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The Nature of Spiritual Gifts: Healings, Miracles, Prophecy

The Nature of Spiritual Gifts: Healings, Miracles, Prophecy
Note: This article continues a series of studies about miracles, tongues, Holy Spirit baptism, healings, and spiritual gifts. 

If you have not read the previous articles, please click here to start at the beginning.


The Spirit has used miraculous gifts to reveal the will of God and to confirm that the message revealed really came from God (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). In this section, we wish to study the nature of those gifts. What were they like and what did they empower men to do?

Note that Satan has always produced lying counterfeits in imitation of what God does.

In particular, the Bible warns about:

* False prophets - Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1; Matthew 15:14; Acts 13:6-12; Revelation 2:2.

* False miracles (amazing works claimed to be from God) - Acts 8:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Matthew 7:21-23; Ex. 7:8-12,20-22; 8:6,7,17-19; Matthew 24:24

Our study of the characteristics of true spiritual gifts will help us distinguish them from Satan's counterfeits. We will see that the nature of true spiritual gifts was such that Satan's false workers can not duplicate them. So we can distinguish the true from the fake by their characteristics.

I. Gifts of Direct Revelation

Until the Bible had been completed, God gradually revealed new revelation to people by direct guidance of the Spirit. What was this guidance like?

Today people often claim to be "led" by the Spirit in addition to Bible teachings. Do these people have direct guidance like the Bible describes?

To understand the work of a prophet compare Exodus 4:10-16 to 7:1,2 . Moses' was God's mouth because God told him what to say. So Aaron was Moses' mouth or spokesman, because Moses' told him what to say. But Exodus 7:1,2 calls this the work of a "prophet."

Hence, a prophet was a mouthpiece or a spokesman. Prophecy was the ability to speak the will of God by the direct guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Consider now the characteristics of true direct revelation (prophecy):

A. The Revelation Always Gave the Exact Will of God in Words God Selected.

The message was divine in origin, not in any sense human.

Direct revelation in the Bible

General passages

Matthew 10:19,20 - Men did not need to study because God would speak through them. It was not the men who would speak. God gave what and how to speak.

1 Corinthians 14:37 - What was taught was the commands of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 18:18,19 - God put his words in the prophet's mouth. Then the prophet spoke to the people.

2 Peter 1:21 - Prophecy did not come by will of men, but men spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit.

2 Samuel 23:1,2 - God's word was on the prophet's tongue. The Spirit spoke by him.

Some methods used:

  • Audible voice - 1 Samuel 3:1-18
  • Vision - Acts 10:9-16
  • Angel - Acts 10:3-8; Matthew 1:18-25;
  • Dream - Genesis 37; Daniel 2; etc.
  • Note that every direct revelation was capable of being described in words, which could be repeated to others. This could be done even if the one who received the revelation did not fully understand the lesson taught by those words.

    Modern "revelations"

    Vague "leadings"

    Often people today have an emotional experience or some vague "leading" based on a feeling or impression, or some overwhelming sense of assurance. As a result, they are convinced that they have been saved or that some church or doctrine is true or that they should follow a certain course of action. Then they say the Spirit has "revealed" this to them, and they claim it is God's will.

    When questioned about the nature of the revelation, they cannot clearly describe what happened or how the revelation came - they cannot put this into words. They say it is "better felt than told."

    An excellent example of this is Mormon "testimony" by which they claim to know Mormonism is true. It is nothing but an emotional experience, but they are convinced it is a revelation from the Holy Spirit.

    Such "revelations" are Satan's counterfeits for true revelations. When people receive true revelations from God they are always able to describe exactly in what form the revelation came, and they can put into words the content of the message.

    Understanding of Scripture

    Other people claim that the Holy Spirit directly reveals to them an understanding of the Bible, when they study it. But this is not prophecy nor is there any such spiritual gift. Prophecy did not involve understanding Scripture but revealing infallibly that which was not learned by study.

    B. The Revelation Was Always True - Inerrant and Infallible.

    It could not be false in any sense, including in its predictions of the future.

    Bible examples

    John 17:17 - God's word is truth. (Psalm 119:160,142)

    Deuteronomy 18:20-22 - A prediction may claim to be from God, but if it does not come true, then it is not from God.

    Psalm 33:4; 119:128; 19:8 - God's word is right.

    Revelation 21:5 - These words are true and faithful. [19:9]

    Matthew 22:32 - Even the tense of verbs must be accurate. (Galatians 3:16?)

