Sunday, August 20, 2006

Commentary from a wet cat part III

I write these blogs as a discipline that I believe God has called me to, to articulate some aspect of my thoughts every week, regardless of who reads it. I write this with an eye for the long haul, to clarify these ideas in more elaborate writings later. These past couple of weeks I've been picking on Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs. Lately, whenever I'm trying to think of what to write, I can always count on Dan to get my back up about something. It's good though, God bless him. Reading TeamPyro stuff forces me to think through and clarify my own positions on matters.

Of course, confronting Dan's writings isn't just about confronting Dan. It's about confronting the beliefs of many Cessationists who believe the same things. Working through these ideas on my own blog, I can present a thorough rebuttal for any and all to see that is more integrated than any comment that I could make on Dan's posts at the Pyromaniacs site.

As for these "wet cat" posts, if anyone thinks that they contain any non-sequitors or have mis-represented Dan's positions or his attempts at exegisis in any way, please feel free to let me know. You can comment here or e-mail me at or communicate it any way that you wish. Take your time.

This post is continues my commentary on Dan Phillips posting at Pyromaniacs on June 31st entitled "Tongues" accross the water: response to Adrian, part three where Dan, the cessationist rebuts Adrian Warnock, the continuationist. Again, Adrian's comments are in blue, Dan's in red and mine in black.

Here is an important aside about that phrase, "Reformed Charismatic." I'd think that at a bare minimum of being "Reformed" would involve affirming the five sola's, agreed? And one of those sola's is sola scriptura. Does the Reformed Charismatic think that the process of revelation has been completed? If the first part of that label means anything, he should say "Yes". When folks like me challenge them on this point, in face they tend to stamp their feet, beat their chests, turn purple, and insist, "Yes!"

Well, if revelation is complete, then why do they think that the to ek merous still dribbles on and on?

Because the "Complete", the "Teleon" is not the canon:

Here is the full text of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NIV)

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be silenced, where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophecy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

To correctly interpret this passage, one must understand that it is presented as a package. Paul did not chop it into verses -- that was done much later. In this passage 1) prophecies ceasing 2) tongues silenced 3) knowledge passing away 4) seeing face to face 5) knowing fully, even as Paul is fully known are 5 "effects" that will occur when the complete/perfection comes. Paul inserts his contrast of how he was as a child vs. how he is as a man to be a metaphor to describe our present condition -- the condition that we have exising in an era before we experience these five effects. Notice the part about "then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known". Who is the one who fully knows us? To fully know, even as one is fully known is to encounter God with all barriers to His reality completely removed. Paul is talking about the full realization of the Kingdom of God.

Did the completion of the Canon mean anything?

The New Testament canon is the compilation of the writings of the first century community of apostolic witnesses. Yes, Paul counts as a witness having been specially commissioned and having been in direct contact with Jesus living disciples. The point of the canon of Scripture is to outline the structure of our grace, our salvation, our discipleship, our sanctification -- to know what these should look like in our relationship with God and to know what temptations to avoid.

Scripture does not provide all of the details for every decision that lies before us. The Scripture points to a day-to-day guidance of the Holy Spirit for this. It is within the province of the canon of Scripture that the Spirit provides revelations that are designed for specific individuals and specific communities by way of convictions, dreams, visions and words of knowledge.

These do not add to the canon. They fulfill what is written in the canon. "Sola Scriptura" means that Scripture is the only map and the only outline, and there is not other outline that adds or alters the outline of Scripture. Sola Scriptura also means that Scripture over-rides any other text or truth when the two compete. Sola Scripture does not mean that Scripture operates apart from the ongoing leading of the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to see the purpose of scattered occurences of genuine revelation before the Canon's completion; what would be the purpose of a low-leve dribble after that completion? Is the modern dribble really revelation? If so, why hasn't the Bible gotten any bigger?

If not...why is it important, again? Is it low-level revelation? What in the world would it be?

