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Part IV: The Duration of Spiritual Gifts

Note: This is the conclusion of a series of studies about miracles, tongues, Holy Spirit baptism, healings, and spiritual gifts. If you have not read the previous articles, then please click here to start at the beginning.

Introduction:

We have learned that the purposes of spiritual gifts pertained to the work of revealing and confirming God's will for man. And that work was completed during the lifetime of the original apostles.

Our purpose now will be to consider whether, when this work was completed, the gifts were to continue or did God cause them to cease?

Some people believe that miracles and direct revelation still occur today. Is this correct, or have the gifts ceased?


I. Evidence that Spiritual Gifts Have Ceased.


A. No Modern Events Have the Characteristics of Bible Miracles.

We have already studied the characteristics of true revelations and true miracles. Consider the application to the existence of miracles at all today.

Modern "revelations" have the characteristics of false prophecy, not true prophecy.

The Bible warns about false prophets:

Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; etc.

The teachings of true inspired men always agreed with Scripture, and their predictions of the future always came true.

False prophets could be distinguished from true prophets, because teachings of false prophets did not always harmonize with scriptures and their predictions did not always come true (Deut. 18:20-22; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11).

When the revelations of modern "prophets" are examined, invariably they eventually contradict the Bible and/or their predictions fail.

We earlier cited many examples of this. To demonstrate this to be true in any specific case, simply study their "revelations" according to these principles. Hence, they must be false prophets, not true ones.

Modern "miracles" have the characteristics of false miracles, not true miracles.

The Bible warns about false miracles:

Acts 8:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Matthew 24:24; etc.

As previously studied, every true miracle always had all the following characteristics:

* There was conclusive evidence that the event really occurred.

* The event occurred instantaneously (or in exactly the limited time period God specified).

* There were never any failures when miracles were attempted (by Jesus or by His apostles after they received Holy Spirit baptism).

* The results always completely and perfectly accomplished the intended purpose.

* So the event was clearly impossible by natural law.

Men who had truly miraculous powers could be distinguished from those who worked false miracles by comparing the characteristics of the works performed.

To prove they were really from God, men with truly miraculous powers were willing to work miracles even in the presence of false teachers, and all their miracles always had all the characteristics of true miracles. False miracle workers were known by the fact their works lacked the characteristics of true miracles. Acts 8:5-13; 13:6-12; 19:11-17; 1 Kings 18:20-40; Ex. chaps 7-12 (esp. 8:17-19); see other examples previously listed.

On close examination, the works of all modern "miracle-workers" are found to lack some or all of the characteristics of true miracles.

We earlier gave examples of this. Again, to demonstrate it in any particular case, simply compare the events people claim are "miracles" to the Bible characteristics.

In practice people will usually refuse to work miracles in the presence of those who don't believe they can do them or those they claim are "false teachers." They rely instead on "testimonies" of those they have "healed." But this simply proves they are false, for men with true miracle power did not so refuse.

We continually hear people who claim they can do or have received miracles today. If these gifts exist today, there should be many examples that have the characteristics of true Bible miracles. But all we ever find are the frauds. So we must conclude that the gifts have ceased, and all those who claim to possess the gifts are false.

B. Spiritual Gifts Are No Longer Needed, Because They Have Fulfilled Their Purpose.

We have already studied the purposes of the gifts and the fulfillment of those purposes.

See earlier notes for the specific evidence.

Some gifts were given for the purpose of delivering the revelation of God's will.

This work was completed by the end of the lifetime of the original apostles. The apostles received all truth that God gave in order for man to know how to please God and be saved. Then they recorded this message in the Scriptures.

God then promised to preserve the message in the written word throughout all ages. So we today have the complete revelation of God's will in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16,17).

We need no further revelation today. The purpose of the gifts of direct revelation has been fulfilled.

Some gifts were given for the purpose of confirming the revelations that God gave.

