Taken from Chapter 10 of Prepared to Answer, Second Edition
Without question, miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were very common in the early church as described in the New Testament. To the casual reader, the question would readily arise as to why these gifts would not be available and beneficial for today as well.
Purpose of Miraculous Gifts
In a word, the purpose of these gifts was to reveal and to confirm that the message of the early preachers and teachers was from God, and that these preachers and teachers were also God-sent. Just imagine yourself among those audiences of Jewish listeners described in the early chapters of Acts. Your Jewish training would have caused you to respect the written Word of God, the Scriptures, and to settle all issues of your life by it. Now you are listening to these early apostles and other preachers teaching that this controversial figure, Jesus Christ, has fulfilled the OT Scriptures, so you are no longer under their authority. However, these preachers have no written word from God containing this new message. In fact, no book of what we now call the NT will be written for about 20 years! Therefore, the challenge of leaving a written, time-tested covenant, to accept one which was only verbal at that point, would have been staggering for a Jew! That is, unless these new preachers could validate their claims with miracles.
In Mark 16:15-20, Jesus spoke of these miracles which were to confirm his message and messengers.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Hebrews 2:1-4 speaks clearly of the signs and wonders that were needed to confirm the word that was originally preached.
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? 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 gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
It is vital to remember the background of the Jewish audiences (and later the Gentiles), and how it would have been difficult for them to accept the gospel (as yet unwritten) without these confirming miracles. Also, without the miraculous gifts, there would not even have been a message, for “prophecy” (speaking by inspiration from God) was one of these gifts. Some of the gifts were revelatory (they revealed God’s message) types, and some were confirmatory (they confirmed God’s message). When Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 that the gifts were to be used to build up the body of Christ, he was referring primarily to the revelatory type of gifts. Since God’s revelation is now completed in written form, we can enjoy the same strengthening when this message is spoken by those with non-miraculous gifts of teaching and preaching.
For the gifts to have their desired effect, they would need to be obvious, even to unbelievers: and they clearly were, according to Acts 4:15- 16 and Acts 8:9-13. These were not the kind of alleged “miracles” which were attributable to other causes. Even the enemies of the early church could not deny that the miracles were real and totally amazing.
Furthermore, if the “tongues” were merely ecstatic utterances (unintelligible vocal sounds, as with modern claims), they would not have convinced anyone of anything, because ecstatic utterances were widely practiced in pagan religions long before the church was established. This fact is easily documented, and therefore such “tongues” would have done nothing to impress unbelievers with the truth of these messengers and their messages.
How the Gifts Were Received
The position that I have taken here is that the miraculous gifts in the NT times could only be passed on through the laying on of apostles’ hands. They had received a special measure of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them not only to possess these gifts, but to spread them to other Christians as the needs in the church dictated. A careful examination of the applicable passages will yield evidence that is quite compelling.
In Acts 2, although 120 believers may have been present, only the apostles spoke in tongues which were actually languages or dialects (glossa and dialekto in Greek). Note the following reasons: (1) in verse 1, “they” goes back to the nearest antecedent “the apostles” in 1:26; (2) in verse 7, all of the speakers were said to be Galileans. (Although the apostles were all chosen in Galilee, the setting for this occasion was in Judea, quite a distance away. Certainly, not all of the 120 would have been from Galilee.) (3) in verse 14, it specifically says that Peter stood up with “the Eleven”; (4) the question raised by those in the audience was addressed to Peter and the other apostles; (5) after baptism, those early disciples devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching; and lastly, (6) verse 43 tells us that the ongoing wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
Acts 2 also demonstrates that the “tongues” were understandable languages, not simply some kind of ecstatic utterances. In verse 6, the audience heard them speaking in their “own language.” The Greek word here is actually the word for dialect, which is even more specific. The same word indicating dialect is found in verse 8, where it is translated “own native language.” Then, in verse 11, it says that “they were declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.” The Greek word for “tongues” here is glossa, the basic word for a language.
Between Acts 2 and Acts 6, all miracles were performed by apostles only. Then, in Acts 6:1-6, seven spiritual men were chosen to help with the distribution of food to widows, after which the apostles’ hands were laid on them (verse 6). Immediately afterwards, Stephen, one of the seven, did miracles (verse 8). This is the first mention in the Book of Acts of anyone besides the apostles doing any miracles. And it occurred right after the seven men received the laying on of the apostle’s hands! Philip, another of the seven, is the next person to perform miracles (Acts 8, beginning in verse 5). Although Philip could do powerful miracles, he could not pass on this gift to others, as verses 14-19 make clear.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Notice that Simon tried to buy this ability from the apostles, rather than from Philip, although Philip could do the miracles.