The canon lays out the key points of our relationship with God --what should look like, how it should function, what it is based on, examples of those who got it right and got it wrong. Yet, for us, here and now, there is still the relationship with God to be had, and there is still the tranformative work of the Spirit in our lives to be done. For example, If Jesus calls us in his great commission to "make disciples of all nations", and I, in prayer, sense one day a leading from God to make disciples of the people in Los Angeles, the leading that I have received and my follow-through on that leading is part of the fulfillment of the great commission. In this example, Spirit has revealed to me a particular application of a particular part of Scripture with particular clarity that has a particular purpose for me in a particular time of my life. It is "low-level" revelation because it operates beneath and within the outline, the map of truth provided in the canon.

More Adrian:

Why does Paul clearly state in 1 Corinthians 4:5 [sic; 14:5] that he wants all to speak in tongues? Why, if tongues is only ever intended as proof to the unbeliever would he want them all to do it? Why would he need them all to do it? At most, one or two would suffice to ge the point across, and given the moral state of the church in Corinth, desiring still more people to speak in tongues seems almost irresponsible!

Why, indeed? What do you think the apostle means, Adrian? Do you think Paul actually is saying that he believes every one of them should speak in tongues? Do you think that Paul forgot that he had just said, in 12:30, that not everyone can or should speak in tongues, because the Spirit sovereignly apportions to each according to His will (12:11)? Do you think Paul means that they should all speak in tongues at the same time, even though he will forbid this in just a bit (14:27)? Is there another possibility?

And besides, is the verse about tongues? I'm sure you've read the whole thing. It isn't about tongues at all, is it--except to make the point that tongues are inferior to prophecy?

Perhaps we're not taking Paul's tone correctly. He uses what is often a weaker volitional term, thelo. The ESV "I want you all to speak in tongues" rather puts Paul at odds with himself. Better to render "I wish," like the NAS, the NET, the NKJ and others render it. Because of their childish, schismatic divisiveness, perhaps the apostle is saying in effect, "Sure, it'd be nice if you all spoke in tongues: exercised carefully, it is a useful gift, and you'd have one less childish dividing factor. But what I really with you would value is prophecy" (see the context).

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:5 that prophecy is greater than tongues because it edifies the whole community instead of just the individual. If one were to combine the gift of interpretation with the gift of tongues, then the package of the two together would thus benefit the whole community and would thus be equal to prophecy.

And, back to our overarching topic: I really don't see any interpretation by which Paul is saying, "It is and always will be crucial to healthy Christian living that people babble incoherently like sugar-high toddlers, because it makes them feel good!"

1 Corinthians 14:4, Paul says that the gift of tongues is edifying for the individual that has it. "Suger-high toddler babbling" is Dan's idea of tongues, not Paul's.

Then Adrian grabs me by the collar, picks me up, and shakes me vigorously, demanding an answer to this:

Why, on the one hand, are we at liberty to ignore Paul's clear commands to the Corinthians to "eagerly desire the spiritual gifts" and to "not forbid speaking in tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:39) when, on the other hand, we are expected to accept all of his other commands to local churches as applying to us today? If these two commands do not apply to us, which other of Paul's commands also so we not apply? How are we then meant to decide which of Paul's commands we are going to obey and which we are going to ignore?

Well, I certainly apologize if I've been ignoring Paul's clear commands. It isn't my aim, I assure you. I appreciate Dr. Warnock's concern; it'd be a terrible thing for me to do.

Now...which "clear commands" was I ignoring, again?

Is it to "eagerly desire spiritual gifts"? How am I ignoring that exactly? Am I to desire all the spiritual gifts? Surely not;

Paul made clear that this is not our sovereign God's design, back in chapter 12. So if I haven't been given tongues, am I ignoring Paul if I don't seek to bend the Spirit to my will, and constrain Him to give me what He hasn't chosen to give me? Surely not.

