Have Tongues Ceased As John MacArthur Argues?

Until recently I never really spent much time thinking about whether or not the gifts of the spirit, specifically tongues, have ceased. But that changed once I got familiar with the Reformed movement and the Calvinists. As it turns out some believe that “The Perfect” is referring to the Bible and they believe this because it is vital to their belief in cessation of the Gifts of the Spirit. Though it appears that mainline Reformed teaching on this passage does not agree.

But they do mostly all agree that Tongues have ceased for various reasons. The major proponent of this argument is John MacArthur and he gives a thorough examination on his website. Below I will examine his claims and add my own input. To make things clear, I am not in agreement that tongues have ceased, although I do not speak in tongues and I typically don’t like it done in church.

1 Corinthians 13:10 ESV

“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

This passage alone is one of the only verses that John MacArthur uses to justify his cessation position. His website does try to give a full account of what he believes so I still spend the rest of this entry addressing the information he lays forth.


Tongues Will Cease

In 1 Corinthians 13:8 Paul made an interesting, almost startling, statement: “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” In the expression “love never fails,” the Greek word translated “fails” means “to decay” or “to be abolished.” Paul was not saying that love is invincible or that it cannot be rejected. He was saying that love is eternal—that it will be applicable forever and will never be passé. Tongues, however, “will cease.” The Greek verb used in 1 Corinthians 13:8 means “to cease permanently,” and implies that when tongues ceased, they would never start up again. (John MacArthur)

So far nothing strange here. We can see at this point that John can use a lexicon or a Greek concordance so at lease the original language is being addressed.

Here is the question that this passage poses for the contemporary charismatic movement: if tongues were supposed to cease, has that already happened, or is it yet future? Charismatic believers insist that none of the gifts have ceased yet, so the cessation of tongues is yet future. Most non-charismatics insist that tongues have already ceased, passing away with the apostolic age. Who is right? (John MacArthur)

That IS the right question: has this already happened or is it for the future? But he mischaracterized the bulk of denominations here trying to world christians by denominationmake it seem like all the non-cessationalist are somehow outliers. Most Christian denominations have a rather neutral stance on the gifts. Here are some major denominations that would be considered non-charismatic but disagree with MacArthur.

These few listed here makeup a large portion of the US denominations and when looking at the world demographics the denominations get increasingly more charismatic. So why does John believe that somehow his opinion is the majority opinion? I would suggest that he spends very little time outside of his own uber Reformed circles.

It should be noted that 1 Corinthians 13:8 itself does not say when tongues were to cease. Although 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 teaches that prophecy and knowledge will cease when the “perfect” (i.e., the eternal state) comes, the language of the passage—particularly the middle voice of the Greek verb translated “will cease”—puts tongues in a category apart from these gifts. Paul writes that while prophecy and knowledge will be “done away” (passive voice) by “the perfect,” the gift of tongues “will cease” in and of itself (middle voice) prior to the time that “the perfect” arrives. When did this cessation of tongues take place? The evidence of Scripture and history indicate that tongues ceased in the apostolic age. (John MacArthur)

At first glance at the above paragraph I thought John was going to make my argument for me, but then he engages in some very poor Greek exegesis of the passage in an effort to justify his position. The part in question is bolded above.

Let us first address the fact that MacArthur believes that the “Greek verb” (he means παύσονται[manuscript], παύω[lemma]) somehow sets tongues apart from the other gifts. He states that the middle voice in Greek somehow means that tongues are not part of the same timeline that the other gifts are. For the non-Greek geeks out there I will explain it in English.

The middle voice in Greek typically means the subject and verb action is reflexive. It would be the same as saying “the basketball(subject) will come(verb) to a rest.” The basketball will come to a rest without being acted upon grammatically. Or if I said that “I(subject) will stop(verb) walking.” The subject is both performing and receiving the verb action.

Whereas the passive voice means the subject is being acted upon. It would be the same as saying “the greek middle voicebasketball(subject) will be put(verb) to a stop.” It suggests that something will be acting upon the subject to cause the verb to be true. It would be the same as saying “Justin will be tripped.” Justin is the subject being acted upon. The middle voice would have said “Justin will trip (himself).” For further explanation read this Greek lesson.

While some interesting arguments can be made about why Paul used a Future Middle Indicative verb to describe the ending of tongues but used a Future Passive  Indicative verb to describe the other gifts, none of these arguments would ever affect the timeline since they are all future tense and dependent on the “when” clause in verse 10.