The gifts may have served other purposes, but this was the primary purpose and was the determining purpose in whether or not miracles occurred. When miracles were not needed to accomplish this purpose, they did not occur.

John 20:29-31 - The Bible not only records the revelation of God's will, it also records the eyewitness testimony of the miracles that confirm the message to be from God. We do not need miracles today to convince us to believe in God and the Bible. We have adequate evidence in the written word.

It follows that when direct revelation was no longer needed, then the gifts of confirmation would no longer be needed. This work was completed during the lifetime of the original apostles, therefore these gifts are no longer needed.

Throughout the Bible, whenever a work of God had fulfilled its purpose, it ceased.

Consider some examples:

  • Creation of the world - Genesis chaps 1,2 (note 2:1,2 ).
  • Universal flood - Genesis chaps. 6-9 (note 9:8-17).
  • Sacrifice of a son - Genesis chap. 22.
  • Animal sacrifices - Hebrews 10:1-18
  • Circumcision - 1 Corinthians 7:18-20; Galatians 5:2-8; etc.
  • Virgin birth - Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35
  • Earthly life and death of Jesus - Hebrews 9:26,28; 10:10; 7:26,27; etc.
  • Resurrection of Jesus - Romans 1:4.
  • All of these are works God once did but has ceased because their purpose was accomplished. And note that many of them involved miracles. Can you name any work, which God continued to do after it had fulfilled its purpose, when it was no longer needed?

    We earlier studied some attempts of people who claim miracles are needed today. But we showed that they are claiming, either things that are not really needed today according to the Bible, or things that never were the intended purpose of miracles.

    The clear pattern is that God ceases to do works, including miraculous works, when their purpose has been accomplished. All miracles have now accomplished their purpose, so the pattern of God's past works should convince us that He ceased them all.

    C. There Is No Means By Which People Today Can Receive These Gifts.

    As we studied earlier, the possible means no longer exist today by which people could receive the gifts.

    People received spiritual gifts by two possible means.

    1. Holy Spirit baptism

    Holy Spirit baptism was never required or even promised to all people. God never implied He would continue to give it to people throughout all ages.

    The purpose of Holy Spirit baptism was to give people miraculous powers. But these powers fulfilled their purpose and are no longer needed. Since the gifts themselves have ceased, it follows that Holy Spirit baptism is no longer needed to give the powers.

    Ephesians 4:3-6 - There is one baptism today.

    We learned that water baptism is commanded for people of all ages. In fact, nearly all groups today practice some form of water baptism, including those who also claim Holy Spirit baptism.

    Holy Spirit baptism and water baptism are two separate and distinct baptisms (Acts 1:5). But Ephesians 4 expressly says that, when Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, there was only one baptism. We can no more practice two separate and distinct baptisms today than we can worship two Heavenly Fathers!

    So, whereas there have been several baptisms practiced at various times, by the time Ephesians was written, all these baptisms had ceased except one. But we know water baptism was to continue for all ages. Therefore, Holy Spirit baptism must have ceased before Ephesians was written.

    2. Laying on of apostles' hands

    People also received spiritual gifts by having apostles lay hands on them. But we have seen that only apostles could impart gifts in this way. Even if other people had received gifts from an apostle, they could not in turn impart or pass on spiritual gifts to others.

    This means of receiving the gifts has also fulfilled its purpose and ceased, as we will see, since there are no apostles today.

    Apostles were always involved, whenever people received miraculous powers.

    Whether by Holy Spirit baptism or by laying on of apostles' hands, no one ever received miraculous powers after Jesus' resurrection except with the direct, personal involvement of an apostle.

    But we have also seen that no one today meets the qualifications of apostles.

  • No one works the true signs of apostles.
  • No one is directly guided by the Spirit as apostles were.
  • No one is a personal eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.
  • No one has been called directly by Jesus to serve as an apostle.
  • So apostles were always involved whenever anyone received miraculous powers of the Spirit, but there are no apostles today. Therefore, there is no way for people to receive the gifts today. The gifts must have ceased around the time when all apostles had passed away. This harmonizes with the evidence presented earlier.