It is true that we are a body with many parts and that no one person will have all the gifts. The point of 1 Corinthians 12 is that we should not act like we don't need those who have gifts that we don't have -- including, by the way, those with the gift of tongues. Paul is saying in 1 Cor. 14 that we should each desire the "greater gifts" because having them is a good and edifying thing.

As for bending the Holy Spirit one's will, desiring the gifts is a far cry from demanding them. While one should not operate with restless dissatisfaction at having been given certain gifts of the Spirit and not others, it is, nevertheless, a good thing for one to desire more of them.

So, does it mean that somebody always has to desire tongues, or prophecy? Well, Paul simply cannot mean that. He has just finished saying, in so many words, that they are temporary gifts (13:8f.). At some point, they'll be gone. Are we still to desire them then, after they've ceased and gone inactive? Surely not. So, if Adrian agrees with Paul, then he must agree that, at some point, no Christian will be expected to desire tongues and prophecy.

If so, brother Adrian agrees with the cessationist.

We're only quibbling about when that point came, or comes.

So then again, is my sin that I am ignoring Paul's command that I not forbid to speak in tongues (14:39)? But I've never done that in all my life. In fact, I have never known, read of, or heard of anyone who has ever forbidden anyone to speak in tongues. In fact, let me just round on all the pastors who read this blog and say: don't you dare forbid anyone speaking in tongues according to Paul's directions!

There, is that better?

Oh, but one more thing before we move on -- I do have to note that the apostle never says that we should not forbid someone from interrupting a meeting so he can spout off a flood of gibberish, or babble, or nonsense, or babytalk. In fact, it is incumbent on every pastor to forbid behavior like this, since God is not a God of disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33).

What's more, we know that God wants every one of us to grow up (Ephesians 4:15), He wants us to mature (Hebrews 5:12-14), He wants us to put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11), He wants us to stop being babies (Ephesians 4:14), and act like men (1 Corinthians 16:13). And it's worth a note that Paul arguably associates piecemeal revelatory gifts with a childish state, that we should get beyond (1 Corinthians 13:11)

"Arguably" is a key word here. If you interpret the "complete"/the "perfect" as I do in 1 Corinthians 13:10, then Paul associates the relevatory piecemeal state as a state that we are now in, in history. The child-to-man metaphor is a description of our present state, where Paul is saying that we will put aside knowledge when it is rendered inoperative in like manner that we put aside our childish ways when we became adults.

I'm very concerned that many professing Christians in general, and many Charismatics in particular, regularly ignore these clear apostolic imperatives.

Will Adrian join me in admonishing ourselves, and all our readers to grow up?

Clear imperatives? Yes, it is true that other Scriptures speak of us "growing up" in our discipleship in different contexts. But what does "growing up" mean to Dan in this context?

Because Dan has interpreted 1 Corinthians 13 the way that he has, speaking in tongues, to Dan, represents a childish state that the church was supposed to grow out of with the completion of the canon. Dan is transferring this idea of child-to-man to our present day discipleship saying that it is our growth as individual Christians to grow into a mature understanding of Scripture as interpreted to mean that tongues passed away with the canon. Dan is saying "in so many words" that it is our growth as disciples to grow out of speaking in tongues.


Now, I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I can make sense of this: If tongues are always human languages and never unintelligible,

A big if

what function did they serve in the churches and why would God use them to communicate a message to His people in some way (1 Corinthians 14:5)

What's with the "if"

Paul's church-historian travelling companion Luke certainly depicts tongues as spoken (not merely heard) known human languages (Acts 2:4-11). Adrians's fellow-physician, the good doctor Luke, was well-travelled throughout the churches, he knew Paul's teaching well, and he repeatedly used the same word that Paul used (glossa) to describe the gift (Acts 2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28; 13:8; 14:2, 4, 6, 9, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 39). I have never yet seen glossa described in Greek literature to mean babble or gibberish. Certainly it does not mean gibberish in Luke, and certainly Paul expressly rules out babble or gibberish as having any value for anyone (14:7-11, 16-19, 27-28). This creates a simply immense presumption that they are talking about the same phenomenon. It would require an extraordinary, unambiguous, and explicit evidence to shift that presumption.

