as he had done back in the days of Isaiah with the Assyrian deportation of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem. This would take place in 70D with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

Tongues was a Sign, so What? Miraculous Signs Always Cease

Here is the end of the argument begun to answer the question, "Why has the gift of speaking in tongues ceased?", and the answer is, because tongues were a sign, and miraculous signs always cease shortly after they are given.

Did Jesus keep changing water into wine (his first sign)? No, because it pointed to His shed blood for our salvation. Hence, the sign ceased to happen shortly after it was given.

Did Jesus keep resurrecting Lazarus or other people? No, because it was a sign and it pointed to His resurrection or our salvation. Thus, the sign also ceased from happening shortly after it was given.

In the same way, will the signs of miracles preceding the second coming such as the moon turning into blood, the stars falling from the sky, wars and famines, and false wonders, will such signs continue after Jesus has returned to earth? We know that such signs will only last a few years in the future seven-year Tribulation. And the answer is again, no, since when Jesus has returned there will be peace, not wars, and justice, not chaos on the earth.

And so it is with tongues, which pointed to the birth of the Church and the judgment of the nation of Israel in 70AD. The wondrous sign stopped after these events took place and is certainly not happening anymore today as we have the birth of the Church with the giving of the Spirit to all Christians written in our Bibles, and history and the present both demonstrate that Israel has been judged by God. Everyone knows that the Church contains peoples from all languages and tribes and nations, we do not need a miraculous sign to know that fact, although the Jews did because the Church was a mystery in the Old Testament (Ephesians 3).

In conclusion, we saw that God has fulfilled His prediction of 1 Corinthians 13:8: "tongues will cease". Speaking in tongues was a spiritual sign of the birth of the Church in which people from all languages are welcomed. On the flip side of the same coin, we also saw that it was a sign of judgment against unbelieving Israel as Paul's quote from Israel 28:11 indicated along with his theological explanation in 1 Corinthians 14:20-22.

The Church fathers knew about the cessation of speaking in tongues. Consider pastor John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) who said on 1 Corinthians 14 and tongues: "This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place" (Homilies on I Corinthians, 29).

Similarly, Saint Augustine (354-430 AD) said: “In the earliest times, ‘the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed; and they spake with tongues,’ which they had not learned, ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance’ [Acts 2:4]. These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away" (Homilies on the First Epistle of John 6.10).

Charismatics today cannot explain the verses that affirm that tongues were for a sign because their practice is not the actual true spiritual gift of the Spirit of God. The authentic tongues of fire were a sign and as such they vanished and ceased shortly after the miracle had happened to leave place to the spiritual reality they pointed to. In simple summary: the gift of tongues ceased because it was a sign.

In our next post, we will see how tongues were always a divine judgment in the whole Bible.

Blessings in Christ,

Jonas Croissant


Acts Church of Maricopa

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