“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Since Jesus never changes, then the gift of tongues is still for us today. This argument is a very often used for the current practice of the gift of tongues. Is this argument valid? Most people using this argument never seem to stop and ask that question. It is a logical fallacy, called a category mistake.
“A category mistake is an error in logic in which one category of something is presented as belonging to another category.” (1) The two categories are the nature of God and the workings of God. This argument wrongly assumes that these two are the same. However, they are not as we will see.
The context of Hebrews 13:8 is the conclusion of a lengthy letter with several free flowing thoughts. The author spends the first six verses of Hebrews 13 on explaining ways that the readers could exemplify brotherly love to one another. In verse seven he speaks about their leaders. Then, we have verse eight with a statement about the nature of Jesus Christ. In verse nine to sixteen continues the list of seemly random thoughts that the author wants to express with a warning of false teachings. “This apparently isolated statement has no syntactic connection with what precedes or follows; its content also seems general and unrelated to the surrounding exhortations.” (2) Fausset and Brown explain it is a transition verse, “This verse is not, as some read it, in apposition with ‘the end of their conversation’ (Heb 13:7), but forms the transition. ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday and to-day (is) the same, and (shall be the same) unto the ages (that is, unto all ages).’” (3)
In short, it is clear in that Hebrews chapter 13 does not address the gift of tongues in any manner. The author makes it clear that he is not speaking about the way that God works with His people on earth. The author is making a statement about the nature of Jesus Christ being immutable. Immutability is an attribute of God that means by His nature He cannot change.
The Nature of God
God’s nature or essence, which is made up of His attributes, is completely and totally incapable of change (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). The immutability of God does not mean that God’s attitudes and actions will not change, but that His character will not change. God does not alter because His eternal nature and will are complete. Due to God’s immutability, He cannot changeHismind. Thus any promises made will be kept, and He will be faithful to them for eternity. Discussing each of the attributes of God, it is important to note that God cannot change in relation to His attributes.
The same is emphasized in the Greek by being in an unusual position. A possible alternative translation would be “Jesus Christ is yesterday and today the same, and (also the same) forever.” … There are a number of problems involved in translating Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In the first place the statement that Jesus Christ is the same may be regarded as simply a truism. Therefore it may be necessary to translate “Jesus Christ never changes.” In the second place, yesterday may not be a figurative symbol for past events or past time, and a literal rendering of today may suggest only a particular day rather than present time. Therefore yesterday, today, and forever may need to be rendered as “in the past, now, and in the future.” To communicate this information clearly may require considerable expansion; for example, “Jesus Christ never changes. He has not changed in the past, he does not change now, and he will never change in the future.”(4)
The emphasis of this verse is on the immutability of Jesus Christ and thus addresses His nature, not His works. The character and attributes of Jesus Christ do not change. However, this is not evidence that His workings with people on earth do not change over time.
The Workings of God
Do you keep Kosher? For most, especially those that hold to this argument, the answer is no. If the argument is that God does not change means that His commandments to His creation do not change, then we should be expected to keep kosher today. In fact, God has changed in many ways in which He works with His creation. After the fall of Adam, there was a curse that changed the relationship and way the God works with people (Genesis 3:16-19). It was more than just His workings with people that changed. The fall of Adam affected all the creation. There was a change in God’s workings with the animals (Genesis 3:14-15; 9:3-4; Isaiah 11:6; 65:25). Even the universe has suffered the effects of the curse of Adam’s sin:
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19–21)
So God’s workings with His creation has changed over time, yet His nature has never changed. If God can change His workings with His people between the Old and New Testaments with commandments to keep kosher (Acts 10:10-15), then He can change His workings between the early church and now.
During the early period of the church, there were instructions given for that time of transition. James declared that the Gentiles and Jews should “to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). The church today only obeys the abstaining from sexual immorality. The others were commands for a time of transition, and many include some of the spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, in this category.
Hebrews 13:8 is clearly speaking of the nature of God and not the workings of God. Therefore, to make any connection between the two is a category mistake. Any argument that depends on a logical fallacy is invalid. Therefore, to answer the initial question, this is not a valid argument. Since the nature of Jesus Christ does not change, this has no effect on the fact that God does change the way He works with His creation. One should not argue tongues must continue today based on the fact that the nature of Jesus Christ is immutable. The nature of God and the workings of God are two separate categories. For more information on the subject on tongues, reference Biblical View of Tongues and Have Tongues Ceased.
2 Ellingworth, P. (1993). The Epistle to the Hebrews: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 704). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
3 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 480). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
4 Ellingworth, P., & Nida, E. A. (1994). A handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews (pp. 325–326). New York: United Bible Societies.
[This article is authored by Andrew Rappaport, Founder and President of Striving For Eternity Ministries.]