What is Paul really saying here? 

This is why context is king when interpreting scripture. What is the whole passage about? ITS ABOUT LOVE! More specifically it is about how love is better than the gifts. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Paul does a classic argument frame in the 13th chapter on why love is better than all the gift and his final argument is that love is eternal but the gifts are temporal. “Love never ends. As for prophecies …..”

The final explanation for Paul lies in verse 12. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; “The gifts we 1 cor 13-12have for now but love is eternal and love will remain when we are face to face with our Father in Heaven. I would also end this section saying that some have argued that “when the perfect comes” refers to the Bible or the completion of the Cannon.

In no way does the Greek word τέλειον refer to simple noun like the Bible. The grammatical use of this word is as an adjective and most modern translations have already adjusted to reflect this. When a Greek accusative adjective is given a definite article (“the”) it gets used like a noun yet it very much is not a noun. It would be better to think of it as a description.

When the completion or perfection (of time or of this current temporal phase) comes, then all the gifts will cease, not just tongues. Moreover, perfection has not yet come.


Evidence From Scripture

John goes on to argue for the scriptural evidence.

What biblical or theological evidence is there that tongues have ceased? First, the gift of tongues was a miraculous, revelatory gift, and the age of miracles and revelation ended with the apostles. The last recorded miracles in the New Testament occurred around A.D. 58, with the healings on the island of Malta (Acts 28:7-10). From A.D. 58 to 96, when John finished the book of Revelation, no miracle is recorded. Miracle gifts like tongues and healing are mentioned only in 1 Corinthians, an early epistle. Two later epistles, Ephesians and Romans, both discuss gifts of the Spirit at length—but no mention is made of the miraculous gifts. By that time miracles were already looked on as something in the past (Heb. 2:3-4). Apostolic authority and the apostolic message needed no further confirmation. Before the first century ended, the entire New Testament had been written and was circulating through the churches.

Charismatic believers insist
that none of the gifts have ceased…
non-charismatics insist that tongues
have already ceased.…
Who is right?

The revelatory gifts had ceased to serve any purpose. And when the apostolic age ended with the death of the Apostle John, the signs that identified the apostles had already become moot (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12).
(John MacArthur)

Here John now tries to use his own narrow data set to create theology that is not in the bible. In no way does it matter what the last recorded miracle in the Bible is. “When John finished the book of Revelation, no miracle is recorded.” Of course no further miracles are recording……NOTHING is recorded in the Bible after Revelation. It’s the last book.nothing happened

Next, John tries to make the classic “argument from absence,” which is maybe the weakest form of argument in all forms of debate. He surmises that since Paul didn’t mention the gifts to the Ephesians and the Romans they must have ended. But wait…. why did he mention them at all in Corinthians? He mentioned them because the church was abusing them and they are doing more harm than good. Paul spend much of his letter writing doing nothing more than correcting the churches. But he did not write to the Romans to correct them and we know from the Ephesian letters that they were much more mature than the Corinthians.

He then tries to twist Hebrews 2:3-4 to mean that the gifts are in the past. This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” But this passage does not state that the gifts have ceased. It was simply telling a story in past tense. Ironically, the verb testified (συνεπιμαρτυροῦντος) is actually a Present Active Participle. Basically, its an “-ing” verb. So the idea that this passage is trying to place the gifts only in the past is misrepresented by John’s failure to exegete. The verse is saying about salvation; “God also testifying to it by…..”

The revelatory gifts had ceased to serve any purpose. And when the apostolic age ended with the death of the Apostle John, the signs that identified the apostles had already become moot (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12).
(John MacArthur)

No statement has ever been more unfounded.


More Evidence From Scripture

John goes on to argue for the scriptural evidence as such.

Second, tongues were intended as a sign to unbelieving Israel (1 Cor. 14:21-22; cf. Is. 28:11-12). They signified that God had begun a new work that encompassed the Gentiles. The Lord would now speak to all nations in all languages. The barriers were down. And so the gift of languages symbolized not only the curse of God on a disobedient nation, but also the blessing of God on the whole world.

Tongues were therefore a sign of transition between the Old and New Covenants. With the establishment of the church, a new day had dawned for the people of God. God would speak in all languages. But once the period of transition was past, the sign was no longer necessary. (John MacArthur)

First John now tries to make arguments from things that do not exist. The first phrase that tongues were a sign to unbelieving Israel (meaning not the gentiles) is found nowhere in scripture. He was trying to make the connection from 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 that states:

“With other tongues
    and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people, (meaning Israel to John)
    but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”

However, Paul goes on in the passage to instruct the Gentile church on how to use the gifts, including tongues. The rest of what John says above is just unfounded commentary on what he believes God is doing.