The apostle Paul also laid hands on those who then received miraculous abilities (Acts 19:1-7). When writing to the church at Rome, Paul mentioned that he wanted to impart some additional gift (Romans 1:11) by which the Roman Christians might be strengthened. When Romans 12 is compared with a very similar chapter discussing gifts in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12), the difference in the nature of these gifts is striking. Notice in Romans 12 that the gifts in the body are all non-miraculous, except for prophecy. The parallel in 1 Corinthians 12 names many miraculous gifts. Paul planted the church at Corinth, and laid hands on many of the disciples; but when Romans was written, no apostle had yet been there. Therefore, one church had many who could do miraculous gifts, while the other church had very few (if any). Those few evidently had moved to Rome from other churches that had been planted by apostles.
How Long Were the Gifts to Last?
If the miraculous gifts came only through the laying on of apostles’ hands, they would cease when the apostles, and those on whom the apostles had laid their hands, had all died. Also, if the reason for the gifts was to reveal and confirm the message and the messengers, then when the message was delivered in written form, the need would have been met. By the time Paul had written his last inspired letter, he must have known that the Scriptures (which now included his own writing) would soon be completed, as the NT joined the OT in God’s complete revelation. These Scriptures would equip Timothy and all disciples for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
An important point to mention at this juncture is that the miraculous gifts accompanied new revelation. If the miracles are occurring today, as the Pentecostals claim, where and what is the new revelation? The Mormons actually claim that their additional books are confirmed by their practice of miraculous gifts. The proponents of the Holiness Movement, then, should not reject the Mormon writings, but they do. Now that the message has been revealed and confirmed and committed to writing (the NT), the written descriptions of the miracles do for us today what the actual miracles did for them in that day (John 20:30-31):
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
If the written descriptions of the miracles are sufficient to produce faith in man, which leads to salvation, just what else would we need? Actually, Jesus recognized a greater degree of faith in us who have not seen these things personally but have accepted the Word’s testimony:
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).
Some claim that miracles are still needed today in order to confirm the Scriptures for us. This overlooks the fact that the Scriptures have already been confirmed and can now produce saving faith in us (John 20:31; Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 3:3-5). Also, according to Romans 1:4, Jesus was confirmed to be God’s Son by the resurrection. If miracles are needed in each generation to reconfirm the Scriptures, then every generation would also need another resurrection of Jesus to reconfirm him as God’s Son! Certainly, the Scriptures have been confirmed adequately, and they carry within themselves their own self-authenticating miracles. Besides these obvious and necessary logical conclusions, 1 Corinthians 13:10 (which we will explore later in this chapter) predicted the ending of the miraculous gifts.
Miraculous Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14
Enumeration. The church at Corinth had problems with their attitudes toward, and use of, spiritual gifts. A particular problem was their pride in exercising the somewhat “showy” gift of tongues. Paul corrected their problems by demonstrating the proper way to view and use these gifts. In chapter 12, he gave the enumeration (listing) of the gifts; in chapter 13, the duration of the gifts; and in chapter 14, the regulation of these gifts for as long as they were to be in effect. Importantly, the church at Corinth provides conclusive evidence that the presence of the gifts, even in abundance, was no guarantee that the Christians would be spiritual. In fact, this church seemed to have more gifts than any other mentioned in the NT, and yet these disciples were about the least spiritual of any mentioned! The modern claim that the truly spiritual people get the gifts flatly contradicts what we see in the NT.
The enumeration of the gifts is found in 12:8-10. They were as follows:
- the message of wisdom
- the message of knowledge
- faith (evidently of a miraculous type)
- gifts of healing
- miraculous powers
- distinguishing between spirits
- the interpretation of tongues
In verses 29-30, Paul asks some rhetorical questions: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” Clearly, not everyone had the same gifts. Specifically, all did not speak with tongues, contrary to charismatic teaching. Furthermore, verse 30 shows that a non-miraculous gift is greater than the miraculous. Thus, Paul leads into chapter 13 with the call for every person, above all else, to exhibit love.
Duration. The duration of the gifts is described in chapter 13, in a context which depicts the superiority of love. Tongues, without love, were worthless. Prophecy, without love, was and is worthless. Knowledge, without love, was and is worthless. Faith, without love, was and is worthless. Giving, without love, was and is worthless. Even a sacrificial death without love is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Notice that tongues, prophecy, knowledge and faith, in the context of the preceding chapter, are all miraculous gifts. Then, in chapter 13 verses 4-7, Paul describes real love (the “agape” type), as contrasted with their spiritual immaturity and erroneous use of gifts.