    D. The Bible Teaches That Miracles Would Cease When Their Purpose Was Fulfilled.

    1 Corinthians 13:8-11 - A prophecy that spiritual gifts would cease

    The context - chaps. 12,13, and 14 all discuss spiritual gifts.

    Chap. 12 lists the gifts (12:4-11) and shows they all had a useful purpose at the time they existed. But 12:31 contrasts the gifts to a "more excellent way."

    Chap. 13 shows the "more excellent way" is love. Love is greater than spiritual gifts primarily in that love will endure eternally, whereas the gifts were temporary and would cease.

    Chap. 14 gives regulations regarding the proper use of the gifts for the temporary period of time when they continued to exist.

    Why and when would spiritual gifts cease? - 13:8-10

    The gifts would cease because they were "in part" (vv 9,10) - in some sense they were incomplete and imperfect.

    They would cease "when that which is perfect is come" (v10). Note: "That which is perfect" is contrasted to "that which is in part" (spiritual gifts). "That which is perfect" in some sense completes or perfects that which is incomplete or imperfect about spiritual gifts. If we can determine in what sense spiritual gifts were "in part," then we will understand when and why they would cease.

    In what way were the gifts "in part"?

    The only sensible answer is that, at the time Paul wrote, the gifts had only partly accomplished their purpose.

    The gifts were then in the process of delivering the will of God (this use of the gifts is frequently mentioned in chaps 12-14). But the delivery was not complete when Paul wrote.

    Since "that which is perfect (complete)" is contrasted to "that which is in part", we conclude "that which is perfect" must refer to the complete revelation of all truth. When the revelation had been completely delivered, spiritual gifts would have accomplished their purpose and would no longer be needed, so they would cease.

    When did this occur? Near the end of the lifetime of the original apostles, as we have seen! Remember the gifts were needed because people did not have the written word. In fact the gifts were needed to give men the written word. When the scriptures were complete, direct revelation was no longer needed, so it ceased.

    V11 - an illustration:

    A child cannot speak or walk well. It drinks only milk, needs its diaper changed, etc. As it grows up, it ceases these childish acts. So when God first began to reveal the gospel, gifts of prophecy, tongues, etc., were needed to deliver the message. But when the message became mature - i.e., completely delivered - then those gifts that pertained to its delivery, were not needed and so ceased.

    Another illustration: While a man is building a house, he needs to hammer and saw, etc. When the house is complete, the hammering and sawing are no longer needed, so they cease. So the gifts were needed while the gospel was being revealed, but ceased when the revelation was complete.

    James 1:25 describes the gospel as the "perfect law of liberty."

    Some think "that which is perfect" refers to Jesus' second coming (either Jesus Himself or some other event at Jesus' return).

    * Where does the context refer to Jesus' return? How would spiritual gifts ("that which is in part") contrast to Jesus ("that which is perfect")? Jesus second coming fits neither the context nor Paul's logic.

    * The 3 spiritual gifts listed (prophecy, tongues, and knowledge - v8) are also contrasted to 3 abiding qualities: faith, hope, and love (v13).

    The spiritual gifts are temporary - they cease "when that which is perfect" is come (vl0). But faith, hope, and love are abiding compared to the gifts. Hence, they do not cease "when that which is perfect is come."

    But this cannot refer to Jesus' second coming, for then faith and hope will cease (Romans 8:24; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1). To say spiritual gifts will last till Jesus returns would be to say that the gifts are as enduring as faith and hope; but this is just the opposite of what the passage says.

    Spiritual gifts must cease before Jesus' second coming. The only reasonable time that could happen is when the scriptures were completed.

    For people to insist we need spiritual gifts today would be as unreasonable as dressing a full-grown man in a diaper and feeding him from a baby bottle!

    Jude 3 - The faith (gospel) was "once" delivered to the saints.