    Modern examples

    Modern "prophets" often make predictions that do not come true.

    * Many have predicted the time of Jesus' coming, etc.

    * Prophecies of Mormonism's Joseph Smith, Jr.:

  • Jesus to come within 56 years of 1835
  • Temple would be built within a generation of 1832
  • Several Mormon apostles would live to see Jesus' return
  • Civil War would be a "full end of all nations"
  • "Book of Abraham" translated from a book of heathen Egyptian burial rites.
  • * Prophecies of Jean Dixon

  • World War III to begin in 1958
  • Russia to put first man on the moon
  • Lyndon Johnson would run for president in 1968 (he refused)
  • Pres. Ford to resign & Rockefeller replace him
  • Reagan to be 1976 GOP candidate (Ford won)
  • * Faith healer Robert Tilton was sued by Beverly Crowley, because Tilton kept sending requests for donations to Mrs. Crowley's husband and promising to heal him. One such letter said, "God spoke to me this morning specifically about you, Tom, and He's going to heal you." When the letter was written, Mrs. Crowley's husband had been dead for five months! - via Greg Gwin, West Knoxville bulletin.

    People who claim to be led of the Spirit often contradict one another.

    Examples: Mormons, Pentecostals, Catholics, etc. How can all be led of the Spirit when they contradict one another? How can we know which is really led by the Spirit?

    Often people have a "leading" which proves to be untrue.

    They may they follow it and get into trouble, so they realize it was not of God. Or they may actually contradict some other "revelation" they themselves had some other time.

    Usually, they just forget about it or even admit it wasn't from God. But then how can they trust other "leadings"? The truth is that none of them are from God, because they don't have the characteristics of true revelation.

    C. The Revelation Always Harmonized with Other Revelation From God.

    Bible examples:

    Acts 17:11,12 - New revelations were checked by comparing to old ones.

    Galatians 1:6-9 - Any new revelation which differs from previous ones is false.

    In this way, New Testament prophets often used the Old Testament to prove they were of God - Luke 24:25-27,44-46; Acts 2:14-36; John 5:39,46; etc.

    Modern examples:

    Many people today who claim direct revelation will teach things that directly contradict the Bible:

    (1) Salvation before or without immersion in water (Cf. Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27; I Peter 3:21)

    (2) Old Testament law is still binding (Cf. Hebrews 10:1-10; 7:11-14; 8:6-13; 9:1-4; 2 Corinthians 3:6-11; Galatians 3:24,25; 5:1-6; Romans 7:1-7; Ephesians 2:11-16; Colossians 2:13-17)

    (3) Women preachers (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:34,35; 1 Timothy 2:11,12)

    A fourth characteristic of direct revelation is that it was always confirmed by miraculous signs. This will be discussed under a later point.

    II. Gifts of Miraculous Confirmation

    In order to prove that certain people had a message from God, the Spirit accompanied their preaching by miraculous powers. What were these gifts like? People today often claim to have these powers like Jesus and His apostles did. Do these people really have what the New Testament describes?

    There are three terms used in the New Testament to refer to miracles (see Acts 2:22; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3,4). Consider some definitions of them.


    Translated "mighty work" or "power" in ASV. This term emphasizes the power possessed by the One (God) who is the source of the event.


    This term emphasizes the unique nature of the event. It is impossible by the normal laws of nature or the normal abilities of men, so that its very occurence proves it happened by the power of God.


    This word also emphasizes that the event is impossible by natural law. It emphasizes the amazing or surprising character of the event.

    To help us understand the nature of true Biblical miracles, consider the following characteristics of true miracles (grouped under four headings).

    Note that every New Testament miracle possessed all four of these characteristics. In some cases, as with all eyewitness testimony, certain details are not mentioned; but when the details are mentioned, they always harmonize with these characteristics. As we proceed, we will note the differences between these true Bible miracles and those events which people today claim are miracles like those in the Bible.

    A. There Was Conclusive Evidence that the Miraculous Event Really Had Occurred.

    The occurrence of the event was unmistakably evident to observers.

    Bible miracles

    There was no sleight of hand or trickery. In regard to healings, there was clear evidence that the people had organic disorders, and there was conclusive proof that the problem was removed. There were no invisible or undetectable diseases, no psychosomatic problems (caused by the person's mental or emotional state, such that an improvement in their mental or emotional state would cause the removal of the problem).

    * Lazarus - John 11:17,38,39,43-45. It was clear to all witnesses that he had been dead but came alive again.

