The Duration Of Languages

Expositions on Spiritual Endowments

The Grace of God in Truth

JUST AS 1 Corinthians 14:22 is the only passage which states the purpose of the gift of languages, 1 Corinthians 13:10 is the only passage that reveals when this gift will cease. Having made mention in 1 Corinthians 12:28 of certain subordinate graces pertaining to “species of languages,” Paul states that not all are speaking in these languages or interpreting them. “Yet,” he tells the Corinthians, “be zealous for the greater graces” (1 Cor.12:31a), those spiritual endowments which are greater than languages or tongues.

Being zealous for the greater graces, however, should never be identified with any seeking to acquire whatever powers one may vainly imagine to be “available.” One should be zealous for those services and servants which God has appointed in the ecclesia, regardless of what one’s own allotment may be, and pray for the wisdom and discernment to recognize that which is faithful and true. Any personal ability to “prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1), that is, in one sense or another to serve as God’s spokesman, must be genuine and divinely appointed, not self-contrived.

Then, at this juncture, Paul declares, “And, still, I am showing you a path, suited to transcendence” (1 Cor.12:31b). The term “and” points to something in addition to what he has just said. The word “still” (eti, also rendered “more” in the CV, an adverb of time or degree) indicates that Paul wishes to continue on in order to say more than simply what has gone before concerning the various spiritual endowments which currently obtained among the Corinthians. The sense is, that, within the scope of this present epistle, in addition to expressing the things which he has just stated, he also is showing them something more, namely “a path,” one which is “suited to transcendence.

He does so through the agency of the following section of the epistle, which we know as chapter 13. This “more excellent way” is a course which is in contrast to and far advanced beyond that with which the Corinthians were presently acquainted through their various extant spiritual endowments.

This transcendent path obtains (1) during an era which is in contrast to the very time then present in which Paul was writing (“at present”; 1 Cor.13:12, arti, idiomatically, “just now”), and yet (2) in an era in which “faith, expectation [and] love–these three” are “remaining” or continuing on. “Yet now are remaining faith, expectation, love–these three” (1 Cor.13:13). Paul thus uses arti (“at present”) in contrast to nun (“now,” i.e., [“going on from] now” or “beyond the present period,” “an adverb of time in contrast with the past”; KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, p.208).

It is clear, then, that the era in which this “path” may be walked, a path in which faith, expectation and love–these three–remain, is an era which extends beyond the immediate present in which Paul wrote and yet exists prior to the day of Christ’s advent. Faith and expectation are of such a nature that they themselves will no longer be needed then, once faith gives way to sight and future expectation becomes present possession.

In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, Paul says, “Love is never lapsing: yet, whether prophecies, they will be discarded, or languages, they will cease, or knowledge, it will be discarded. For out of an installment are we knowing, and out of an installment are we prophesying. Now whenever maturity may be coming, that which is out of an installment shall be discarded.”

It is obvious that prophecies themselves, those revelations of truth made known by God’s spokesmen who declared His word and will, will never be discarded. Though predictive prophecy will be fulfilled, that will hardly warrant its nullification (katargeõ, DOWN-UN- ACT, “discard,” “nullify,” CV), or afford any incentive to discard God’s own word. The same is true of knowledge. We can hardly afford to discard what little we know. Are we to anticipate becoming altogether ignorant in the day of Christ’s advent, or, alternatively, perhaps to follow such a quest at present? Likewise, all sensible people realize that communication, or even private thought, is impossible apart from language. Undoubtedly then we shall speak by means of language, and assuredly we do so now.

It is not language that is in question but the gift of language which ceases. Prophecy, the word of God and of the Lord, stands, but the gift is discarded. Knowledge is much more abundant than ever before, since the word of God has been completed (cp Col.1:25), but the gift of knowledge itself (supernatural divine endowment apart from previous preparation) is discarded once it is rendered redundant. None of these three expressions in 1 Corinthians 13:8, “prophecies,” “languages,” or “knowledge,” are literal. Each is a figure of speech, the common figure of association termed metonymy in which that which is associated with the subject stands for the subject itself. The sense is that the time will come when those spiritual endowments which are associated with prophecy, language, and knowledge will cease or be discarded.


We are told why this is so in the verse which follows: “For out of an installment are we knowing, and out of an installment are we prophesying” (1 Cor.13:9). It is not, as in the Authorized Version, “we know in part,” but, “out of an installment are we knowing.” The Greek is ek, out of, not, in, and the incomplete verb form should be rendered “knowing,” not “know.” The passage does not speak of the Corinthian believers’ knowledge, but of the source of their knowledge.