Next, in verses 8-10, Paul shows that love will continue when the gifts have fulfilled their purpose and ceased.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
This passage says plainly that prophecy, tongues and knowledge were going to cease. Furthermore, they were only partial in their effects (verse 9). For example, a prophet could give only a partial message at any one time (see 14:29-32). He could not state all aspects of a subject, as we can today, through the use of a completed Word—the OT and NT.
Then, in verse 10, the partial gifts were said to last until perfection came. Just what was the “perfection”? It is not Christ, for the Greek term is neuter in gender, whereas it would be masculine if it were referring to him. It is not love, because love is feminine in gender. Notice that the “perfection” will take the place of the “partial.” Since the partial gifts mentioned here are all revelatory gifts, then the perfection must have to do with revelation. Otherwise, it could not replace the partial. Therefore, the perfection (or complete, from “telios” in Greek) must at least include a completed revelation, which would end the need for miraculous gifts. Our earlier study has shown this to be a logical conclusion of a completed revelation, and now this passage has demonstrated the validity of such a conclusion.
We now can turn to a written and “perfect” law of liberty (according to James 1:25) which employs the same Greek word as that in 1 Corinthians 13:10. Paul’s argument is a warning against being so enamored with gifts that are temporary anyway. He urges concentration on love, for it will always be with us. While it is tempting to say that the perfect in verse 10 is simply the completed NT revelation, the text doesn’t demand such a limitation; the context suggests that more may be involved and logic would say that more must be involved. The real purpose of these three chapters in 1 Corinthians, as already noted, was to deal with worldly pride and immaturity in their view and the use of miraculous gifts.
Having a completed revelation does not rule out pride and immaturity, although it surely would help in their case. What does rule it out is maturity and spirituality. Thus, in our verse under examination, it seems best to focus on the cessation of gifts (especially their misuse and abuse) as Paul’s plan for their maturation process—when love would reign supreme and disunity be dispelled. He uses similar wording in Ephesians 4:11-16, when unity based on maturity was to rule out being tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching. Certainly, the completed revelation would be a part of that, as it would in 1 Corinthians 13:10, which would help eliminate immaturity based on pride. Just knowing that the gifts were partial, temporary and inferior to love would help the hearts and attitudes to change. This interpretation fits the context in showing that the partial, miraculous gifts were to cease, but keeps the real focus on maturing in love and respect for one another. The completed NT in writing was not incidental to Paul’s purpose in writing, but neither was it his main focus.
Regulation. The regulation of the miraculous gifts is found in chapter 14. As long as these gifts did remain in effect, they needed to be exercised with God’s restraints. Prophecy was a much greater gift than tongues because it was understood much more easily (verses 1-19). Some find a supposed basis for ecstatic utterances in verses like verse 2: “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” If one only read verse 2, such an interpretation would seem possible. However, verse 2 could also be explained as being a situation where a person was speaking a real language which neither he nor anyone in the audience understood. Thus, it would be a mystery to everyone present except God.
The above explanation is in perfect accord with the context of the discussion, as verses 22-23 show:
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
It is true that just knowing that God was speaking such a language through someone would provide some building up for them (verse 4). However, it would not do anyone else real good unless someone present had the gift of interpretation (see verses 5, 13, 27, 28, in this regard). This explanation takes into account all other considerations which we have studied, such as the meaning of “glossa”—a language—whereas the ecstatic utterance position does not.
In verses 26-40, the specific regulations for using the supernatural gifts in the first-century assemblies are outlined. Everything in the assembly was to be done for strengthening the hearers (verse 26). When tongues were being used, three people at the most could speak, one at a time, and only if an interpreter were present. If no interpreter was present, no tongues could be spoken (verses 27-28)! Two or three prophets would speak, one at a time, only until the next prophet received a revelation, and then the speaker had to stop and sit down (verses 29-33). Note that in verse 12, a warning is given against getting “carried away” and saying that you could not stop because you were “in the Spirit.”
Women were to be silent in the assemblies, not being permitted to speak (verses 34-35). As we discuss in Appendix III, these women were most likely the wives of the inspired speakers in the service. The wives were interrupting their husbands, and in doing so, were disrupting a service which was to be conducted in an orderly manner. Paul then warns people against over-reacting and forbidding certain people with the gift to speak in tongues entirely. However, they were to be careful about keeping within these regulations as long as the gifts were operative (verses 39-40).
In view of the foregoing biblical consideration, the charismatic movement today is not based on the Holy Spirit’s activity. Although its adherents are often well-intentioned and sincere, it is a movement based on emotionalism. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to promote truth in a spirit of gentleness and love. May God help us to help others who have been misled in this area of exercising so-called spiritual gifts!