    "Once" is translated "once for all" (New King James Version, American Standard Version, and others). It is "used of what is so done as to be of perpetual validity and never need repetition" - Thayer.

    Hebrews 9:26,28; 10:10; 7:26,27; 1 Peter 3:18 - "Once" (same Greek word) describes Jesus' death in contrast to animal sacrifices.

    Old Testament sacrifices did not completely remove sins, so they continued to be offered. But Jesus' death was perfect and sufficient to completely remove all sin for all men of all ages, so it happened only "once". It did not need to be repeated, so it never will be repeated. To say we need more sacrifice would be to deny the perfection of Jesus' sacrifice.

    Likewise, the faith was delivered "once" (for all).

    Spiritual gifts continued as long as God's perfect testament had not been perfectly and completely revealed. But the perfect New Testament was perfectly and completely delivered to men in the first century. It does not need to be delivered again, so it never will be delivered again. Therefore the spiritual gifts by which it was delivered have ceased. To say we still need spiritual gifts would be to deny the perfection of the New Testament.

    Everything Jesus did was perfect. He not only gave us a perfect sacrifice for sin, He also gave us the perfect New Testament to tell us how to receive forgiveness (Hebrews 1:1,2; James 1:25). The delivery of the New Testament will not be repeated, because the revelation we have needs no improvements, just like Jesus' death will never be repeated because it needs no improvements.

    Every person who seeks spiritual gifts today is saying (perhaps unintentionally) that he lacks faith in the Bible as the complete and perfect revelation of God's will. Those who are satisfied with the Scriptures will appreciate that they need no other revelation, so they believe God when He says there will be no other revelation.


    II. Answers to Evidence that Spiritual Gifts Are for Today.


    We have already answered many such arguments, but here are a few remaining ones:

    A. Those Who Seek Signs Are a "Wicked and Adulterous Generation" - Matt. 12:38,39.

    This objection is offered when we challenge people who believe in miracles to prove they exist by working some (see also Matthew 16:lf; John 2:18; 6:26-30; 1 Cor. 1:22).

    We have cited many examples in which God's prophets deliberately worked signs to prove they were from God.

    And they did so in the presence of false teachers and unbelievers, so people could examine the miracles and see the difference between them and false miracles. Evidently they did not believe that it was "wicked and adulterous" for people to ask for signs, in the age when they did exist.

    On the contrary, we have shown by the Scriptures that the purpose of miracles was to confirm the message. They were deliberately done to give people evidence.

    1 John 4:1 - God commands us to put teachers to the test to see whether or not they speak truth. This is all we seek to do.

    Jesus only rebuked people for requesting more signs after they had seen enough they should have believed.

    He did not condemn people for sincerely wanting signs so they could determine whether He was from God. These people had already seen many signs (see Matthew chaps 4-12, esp. 12:9-14,22-24). But instead of believing and repenting (v41), they just demanded more signs.

    But this is not our case. We have seen no signs at all! One is "wicked and adulterous" only when he has already received enough evidence yet still refuses to believe and demands more evidence.

    When Jesus refused to do miracles, He did not give testimonials or argue with those who sought them.

    When we challenge those who believe in modern miracles, they respond by citing an endless string of testimonials and arguments to try to prove that they really do have miracles. Some have conducted numerous public debates to prove such miracles exist!

    Jesus never debated, argued, or gave testimonials to prove He could do miracles. If He knew people needed the opportunity to see miracles, He just did them. If He knew people had sufficient evidence but still did not believe, He rebuked them and left. But He never tried to argue them into believing He could do miracles.

    Even so, Jesus still gave another sign - the RESURRECTION (v39,40).

    This sign will satisfy us. Just raise people from the dead, where we can see and know it has happened, and we won't ask for any more miracles afterward!

    In reality, Matthew 12 rebukes those who still want miracles today.