    * Blind man - John 9:1,7,18-20,21,25 - It was unquestionably proved that he could not see from birth, but then he was so healed he could see.

    * Woman bowed together - Luke 13:11,13,16 - All could see she was hunch-backed, but then she was straightened.

    * Lame man - Acts 3:2,7,8,10; 4:22. Many people knew he could not walk, but it was obvious that he was enabled to do so. [cf. 14:8-11]

    * Son of the widow of Nain - Luke 7:11-17.

    * Elymas - Acts 13:6-12.

    [See also Mark 1:44; 2:1-4, 10-12; 4:35-41; 7:32-37; Matt. 12:9,14; 14:22-33; John 6:5-14; 2:1-11]

    Modern so-called miracles

    With modern so-called miracles, often there is no evidence the person really had a physical disease. Or there may be no proof the disease was really removed. Or the problem may have been the result of a person's state of mind and was relieved because of their trust in the healer combined with the emotions of the moment, the desire to be healed, the power of suggestion, and the hypnotic powers of the healer.

    Some examples:

    ...a very pretty young girl limped up to the stage. She waved her leg brace in the air and stood, with her pelvis tilted badly, on one good leg and one short, withered leg ... Everyone applauded. The girl cried.
    This scene was, to my mind, utterly revolting. This young girl had a withered leg, the result of polio. It was just as withered now as it had been ten minutes earlier, before Kathryn Kuhlman called for someone to remove her brace. Now she stood in front of ten thousand people giving praise to the Lord - and indirectly to Kathryn Kuhlman - for a cure that hadn't occurred and wasn't going to occur - Nolen, Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle, p.65.
    Not once, in the hour and a half that Kathryn Kuhlman spent healing, did I see a patient with an obvious organic disease healed (i.e., a disease in which there is a structural alteration) - Nolen, p. 66.

    Local people were personally involved in the miracles.

    Bible examples

    Local people received the effects of the miracles, and local people could observe the evidence for themselves.

    When inspired men taught in a locality and sought to convince the people God had given them the power to do miracles, they did not tell testimonies of miracles they had done elsewhere. They simply did miracles on people in the local area.

    People could then observe for themselves and check the matter out. They could question the people involved, check out whether they had really been ill, observe if there was a complete healing or whether there were relapses, etc. Hence, they could determine for themselves whether there had been a real miracle.

    * Lazarus - John 11:1,17-19,31,45 - Lazarus was healed in his own hometown, where he was known to be dead and could then be observed alive.

    * Blind man - John 9:1,7-9,18-20 - To determine the validity of the event people could contact witnesses. Jesus was not afraid to have people check out the validity of His miracles. He did not accuse them of being wrong simply because they checked (though He did rebuke those who, having checked out the evidence, still did not believe).

    * Son of the widow of Nain - Luke 7:11-17. This young man was raised from the dead in the presence of his own funeral party - the very people who knew him best, knew of his death, and could see for themselves that he had come back to life.

    * Lame man - Acts 3:2,9,10; 4:22,16 - This man was known by the people of the city to be lame. Multitudes of these people saw him after he was healed.

    Modern so-called miracles

    People who believe in modern "miracles," when questioned about the validity of their miracles, want to argue and debate about it. They give testimonials of miracles they have done or seen. Usually the most impressive accounts involve people far away and/or long ago, whom no one locally can know or question or check out.

    Or they will argue at length about Bible passages, which they affirm prove miracles are for today. Why not dispense with all the testimony and argumentation? If people have power like Jesus and His apostles did, let them do like Jesus and His apostles did. Just do miracles that we can observe and check out for ourselves!

    Miracles were often done in the presence of unbelievers, false teachers, and even false miracle-workers. Even opponents of the truth could not deny the occurrence of the miracles.

    Bible miracles

    Men who had true power to do miracles, were not afraid to do them in the presence of people who had questions or doubts, or even those who openly opposed their teaching. At times they would deliberately do miracles in the presence of those who did false miracles, so that people could see the differences. Opponents could not deny that God's prophets could do miracles; often they admitted the power.

    * Philip & Simon - Acts 8:5-13. Simon did works claimed to be from God. But Philip did true miracles in his presences and Simon was so amazed he was converted.

    * Paul & Elymas - Acts 13:6-12. When Elymas opposed the truth, Paul struck him blind. Elymas was powerless to prevent or overcome the blindness. He admitted the miracle by seeking a guide.

    * Lazarus - John 11:47,48. After Jesus raised Lazarus, His enemies admitted He did many miracles.