What's more, Paul expressly says that by "tongues" he means intelligible human speech, specifically in a foreign Gentile tongue. Where?

In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. (1 Corinthians 14:21-22)

Paul is citing Isaiah 28:11-12, which in turn may well echo Deuteronomy 28:49. Now, there is no honest, rational doubt that these passages refer to Gentile tongues, heard as a sign of God's judgement of the nation of Israel (cf. 14:22). The "tongues" Paul writes of are the "tongues" Isaiah wrote of, and those "tongues" are human, foreign languages. That is what Paul said.

Paul is not making a direct equating of the gift of "tongues" as necessarily being foreign human languages. If you read this 1 Corinthians 14 passage carefully, the only point that Paul is making is that it is a sign of God's judgement on people for them to receive the Word in a language that they don't understand. Paul is saying that, when believers in the Corinthian church gather together, if someone speaks in tongues without interpretation he is speaking "judgement" on his fellow believers.

That is why Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 14:23 to say (NIV)

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not think that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everyone is prophecying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all"

An unbeliever will think that Christians are out of their minds if he sees that they are "speaking judgement" on each other in this manner. That is why Paul goes on to say in 1 Cor. 14:27 that the gift of tongues, at church gatherings, should be accompanied with interpretation, another gift.

What a relief, eh? Let Paul speak for himself, and all makes sense. We needn't shoulder the insurmountable burden of explaining why Paul and Luke, travelling partners, coworkers and friends, should write within less than a decade of each other, and use the exact same words to describe two totally different gifts. We needn't invent nutty rationalizations for why neither would pen a syllable of acknowledgement or explanation. We needn't fantasize wildly as to why Luke would knowlingly contradict Paul, writing after he did, and knowing well of Paul's Corinthian ministry (cf. Acts 18). We needn't force Paul to contradict himself by ruling out any value to gibberish on the one hand, but charging God with imposing it on saints, on the other. We needn't adopt an insane hermeneutic -- that an ambiguous verse or two should be used to controvert a pile of perfectly clear, unambiguous statements.


Sigh. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:2

For anyone who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he mutters mysteries with his Spirit.

That seems like a clear unambiguous statement that tongues are spoken to God, not to men and that no one, including Gentiles with foreign tongues, understands him. It takes a tortured hermeneutic to think otherwise.

Dan's argument is that Luke uses glossa in regard to human languages, therefore, if Paul uses glossa, he must also be referring to human languages, so as to not contradict Luke. The problem is that this interpretation contradicts 1 Cor. 14:2. Here is a breathtakingly simple way to deal with glossa that does not contradict 1 Cor. 14:2.

The word glossa is for intelligible speech. Period. It can be intelligible human speech -- intelligible to some humans, or it can be intelligible holy speech -- intelligible only to God and intelligible to humans only with the accompanying divine gift of interpretation.

A "relief," I say--unless, I suppose, we've wed ourselves to an indefensible, traditionalistic interpretation. Unless we're committed to finding a way to "dumb down" Biblical tongues so as to accommodate their modern counterfeits. If we are so "wed," I think this would be one divorce that God would not only approve, but demand.

Modern counterfeits? Dan's argument is as much from present observation as it is from his interpretation of Scripture. Dan doesn't consider it necessary to test the various manifestations of tongues in the present day to see whether they are divine or not, since he has already arrived at the idea that they are not.

When Dan says that he does not forbid tongues "according to Paul's directions", the only tongues that Dan considers to be according to Paul's directions are intelligible human languages like those at Pentacost. Dan does not believe that the gift of divine languages ever even existed, let alone exists today.

