by Greg Loren Durand


It is the historic position of the Reformed faith that tongues and prophecy had a very specific role to play in the early days of the Christian Church. Not only were they clearly sign gifts which were given to validate the message of the Apostles, but, in the case of tongues, they served as a warning to the unbelieving Jews that the destruction of the nation of Israel was imminent. In Isaiah 28:11-12 we read:

For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,’ and, ‘This is the refreshing’; Yet they would not hear.

The above words were spoken by the prophet to the people of Judah as a declaration that they were about to be judged by God for their rebellion by an Assyrian invasion. The presence of “unknown tongues” was also mentioned by Moses in his prophecy of the ultimate destruction of national Israel found in Deuteronomy 28:49:

The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand.

The entire New Testament deals with the scene just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the termination of the Jewish economy in A.D. 70. God began His warnings to the rebellious nation of Israel through John the Baptist, who was sent to declare that the Kingdom was at hand. Following the death of John, Jesus picked up this same theme and began to warn Jerusalem of impending destruction should the people not repent of their rebellion. Of course, the Jewish leaders sealed the nation’s doom when they rejected and crucified their Messiah. It was not until Israel had thus transgressed against her God that the gift of tongues was introduced among the Apostles and their associates on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); they were then used to call them to repentance. In this sense, they were, as Paul wrote, “for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (I Corinthians 14:22a); they served as an indictment against Israel and a public declaration that her “house [was] left... desolate (Matthew 23:38), and that the Kingdom of Heaven was about to be taken from the Jews and given to another people — the Gentiles (Matthew 8:10-12, 21:33-45).

Having established the purpose of biblical tongues, let us now determine the purpose of prophecy in the early Christian Church. According to Paul, “[P]rophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe (I Corinthians 14:22b). Since the New Testament canon was still in the process of being written, via the epistles of Paul, Peter, and the other Apostles, prophecy served the purpose of edifying and strengthening the infant Church to endure the persecution that God’s enemies were bringing against her, and to offer hope that God’s enemies were soon to be destroyed (Revelation 2:8-11). However, with the close of the canon, this purpose was fulfilled, and prophecy ceased. In Jude 3, we read:

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

This verse is very important in dealing with the finality of revelation and prophecy, for in it Jude clearly anticipated the closing of the New Testament canon of Scripture. The phrase “once for all” is noteworthy. Actually, only one Greek word (“hapax”) is used here, which indicates “what is of perpetual validity, not requiring repetition.” Hence, the Scriptures themselves preclude any further revelation beyond the apostolic age.

Another verse that may be cited in this regard is Ephesians 2:20:

“... [The Church has] been built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

These words of Paul tell us that the Apostles are part of the foundation of the Church. A building can have no more than one foundation, and the Body of Christ is certainly no exception. John 14:26 tells us that the Apostles were taught “all things.” In addition, Paul commanded Timothy to “keep the “good thing which was committed in II Timothy 1:14. Clearly, this “good thing” was identifiable or else Paul’s exhortation would have been in vain. Since the Apostles were taught all things, there would be no need for further revelation. Indeed, what can be added to all things? Furthermore, the Apostles’ doctrine became part of the New Testament canon, and because this revelation was complete, there can be no further “scripture” (either verbal or written) added unless proof is given that the apostolic era has not ended. However, as noted above, the apostolic era served as the transition period between the old economy of Judaism and the “new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1) of the New Covenant; once the transition had been made, the apostolic era with its various apostolic sign gifts ceased.

The New Testament, of course, is not the only place from which this conclusion may be drawn. The Old Testament prophets themselves looked forward to a time when revelation would cease to be given by God through His prophets. For instance, in Daniel’s prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” we read:

Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. (Daniel 9:24)

Verses 25-27 make it clear that when the “Seventy Week” period (490 years) began, it would continue uninterrupted until it was completed. Since the prophetic “clock” began to tick “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem,” which was given by King Cyrus (Ezra 1) exactly 483 years prior to the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River, we can only look for the terminus of this period in the first century. As prophesied, Christ’s death and resurrection made an end of the sins of His people (the elect), and therefore He accomplished the reconciliation promised by God through Daniel (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21). Christ’s people have consequently experienced “everlasting righteousness” because of the fact that we are clothed in His righteousness, which itself is everlasting (II Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 6:14; Philippians 3:9; Revelation 19:8). The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is clearly linked to the “Seventy Week” time frame. This is proven by verse 26:

And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.