“In that era,” insofar as their standing in flesh was concerned, the believers among the nations, “the nations in flesh,” were “apart from Christ, being alienated from the citizenship of Israel”; they were “guests of the promise covenants, having no expectation, and [were] without God in the world” (Eph.2:12). After all, the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the divine service, were Israel’s; whose are the fathers, and out of whom is the Christ according to the flesh (Rom.9:4,5). At that time, neither the revelation of the secret (Eph.3:6) nor of the celestial allotment (Eph.1:3,18) which is for the ecclesia which is Christ’s body had been made known. Consequently, the place and destiny of these Gentile believers to whom Paul ministered–entirely apart from the covenant of the law and yet in strict accord with the new revelations which he alone had received from the risen Christ–was most enigmatic (cf 1 Cor.13:12). There was, therefore, a great need for further unfoldings of knowledge to the Corinthians, beyond the limited installment which Paul had already made known to them, that they might more clearly apprehend their true place and purpose.

Even then, however, the Corinthians were the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:27), for God placed the members, each one of them, in the body (1 Cor.12:18). As Paul said, “in one spirit also we all are baptized into one body, . . . and all are made to imbibe one spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Being baptized in holy spirit (cf Acts 1:5), even at Pentecost, was a separate matter from speaking in languages, which was also granted to the twelve. “And they are filled with holy spirit, and they begin to speak in different languages” (Acts 2:4).

It is perfectly false to equate either baptism in holy spirit, or filling with holy spirit, with speaking in languages. Both “baptism” and “filling” associated with holy spirit may readily be conferred entirely apart from any gift of languages (cp Acts 6:8,10; 7:55; 1 Cor.12:13; Eph.5:18). Conversely, one may well experience modern pseudo “tongues” apart from even the baptism of the spirit, much less its filling, while imagining that he has received both.

At the time 1 Corinthians was written, the spiritual endowments then granted were given to each “with a view to expedience” (1 Cor.12:7). In that era, it was expedient that some should exercise these various abilities associated with prophecy, language and knowledge, for the word of God had not yet fully been made known. Consequently, it was then true that “out of an installment are we knowing and out of an installment are we prophesying” (1 Cor.13:9).

Similarly, it was also true, then, “in that era,” that speaking in languages, while in need of strict regulation that all might occur “respectably and in order” (1 Cor.14:40), was not to be forbidden. “So that, my brethren, be [being] zealous to be prophesying, and the speaking in languages do not [be] forbid[ding]” (1 Cor.13:39).

The words “zealous” and “forbid” are in the incomplete verb form (as indicated in the CV by the vertical stroke preceding them). Their reference is to the conduct of the Corinthians at the time then present.

It should also be noted that Paul had by no means instructed every individual believer either to be prophesying or to be speaking in languages. Those to whom God had not given these special graces could hardly exercise gifts which they did not possess. While the Corinthians were to be “zealous for” (cp 1 Cor.14:1, 39) all the spiritual endowments that God had truly given, they were not, unlike so many today, to crave, seek after, or plead for personal, supernatural or miraculous powers.

In the Greek, the sense of Paul’s words is that the Corinthian believers, at present, were to be being zealous for “the . . . prophesying,” and were not to be forbidding “the . . . speaking . . . in languages” in which some were able to engage. That is, all were to be exercising zeal concerning the revelations which God was making known to them through those certain ones among them who were specially graced with the gift of prophecy. Likewise, no one was to be forbidding those who actually had a gracious gift of language from exercising it, even within the ecclesia.

In deference to the immaturity of the Corinthian believers, Paul had granted that, when they came together, if “two, or, at the most, three” wished to speak in a language, they had permission to do so. Yet, if they should thus speak, they were not to make a long, uninterrupted testimony in the language, but only to speak “by installments”; that is, in brief phrases or sentences, so that someone who was able to “interpret” (i.e., “translate,” 1 Cor.12:10) might readily do so for the sake of those hearing (1 Cor.14:27).

While Paul did not wish anyone to forbid those with a gift of language from engaging in a conservative exercise of the gift while within the assembly, he did make his own will, and example, known, saying, “I thank God that I speak in a language more than all of you. But, in the ecclesia, do I want to speak five words with my mind, that I should be instructing others also, or ten thousand words in a language?” (1 Cor.14:18,19). By immediately adding the words, “Brethren, do not become little children in disposition. But in evil be minors, yet in disposition become mature” (1 Cor. 14:20), he intimated that it was certainly immature, even for that day, to fail to follow his example with regard to the exercise of this gift.

Just as it is true that certain of the Corinthians once exercised gifts of prophesy, language, and knowledge, it is equally true that “whenever the maturity may be coming, that which is out of an installment shall be discarded” (1 Cor.13:10). It is not simply “maturity,” but “the” maturity (the Greek contains the definite article). In fact, in the Greek, “maturity” is an adjective, “mature.” Therefore, “the mature” is used elliptically, the figure in which that which obviously constitutes the subject at hand is omitted for the sake of good diction, in order to avoid redundancy.