Dan has thought his way into denying both the gift of divine languages and the gift of their interpretation as being valid gifts. It is for this reason that Dan, through what I'll assume are the best of intentions, violates Paul's command to value all of the gifts as they are manifested in the body of Christ.

A brief sidestep to Romans 8:26

This is already a very long post, and I refulse to break it into two posts again. So let's skip to a few more that I think are more significant, and not repetitive. To wit:

If Romans 8:26 is not referring to praying in tongues, then to what exactly is it referring? "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."

Simple. Paul means exactly what he says: the Spirit intercedes for us with prayers unspoken by us.

In more detail: Paul expressly says that the Spirit's intercessary groans are "unspoken" (alaletois; "too deep for words" is a paraphrase, and a bad one at that). They are His intercessions ("the Spirit himself intercedes for us"). They are the Holy Spirit's prayers for us to the Father. They are not our prayers. This is what Paul says.

This would make another good "red herring" post. Why a verse which clearly speaks of (A) unspoken prayers, uttered (B) not by us but expressly by the Holy Spirit, ever was taken to refer to prayers (A) spoken (B) by us, is simply a marvel.

Yet no one to my knowledge argues that Hebrew's 7:25 revelation that Christ Jesus "always lives to make intercession for them" refers to any kind of prayer we make.

The question is twofold: a) are the prayers of the Spirit unspoken by Him or merely unspoken by us? and b) what is our relationship with the Holy Spirit as this happens?

If you back-track a little to Romans 8:15-16, Paul says,

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

Here Paul is describing the mechanics of how the Spirit interacts with our spirit.

A little later in Romans 8:23, Paul says,

...Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

By the same mechanics as in Romans 8:15-16 that we testify "Abba Father" as the Spirit testifies through our spirit, so too do we groan as Spirit groans through our spirit as we eagerly await our adoption as sons. In both cases, the Spirit is working to lead us to the goal of being God's fully realized sons (and daughters).

Continuing on to Romans 8:24,

For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope al all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans that words cannot express.

In other words, in the same way that we are waiting patiently for our adoption, the Spirit is waiting there with us, helping us in our weakness to wait in hope.

With the same mechanics that a) the Spirit testifies through us that we are sons, and that b) the Spirit enables us to groan for our adoption as sons, the Spirit meets us in our weakness so that He can guide us out of our weakness. Here, he guides our emotions to reflect His movement in us and intercession for us, which we experience as our unspoken groans.

In time, as the Spirit grows us and matures us, the Spirit, who knows what he has been intercessing on our behalf to the Father all along, reveals to us the substance of His intercessions. As this happens we grow in hope and in wisdom and grow out of our weakness.

Conclusion: In regard to this passage, while we do not participate in the prayers of the Holy Spirit through direcly speaking His words, we do participate in the process of feeling His work within us as groans. While this is not "tongues" per se nor is it in any way limited to tongues, it is an apt description of the edification that is happening to a believer while one is speaking in divine tongues that he/she doesn't understand.

Back to 1 Corinthians 14

More Adrian:

What exactly does 1 Corinthians 14:9 mean if it doesn't mean what it appears to mean --"So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air." It sure sounds like something unintelligible to me!

Paul is saying don't do this. Read the context. What is your question? Do you disagree with him, Adrian? I trust not.

In regard to the gathering of believers, Paul says to do this, but only with an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27).


Why does Paul speak specifically about praying in a tongue--"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." (1 Corinthians 14:4 sic; 14)--if tongues are only ever human languages for the purpose of unbelievers hearing a message?

Again, this is something Paul is saying not to do.

No. If you read 1 Cor. 14:14 carefully, Paul says that those with tongues should pray for the gift to be able to interpret them.

Would anyone suggest that Paul wants to be unfruitful--that is, to furnish no fruit, no benefit, to others? That cannot be. The apostle has expressly said that the purpose of all gifts is the edification and benefit of others, of the body of Christ (12:7, 14:26; cf. 10:24).