Finally, we come to the phrase, “to seal up vision and prophecy, which is included within the “Seventy Week” time frame. According to E.J. Young:

“Vision was a technical name for revelation given to the OT prophets (cf. Isaiah 1:1, Amos 1:1, etc.). The prophet was the one through whom this vision was revealed to the people. The two words, vision and prophecy, therefore, served to designate the prophetic revelation of the OT period.... When Christ came there was no further need of prophetic revelation in the OT sense” (Commentary on Daniel, Banner of Truth Trust, 1988, p. 200).

Since there is no fundamental difference between Old and New Testament revelation, and the source of inspiration was the same God, there is no reason to doubt that all giving of new revelation ceased in the first century.

Another passage that closely ties in with Daniel 9:24 is Revelation 22:18-19. Though in the New Testament, it is cited here because it describes in great detail the events which Daniel merely mentioned in passing, particularly the judgment and subsequent “divorce” of national Israel as God’s peculiar people. In this passage we read:

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

It is acknowledged that the primary focus of this warning was to prevent additions to John’s revelation in particular, but it also bears indirect significance to the entire biblical canon in general. Despite erroneous attempts to place the writing of Revelation sometime around A.D. 96, there is strong internal evidence that it was actually written prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 (i.e. the Temple is said to still be standing in chapter 11). Furthermore, Revelation 1:3, 22:6, and 22:12 demand a short period of time before the complete fulfillment of the entire prophecy of this book. Consequently, Revelation falls within the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9, and since it is thus the last inspired book written, the prohibition of 22:18-19 applies to the entire canon of Scripture.

Finally, we come to Zechariah 13:3-5, which, in many ways, is similar to Revelation 22:18-19:

It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the Name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies. And it shall be in that day that every prophet will be ashamed of his wisdom when he prophesies; they will not wear a robe of course hair to deceive. But he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a farmer; for a man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.’

The context of this passage of Zechariah places “that day” in the first century (see 12:10, 13:1, and 13:7). There is no denying then that continuing prophecy or revelation subsequent to the closing of the canon is viewed by God as worthy of the most severe punishment, and even of death. Why? Because it is false prophecy in view of the fact that God no longer speaks with men in a revelatory fashion, whether it be via the vehicle of unknown tongues, prophetic utterances, or the writing of additional “scripture.” Indeed, to insist otherwise, is in effect, to say that God’s revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ is insufficient. The Scripture says otherwise:

God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the Prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds (Hebrews 1:1-2).

In closing, it is very significant to note that, aside from various cult groups over the ages (i.e. Montanism, Mormonism, etc.), tongues and prophecy were not recognized by anyone in the history of the orthodox Christian Church as continuing. It was not until the early part of this century that they “made a comeback” in mainstream Christendom with the Pentecostal Movement and gained popularity in the 1960s with the Charismatic Movement. It is also significant that the vast majority of those who claim to possess these gifts today are grossly ignorant of the most basic doctrines of Scripture and are, in many cases, proponents of outright heresy which denies Christ (i.e. adherents to the Faith Movement, the Manifest Sons of God, etc.). As a whole, modern Charismatics are guilty of willfully rejecting the Word of God in favor of “ear-tickling” false prophets. Does it not seem strange, in light of how God dealt with the Jews for this very same sin in A.D. 70, that He would choose to “pour out His Spirit” upon such rebellious people today via tongues and prophecy, while failing to give such “blessings” to those in the Reformed faith who have remained true to His Word and faithful to His covenant? Food for thought, indeed.

Common Law Copyright (1996) Foundation for Biblical Studies

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