    They have already been given adequate evidence of miracles as recorded in the Scripture (John 20:30,31). But they are not satisfied with those miracles, so they continue to ask for more! That is exactly what Jesus did rebuke.

    We are satisfied with the miracles Jesus and His apostles and prophets already did. They were adequate to accomplish God's purpose, so they ceased. People who claim miracles still exist are the ones who are not satisfied with the miracles God has already done.

    B. Jesus Is the Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever - Hebrews 13:8.

    So it is argued that, if He worked miracles "yesterday," He must do so "today."

    The passage also says He is the same "forever."

    If this argument is valid, then God must work miracles forever. But this clearly contradicts 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, which everyone agrees says the miracles will cease someday.

    There are many things God has done in the past but He is not doing them today.

    We have listed many things He has done, including many miracles. The whole point of the context of Hebrews is that He has ceased doing many things that He did under the Old Testament.

    If He can cease doing these works, including these miracles, without violating Hebrews 13:8, why can't He cease doing all miracles without violating Hebrews 13:8?

    Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same, not that He does the same.

    His character remains unchanged. He is always loving, merciful, just, all-powerful, etc. - this does not change. But His deeds and His will for men have changed, including the miracles.

    C. To Say Spiritual Gifts Have Ceased Would Limit God's Love and Make Him a Respecter of Persons (Acts 10:34,35).

    We are told that, by His miracles, God showed love and gave blessings to people in the Old Testament and in the first century. If He stopped, then this would indicate He is a respecter of persons and does not love us as He did those people.

    Not all people were equally gifted even in the age of spiritual gifts - 1 Corinthians 12:28-30,4-11.

    Some believers possessed no spiritual gifts at all, and those that did possess them differed in their gifts. We have also shown that some people received miracles (such as healings) and others did not. (See notes on the purpose of miracles.)

    Did that make God a respecter of persons? Did God not love all those people?

    Among people today who claim spiritual gifts, are all equally gifted?

    Do all believers today possess all the miraculous powers just the same as all other believers? Do all believers today receive miracles the same as all other believers?

    If not, does that make God a respecter of persons? Does He not love everyone the same today? Why is it that people can believe God gives different gifts to different people and that is not partiality of lack of love, but if we claim all are equal today (no one has any gifts), then we are charged that our view makes God partial and lacking in love?

    This objection is based on a lack of respect for the Scriptures.

    It assumes that, even though we have the Bible, we are at some disadvantage to people who had spiritual gifts. It is true that we don't have gifts as those people did; but it is also true that we do have the completed Scriptures, which they did not. In fact, the reason the gifts ceased is that we now have the Scriptures, so the gifts are not needed.

    We are at no disadvantage to people in the age when miracles existed, therefore God is not a respecter of persons nor has He shown us any lack of love. To say otherwise is to belittle the blessing of the Scriptures.

    Once again, this argument proves that those who want miracles today do not appreciate the Bible!

    Love and impartiality led God to offer salvation to all men equally, but it never required Him to give gifts or blessings in this life to all men equally.

    In particular He is not required to give equal abilities or equal blessings to all. If love and impartiality require Him to do miracles today as in the past, why not argue that He must bless us in all other ways equally? Must we all have the same abilities, health, material prosperity, etc.?

    The main point of 1 Corinthians 12 is that, although God gave different gifts to different people, this should not cause problems among us. All can be pleasing to God equally if they use the abilities He gives.

    Acts 10:34,35 - God's impartiality pertains to whether or not we are accepted by Him, not to the abilities or blessings we have in this life.

    To argue that love and impartiality require God to give equal gifts to all is to flatly contradict the Scripture that discuss spiritual gifts!

    D. To Deny Miracles Today Is To Deny God's Power.

    We are told that God is all-powerful, so He can always do miracles. If we claim He does not do them today, then we are denying or limiting His power.

    But we have already proved that there are things God did in the past that He is not doing now.

    See the list of points already discussed. Note that the list even includes many miracles. If God ceased to do them, does that prove He lacks the power to do them?