The “maturity,” or “mature,” even if the definite article did not appear, would have to be in reference to the maturity of the context. And since the definite article does appear, this fact is specifically emphasized, to draw our attention to it.

Similarly, in the Greek, the phrase, “that which is out of an installment [shall be discarded],” contains merely the definite article, “the,” where “that which” appears in the CV for the sake of English idiom. Therefore, in the Greek, this phrase, THE OUT OF-PART (WILL- BE-BEING-DOWN-UN-ACTED), is elliptical as well. It refers to the nullifying of the early, or “out of part” gifts.

The maturity of the context, beyond any doubt, is the maturing (i.e., completing or “FINISHing”) of the agency of “knowing” which has just been referred to in verse 9, the partial revelation which had already been given to the Corinthians. As in verse 12, where he uses “we” and even “I” (though evidently representatively, not necessarily of himself as such), similarly, here in verse 9, when speaking collectively of the ecclesia as a whole, Paul says, “out of an installment are we knowing, and out of an installment are we prophesying.”

The sense is, Whenever the mature installment of knowledge is provided, which may then lead to a fuller “knowing,” then the gifts of prophecy, language, and knowledge will “cease” or “be discarded.”


In preparing the Corinthians for the final unfoldings of his prison epistles, Paul illustrates this change by means of a figure in which a child, when reaching his majority, discards the activities and implements of his minority. “When I was a minor, I spoke as a minor, I took account of things as a minor. Yet when I have become a man, I have discarded that which is a minor’s” (1 Cor.13:11).

This illustration is interjected between the apostle’s pronouncement in verse 10, that the mature installment of knowledge will mean the abrogation of the gifts of verse 8, and the explanation of why this is so in verse 12: “For at present we are observing by means of a mirror, in an enigma, yet then [whenever the maturity may be coming; v.10], face to face. At present, I know out of an installment, yet then I shall recognize according as I am recognized also” (1 Cor.13:12).

The common view of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 is that it contrasts our present experience with our future glory in resurrection. Now we are supposed to see through a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face and know even as we are known. The apostle, however, is not comparing our experience in this life with that of the next. Rather, he is contrasting the former partial revelation, with the entirety of revelation which will be enjoyed when the finishing installment of divine truth is made known.

It is not a matter of “now”–continuing on from now, throughout this mortal life–that we today peer through a “glass darkly,” but that the body of believers as a whole at the time in which Paul was writing were observing “by means of a mirror” (esoptron, INTO- VIEWer), that is, “in an enigma” (ainigma, ENIGMA). An enigma is that which is baffling or inexplicable. As we mentioned earlier, since what knowledge the Corinthians did have was only derived from a part, or initial installment of the total revelation which God would provide for the members of Christ’s body, any among them who were even somewhat enlightened and yet who longed for additional unfoldings, would have necessarily remained quite perplexed concerning various aspects of their own place and purpose within the divine counsels.

Were they to participate in the kingdom of the heavens and one day stand up in an allotment on the earth along with the prophets of old and all others who were worthy of this through their obedience to the law? If so, how could they enjoy such a place without becoming proselytes or practicing the law’s righteousness? These and many related matters made the time then present full of enigma.

Yet, when the mature or finished installment of knowledge comes, Paul explains that they will then see “face to face.” The terminology in this figure (it is in juxtaposition to “by means of a mirror”) seems to be based on Numbers 12:8 where the prophets saw “in enigmas” but Moses spoke with Yahweh directly, or “mouth to mouth.” “Mouth to mouth am I speaking with him [Moses],” Yahweh declares, “and manifestly, not in enigmas.” Even as the figure “face to face” answers to “by means of a mirror,” thus also, the literal “recognize according as I am recognized also” answers to “in an enigma.”

The phrase “according as” in verse 12, speaks not of degree of recognition, but of kind of recognition. In the Greek, it is one word, the compound kathos (DOWN-AS). It is an adverb not of degree but of kind. Its first element speaks of that which is foundational, what something “comes down to.”

Paul’s point is a simple one. Whenever God should finish His work of revealing His word, the Corinthians would then be freed from the enigmas which necessarily attend an incomplete revelation. Even as the limitations which befall a man who can only view himself by means of a mirror do not apply to those who can view him directly or face to face, thus also, now that the word of God has been completed, believers today are freed from the enigmas of an incomplete revelation.

What God has said has made it evident that the genuine gift of languages ceased to be exercised and was no longer given once the final installment of the Pauline revelation was made known. Since that time, scripturally speaking, no one has ever “spoken in tongues.”

Let us, then, set aside all forms of contemporary glossolalia, the counterfeit “tongues” of today, that we might be growing and maturing in the transcendent grace of God which is ours in Christ Jesus.

James Coram

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