    * Lame man - Acts 4:10,14-16. After Peter & John healed the lame man (3:1-10), the Jewish opponents admitted it was a great miracle.

    * Elijah on Mt. Carmel - 1 Kings 18:20-40 - Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a show-down to see who had real power of miracles.

    * Saul of Tarsus - Acts 9:1-18 - After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the persecutor Saul to convince Him of the resurrection.

    * Ten plagues - Exodus 8:17-19 - Pharaoh's magicians tried to duplicate Moses' miracles, but eventually they admitted Moses did miracles by the power of God. [Cf. Ex. 14:26-31.]

    Modern so-called miracles

    Today, those who claim miracle power often will not even attempt them if opponents are present. Some say they cannot do them under such conditions because of the unbelief in the audience.

    Instead of admitting that true miracles are occurring as in Bible miracles, many of us deny them (see again Nolen, p. 66 above and p. 90 below). And when we do, none of us suffer the consequences such as happened to Elymas. Who today will do to false teachers what Paul did to Elymas?

    Note that God knew there would be counterfeit "miracles" and He gave us means to determine the true from the fake. One way is by comparing the characteristics of the "miracles" to true miracles in the Bible. When they do not measure up, then those who claim the acts to be miracles are false teachers, just like people in the Bible who claimed to do miracles but could not do as true miracle-workers did.

    B. True Miracles Were Instantaneous.

    True miracles

    The miraculous event took place at precisely the time the inspired man attempted to do it or said it would occur. It did not take days, weeks, or months to gradually develop.

    * Acts 3:7 - The lame man immediately leaped and walked.

    * Luke 13:11-13 - The woman who had been bowed together immediately was made straight.

    * Mark 2:10-12 - The paralyzed man got up immediately.

    * Mark 5:25-29 - The woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years was healed immediately.

    * Mark 5:35-42 - Jairus' daughter had been dead but arose immediately when Jesus raised her.

    [Acts 13:11; 14:8-11; John 9:1,6,7; Mark 1:42; Luke 7:14,15; 1 Kings 18:25-30,35-39; etc.]

    Modern "miracles"

    In the case of most modern so-called miracles, if healing occurs at all, it takes days, weeks, or months. Such gradual healings could be explained as simply natural processes. Yet they are claimed as miracles.

    Examples from Oral Roberts' Abundant Life magazine, Sept., 1974:

    She phoned the Prayer Tower and requested prayer for me ... 3 days went by, and to everyone's amazement I was not only still alive, but improving. And as the days passed I kept improving. Although my healing was slow, I now realize God might have planned it that way... - Abundant Life, p. 17
    I can't say the miracle I needed came right away, or even that the year of 1973 wasn't a nightmare at times. Immediately following surgery, Joe went through 6 months of extensive chemotherapy. Then came the radiation treatments ... By the end of the year, I believe the doctors can pronounce him cured - Abundant Life, p. 20.

    Another Christian and I visited the "Hallelujah House" in Ft. Wayne, IN. A leader testified of his miracle. He broke his back but decided the Lord would heal him, so he left the hospital despite the doctors' warnings he would die. I asked how the healing occurred. Did he jump out of bed and run home? He said he couldn't with a broken back! They wheeled him out, he went home and 15 weeks later he was well. It was a miracle. He offered to have us feel on his back the place where it had been broken but healed. I said it was not a miracle because it was not immediate, and a miracle would leave no sign the problem ever existed.

    On a radio program in Louisville, KY, Ken Green challenged a healer to come on his program and do a miracle. A preacher agreed to come. Ken had a man known to be blind come to be healed. The preacher tried to heal him, but the man could not see. The preacher said, "It may happen tomorrow, next week, or next month. If it ever happens, it's a miracle."

    C. True Miracles Were Always Successful.

    True miracles

    Neither Jesus nor His apostles (after they received Holy Spirit baptism) ever attempted to do a miracle and failed. There was no kind of disease they were unable to heal.

    Matthew 4:23,24 - Jesus healed all manner of diseases.

    Matthew 14:34-36 - All were healed.

    Acts 5:12,15,16 - They were healed every one.

    Jesus and His apostles healed people born blind (John 9:1), born lame (Acts 3:2; 4:22), lepers (Mark 1:40-45), raised the dead (John 11; Luke 7:11-17; Acts 9:36-42), missing or withered body parts (Luke 22:49-51; Mark 3:1-5), turned water to wine (John 2:1ff), walked on water (Matt. 14:25-33), calmed storms (Mark 4:25-41), and fed thousands with a few loaves & fishes and had more left over than they started with (Matthew 8:16,17; 10:1; 9:35; 12:15; Mark 7:32-37; 16:17,18).