Nothing in this verse even hints that Paul is contradicting his own flat-out and in-so-many-words-statement that tongues are human languages (see above).

First, while praying in tongues has no direct, in the moment, fruit for Paul's mind, it doesn't mean that it is entirely unfruitful. Paul has already said that it is edifying in 1 Cor. 14:4. As for tongues being only human languages -- that idea is only in-so-many-of-Dan's-words.


Why does 1 Corinthians 14:26 make it clear that tongues are one of the gifts for building up the church if they are only ever real languages for evangelism?

As we've shown, Paul says that tongues are real languages. I'm not smart enough to argue with the apostle, so I'll let his flat statment guide my interpretation of anything that might be ambiguous. Paul also says that translated tongues can benefit the church. To my memory, I have never argued that they were only used for evangelism.

If tongues is a divine language, according to 1 Cor. 14:2, then interpretation is a super-natural gift, not merely an endeavor that one can arrive at by linguistic study for the purpose of translating at church.

Why no "killer verses"?


Most importantly of all, if the Bible never intended that we get the impression that gifts are for today, why are there no any real "killer verses" to make it clear to us that this is not the case?

There aren't? I believe I've given and/or linked to several such verses, already.

Every description of tongues and prophecy in the Bible is a "killer" verse. Allow me to allude to our "standard of proof" discussion from the previous post. Every description of a real cat is a "killer verse" to anyone who wants to wave a snake around and call it a cat. Similarly, anyone who wants to babble and burble, and call it tongues; or pop off gauzy generalities or inaccurate predictions and call it "prophecy," is condemned and rejected by every Biblical description of the real, legitimate phenomena.

If you follow my argument that a) the "complete" has not yet happened and b) the "dribbling on" of low level revelation is God filling out the details in our lives of the map that was outlined in Scripture, then you are in a position to "test the spirits" and not merely dimiss them out of hand as Dan has.

Missionaries and sundry other believers who sense or hear from God to go plant a church, to confront a church about an issue, or who have a vision of seeing a community healed and or of people being brought to Christ and who bear fruit as they follow upon that leading are part of the "dribbling on".

The prophecy, dreams and visions being described here may not be on the same scale of revelation as the apostles, but that is why they are "low-level" revelations -- they still represent the Spirit moving to fulfill His promises contained in the Scripture canon, as He helps us in our weakness while we yet see through a mirror darkly.

It is Dan's tendency to treat any of these leadings with supreme suspicion rather than test them carefully, case-by-case, that goes hand in hand with Dan's interpretation of Scripture. On this basis, Dan dismisses them out of hand as "gauzy generalities", "innaccurate predictions" and "babble and burble".

If you think that there just might be more to the leadings that the saints throughout church history have understood as being the Spirit's leading, then Dan's in-so-many-words-killer-verses aren't so killer.

No such widespread, well-documented phenomena as described in the Bible has ever characterized Biblical Christianity, from the second century to the present day. The charismatic movement has tried for one hundred years, and so far the best it has come up with is an attempt to redefine everything, covering up its consistent failure by trying to define down the Biblical exemplars.

Three points: 1) The leadings that I have described above have characterized Biblical Christianity and the lives of great saints throughout all of church history that have borne fruit. 2) The experience of the gifts is by no means limited to the "charismatic movement" of the last 100 years. 3) No one is trying to "define down" the Biblical exemplars, rather, we are trying to live up to their example and enjoy the relationship with God that they outlined.

And there is no Biblical explanation why this should be so--unless what Paul announced as future to him, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, is past to us.

Which, I submit, it is.

I have more to say on why this is absurd, but I'll save it for another day.


4given said...

Is this a post or a book?

Steve Blackwelder said...

You responded by ridiculing the post. If ridicule is the best response you can come up with, then I have trouble taking you seriously.

Eye said...


I enjoyed this very much! Well said and well thought out.

In Him,