Dluxe's World

Monday, September 18

Discontinuing cessationism: The Scriptures (2)

Time to chop through another swath of 1 Corinthians. When we last left 1 Corinthians, everyone was all chummy. Now we start getting to the real, crucial verses for the Cessationist scriptural case. Hope y'all like fireworks.

I'm going to try something a little different format-wise this time. I tend to want to revise my post every time I look at it. This isn't a huge problem when I can sit and write things in one sitting. However, when forced to write over multiple days... Well, let's just say it stinks. So, the next two posts will assume the shape of a traditional Bible commentary. I know this will be helpful to me (and hopefully to you, too, by extension).

You can catch up on the background by visiting the previous posts:

First, let's look at the whole passage for today (1 Corinthians 12:27 - 13:7) in the ESV and then we'll go verse-by-verse:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Now, let's work through all this systematically...

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
  • You'll recall that Paul has just finished presenting the metaphor of a body to illustrate the proper operation of spiritual gifts. Just as our body has many parts (some prominent, others less so) and needs all its parts to be healthy, so the Body of Christ - the Church - is made up of diverse people with diverse gifts. The use of all our gifts to glorify Christ and serve one another is what marks a healthy church body.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
  • Let's put the first thing first: Again, Paul is putting an emphasis on the fact that the various, diverse gifts which the Holy Spirit gives all benefit and strengthen the Body. Just as we have toes and fingers and ears, so the church has people with differing gifts like teaching and discernment and administration.

    That said, I agree with most commentators that what we see here is a distinction being made between offices and gifts. People are appointed to the office of apostle, prophet, or teacher by God and God alone. It would follow that those people God appoints to these offices are also gifted by God to accomplish the ministry set before them. These offices seem to be particularly centered around the proclamation and confirmation of the Gospel of Christ.

    Those people holding the office of Apostle (sent personally by Christ) are all dead. As are all the people who held the office of prophet, which we see particularly operative in the Old Testament. Many would equate the office of 'teacher' here with our modern office of Pastor/Elder, which obviously goes on.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
  • The Apostle Paul - King of Rhetoric. Of course they don't all have the same offices or gifts... God gives different gifts to different people to accomplish his sovereign plan.
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
  • Here comes the hot stuff. This idea of 'desiring the greater gifts' is interpreted three different ways.

    On one hand, Paul could be saying that - even though not everyone will manifest them - we should actively seek after the so-called 'greater gifts' . If correct, this interpretation would clearly add to the evidence supporting the continuationist view. To paraphrase these verses in that light, one might say: "Of course all aren't apostles/teachers/etc! But don't let that quench a healthy, righteous desire for the greater gifts for use in glorifying God!"

    On the other hand, perhaps Paul is employing sarcasm (as we noted he has elsewhere). To put that slant on it, the verses might read, "Are all apostles/teachers/etc? Of course not... Oh, but you guys desire the greater gifts. Those plain ol', garden variety gifts aren't good enough for us Super-Corinthians!" Or perhaps Paul is transitioning to the discussion of love that follows in chapter 13, implying that 'Love' is the greater gift to be sought.

    For my money, I'll take the first reading. If this were a sarcastic statement, one would expect Paul to emphasize it more and then state a correction about not desiring the greater gifts. We don't see that here. Likewise, while Paul is transitioning to a discussion of love, I think he is preparing to display love as the supreme ethic that should govern our interactions and (as a result) the operation of our spiritual gifts. To make my case for the first reading more solid, Paul effectively repeats the exhortation in 14:1 adding the qualifier that love be chief among our pursuits.

    My personal conclusion: Paul wanted to encourage the Corinthians and us, by extension, to pursue the greater gifts. The problem was that Paul knew the hearts of his audience... I can hear them (and me, sadly) now... "An order to seek something greater must mean that we're greater if/when we receive it, right??" Wrong. And so Paul qualifies his exhortation... We are to seek the greater gifts, but only if our seeking them is steeped in love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
  • Controversy verse again. In my summary post, I'll define the different spiritual gifts in light of what I've learned in this study. In the meantime, I think it's safe to assume you know enough about them to understand the texts.

    This verse is used by continuationists to show that the gift of tongues can be expressed using both earthly languages (a la Acts 2) or using 'heavenly languages'. While I suppose this is true, I think this is a terrible proof text.

    First off, Paul clearly uses the word "If" here (and yes, it's there in the Greek too). He could've said, "I do speak in the tongues of men and angels, but without love..." but the Holy Spirit chose not to. Moreover, check out the next couple verses.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
  • It strikes me that Paul is speaking in hyperbole. While I don't doubt that Paul was gifted with prophecy, his consistent use of the words 'If' and 'All' ("all mysteries, all knowledge, all faith...") sure make it seem like he's setting up a deliberately extreme, illustrative example.

    Rather than say he does speak angelic language, I think Paul is saying even such amazing, unbelievable, miraculous gifts would be effectively worthless without love. "If I could leap tall buildings in a single bound..."

    Some would argue that Paul wouldn't use the illustration of speaking angelic languages if it wasn't a valid example. While that may be true, I think that the context makes that particularly hard to sustain. Nonetheless, I must concede that this Paul's statement certainly doesn't preclude angelic tongues... Still, it certainly doesn't establish them as normative either.

    Sorry, my pentecostal friends... But don't fear! I'll be joining your team when I hit verse 8 in the next post!
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • Just an aside... Isn't it amusing that this verse is constantly used in weddings? While I think Paul's definition of love obviously holds, the whole context revolves around the operation of gifted people in the church.

    As I noted before, it seems Paul is clearly establishing love as an overarching, almost supreme ethic. No matter what skills, office, or gifts we have, the condition of our heart ultimately controls the effect that we will have for Christ.
So, where does that leave us?

Scripture has clearly established that God gives spiritual gifts to all believers (each and every one). The specific gifts will vary from person to person, but they are all to be used for building up other believers in the Body of Christ - the Church.

We can admit that some gifts are more prominent or 'flashier' than others... Nonetheless, those gifts are no more important to the fabric of the Church than the person with the gift of administration who keeps things running. To properly use any of these gifts, we must operate out of love. We must love Christ, who bought us out from slavery to sin. We must love the church and seek to serve our brothers and sisters with the gifts God has given us.

As far as controversies tackled: I personally feel confident that the statement by Paul to 'earnestly desire the greater gifts' can be seen as a command. The cases for viewing that verse as either specifically pointing to Love as the greatest gift or as being a sarcastic jab at the self-important Corinthians are both weak.

And while we can't rule out angelic speech in light of Paul's statement re: 'tongues of men and of angels', I also think that the passage is a shaky foundation on which to establish scriptural support for heavenly speech. Given the context, it appears that Paul is really making a point about how any gift (no matter how cool) is made worthless by a lack of love.

Well, it's late... Sorry that this is so long and that there's just text. I hope you'll agree, however, that the text really is the important part. I also pray that I've cast the Scriptures in the properly light... More on Thursday or Friday!

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