Last Evidence From Scripture

The last piece of scripture used really has nothing to do with the cessation of the gifts or tongues.

Third, the gift of tongues was inferior to other gifts. It was given primarily as a sign (1 Cor. 14:22) and was also easily misused to edify self (1 Cor. 14:4). The church meets for the edification of the body, not self-gratification or personal experience-seeking. Therefore, tongues had limited usefulness in the church, and so it was never intended to be a permanent gift. (John MacArthur)

On this point I am not sure their is anything to disagree with. Paul spend much time in Corinthians trying to express that tongues is only useful in the church if an interpretation was present and was done in an orderly manner, and no more than three at a time. I personally, think charismatic churches tend to abuse the gifts and often might not even be speaking in tongues for real. On this sentiment, I agree whole heartedly with John.


Evidence From History


Here John has a lot of general information from church history but it boils down to one thing: tongues don’t really appear in church history so it must have ceased. Once again I would state that an argument of absence is not an argument. There are many things that church history is silent on. Furthermore, church history is not silent on the issue.

Tongues and gifts are mentioned favorably in many texts and recorded as being used by Christians in many others. Here are just a few sources where tongues were written about in church history.

  • Didiche (70 AD)
  • Coptic Christian Texts (1st and 2nd century)
  • Tertullian (140 – 230 AD)
  • Census (176 AD)
  • Asturias Urbanus (232 AD)
  • Augustine (354 – 430 AD) [even argues for tongues continuance]

and the list just goes on……..
Exhaustive list HERE.




If the gifts or even just tongues have ceased, I do not believe that the above arguments provide any evidence for the theory. That does not mean that somehow I proved that tongues have continued. That would require a much larger post. I was only addressing the claims by MacArthur.

Think I got it wrong? That’s ok. Just correct me in the comments. If I did indeed make a goof, I am willing to be corrected with proper evidence.


11 thoughts on “Have Tongues Ceased As John MacArthur Argues?”

  1. You people delete the bad messages. Keep good comments again my son David Varghese this August for theology masters applied and he got letter from you he selected. Please take him out . I know you do not like my comment . But I care about my son David Varghese planning to come in August 2019 after couple of month. Please kickoff him . He is my own son I do not like he going in wrong teaching area . Becausse I believe bible words as it is nothing man can take out or add . There will be big punishment. I do not want my son come there. I humbly request you to take him out..

    • I have no idea who you think you’re messaging but this is a website, not a school. I assume you’re upset with Master seminary since that is the seminary located in California and affiliated with MacArthur.

      You’ll have to navigate to their website to contact them.

      That being said…. If your son is old enough for seminary then he’s old enough to make his decisions for himself. He’ll never become a responsible adult with his parents controlling his every move. I know it’s hard but it’s time to let go and let your boy be a man.

      Additionally, I don’t think you understand the point of seminary. Seminary is not designed to make mini versions of their founder. They are designed to help people develope their own thoughts and opinions about scripture, through sound exegesis and history training.

      Lastly, we don’t delete comments here unless they are vulgar. Your comments were not deleted. They might not have appeared right away because we serve cached web pages which means that you’ll have to refresh your browser for new comments to appear.

  2. I sending again to you because my son David Varghese got admission in LA this year in theology in masters. He deceived by your wrong theology. No way you can say gift ceases especially tongue prophecies and everything. Please help me to never deceived by you . I am his mom I have speaking tongues. Sort I am exposing the false teachers . Let Hod enlighten your heart to understand. God bless you.

    • You got the wrong website. This is not a school. Not all seminaries agree on this matter….. And that’s ok. Anyone going to school for an M.Div doesn’t need their parent deciding for them what to believe.

  3. Please do not deceived currently youth people . Bible verses never ceased..God words nobody can take away. Still prophecies and speaking tongues are there . But use wisely. Please do not teach I am exposing you. God bless you to understand let God open your heart to enlightenment.

    • You’re not exposing anyone but yourself. Had you read the article you would know that I agree with your position….

  4. You have made a circle of Christian denominations that make up a large part of the country but I don’t see Catholic’s? How can you preach the truth if you don’t show all of it, not just what you like. I love you pastor MacArthur but you have always had something against them….which means you don’t have the love of God in you. I’ll pray for you. Again.


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