    Do you deny that God has ceased to do these works? If you agree that God is not doing some of these works, then are you limiting God's power?

    If you can understand how God can cease doing any of these works, yet He is still all-powerful, then you can just as easily understand how He can cease doing all miracles yet still be all-powerful.

    It is a question, not of God's power, but of God's will.

    There are many things God has the power to do, but He chooses not to do them, because it is not in accord with His will. Of the works we have proved God has ceased, the reason He ceased them is because He wills not to do them. He does not lack the power to do them.

    We have shown all along that God ceases to do works, when their purpose is accomplished. It is not that He lacks the power to do them, but they simply no longer accomplish His purpose. So He stops.

    We have shown by the Scriptures that one of the works God does not will to do today is miracles. And we have shown why He does not work them.

    We don't deny God's power. If it was His will to do them, He could do them. But is it not His will.

    The problem is not that we are denying God's power. The problem is that those who insist on miracles for today are denying God's will!

    E. Mark 16:17,18 Says Miracles Will Follow Them That Believe.

    We are told that this refers to the believers who are saved (v16). People still believe today, so we are told that signs must still exist today.

    This argument requires that miracles must continue as long as faith continues.

    Yet 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 definitely says that the gifts would cease at a time when faith yet exists.

    This argument on Mark 16 flatly contradicts 1 Corinthians 13!

    This argument also requires that all saved people must do miracles.

    If "them that believe" in vv 17,18, means all saved believers (v16), then all saved believers must do the signs listed.

    It follows that those who don't do miracles must be unbelievers, so they are condemned! Is this what you really believe?

    In fact, many people who make this argument know many people whom they believe are saved but who do not do miracles. Many of them do not do miracles themselves!

    Even in the first century there were believers who did no signs or did not do them all (1 Corinthians 12; Acts 8; etc.)

    But if Mark 16:17,18 refers to all believers, then we have a contradiction with other passages.

    Most modern "miracle-workers" do only 1 or 2 of the signs of Mark 16.

    If these signs shall follow those who believe, and that means the saved people of v16, then all these signs should be present among believers.

    Yet many who make the argument do not do all the signs and have never seen some of them done. Why not?

    The purpose of the signs was to confirm the message preached (v20).

    Yet many who claim modern miracles don't truly believe what v16 says about the necessity of baptism, or they contradict other Bible teachings.

    Further, those who claim to do signs often contradict one another, despite the fact they all tell similar testimonies. Whose preaching is being confirmed? Does the Spirit confirm false teaching?

    The context mentions two groups of people who need faith, not just one group.

    People, who believe in miracles for today, argue that vv 17,18 refer to those in v16 who need to believe. But they overlook that the context mentions another group who needed to believe. The people Jesus commanded to preach the gospel needed faith (v11-15) just as surely as did those who hear the gospel (v15,16). Which group is referred to that would believe and do miracles according to vv 17,18?

    Jesus is here speaking to the apostles. They are the ones who needed the faith to do these signs.

    V20 answers further by showing clearly who it was that did the signs. It was the preachers who did the signs (the apostles). Therefore, they are the ones referred to in v17,18, not those who hear and believe (v16). This harmonizes with the other teachings on miracles we have already studied.

    So Mark 16:17,18 simply means that the apostles needed faith, so they could do miracles. V20 confirms that they were the ones who did them. When people claim that the passage is promising that all believers can do miracles, they contradict the context, other passages, and reality.

    Conclusion

    Miracles and spiritual gifts played an essential role in God's plan. We must appreciate and understand that role.

    The miraculous powers were essential to reveal the word of God, record it in the Scriptures, and confirm it to be God's will. We need to respect and appreciate that message.

    However, when the message was completed, the gifts were no longer needed, so they ceased. To believe otherwise is to misunderstand God's will and show a lack of respect for Scripture. Many false doctrines have been believed and practiced as a result.

    (End of series)

    (C) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte
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