    They did not fail even when unbelievers were present (see previous notes), or when the person who received the effect of the miracles did not have faith:

    * Dead people have no faith - Luke 7:11-17; John 11:38-44.

    * Elymas received a miracle because he lacked faith - Acts 13:6-12.

    * Peter was rescued though he lacked faith - Matthew 14:25-33.

    * Jesus calmed a storm though the disciples lacked faith - Mark 4:35-41.

    * Elijah called fire from heaven when the people lacked faith - 1 Kings 18:20-40.

    [Cf. John 9:1,6-8,35-38; Acts 3:1-12]

    People did not need faith to receive a miracle, but sometimes miracles were done as a reward for faith. In these cases, the man of God knew miraculously that the faith existed (Acts 14:8-10; Mark 6:1-6). In any case, they never attempted a miracle, failed, and blamed it on the people's lack of faith.

    (In two cases, the apostles failed - Matt. 17:14-20; 14:25-33. But this was before they received Holy Spirit baptism, and in both cases it is stated that they failed because they - the ones attempting to do the miracle - lacked faith, not because the people wanting to receive the miracle lacked faith.)

    Modern "miracles

    Those who claim to do miracles today, never cure all the people who come, they often attempt and fail, and often there are certain kinds of cases they will not even attempt to heal. Sometimes when they fail, they blame the failure on a lack of faith of those who want the miracle.


    ...I can detect the presence of the evil spirit, to know what his name is, or the number of them. Now sometimes it doesn't work that clearly, but when it does work that clearly I know their number and their name, and usually have the power to cast them out. I don't always. - Oral Roberts, Twelve Greatest Miracles of My Ministry, p. 116.

    Our daughter Sharon knew a Christian who had lost an eye. He wore a patch over the empty socket. He attended a service of a woman healer. As the service progressed, she called on him to stand up. No doubt thinking he just had a diseased eye, she said the Lord had healed him so he should take off that eye patch! He looked around at the audience with his empty socket, saying, "What has she done to my eye? Make her give me back my eye!" The meeting broke up and the woman had to leave town!

    At one point the young man with liver cancer staggered down the aisle in a vain attempt to claim a 'cure.' He was turned away, gently, by Maggie. When he collapsed into a chair I could see his bulging abdomen - as tumor-laden as it had been earlier - Nolen, p. 66.
    Finally it was over ... I spent a few minutes watching the wheelchair patients leave. All the desperately ill patients who had been in wheelchairs were still in wheelchairs ... I stood in the corridor watching the hopeless cases leave, seeing the tears of the parents as they pushed their crippled children to the elevators - Nolen, p. 67.

    D. True Miracles Were Complete & Perfect

    True Miracles

    True miracles always completely accomplished what the inspired man said they would and always completely satisfied the need. In healings, people returned immediately to complete and normal health. Every symptom of the disease was removed. There were no partial improvements, no relapses, and no need for further medical care & treatment.

    * Matthew 12:10,13 - Man's withered hand was restored whole as the other hand.

    * Mark 1:40-45 - Leper showed himself to the priest as testimony of a complete healing.

    * Acts 3:8 - The lame man leaped and walked.

    * Mark 2:10-12 - The paralyzed man could walk and carry his bed.

    [Cf. Matt. 14:36; 1 Kings 18; John 9:7,11; Acts 13:11; Luke 13:11-13; 7:14,15; Mk. 7:32-37]

    Modern "miracles

    Modern healers claim miracles in cases where there is only slight apparent improvement or temporary gain, even if recovery is not complete, even if further medical treatment is required, or even if people soon have a relapse.


    ...the man with kidney cancer in his spine and hip ... and who had his borrowed wheelchair brought to the stage and shown to the audience when he had claimed a cure, was now back in his wheelchair. His 'cure,' even if only a hysterical one, had been extremely short-lived - Nolen, p. 67.
    [Mrs. Sullivan had claimed a cure of back cancer.] 'At four o'clock the next morning, I woke up with a horrible pain in my back. It was so bad that I ... didn't dare move ... In the morning we called the doctor. He took me to the hospital and got some X-rays that showed one of my vertebrae had partially collapsed. He said it was probably from the bending and running I had done [at the healing service]. I stayed in the hospital, in traction, for a week. When I went home I was back in my brace'...
    Mrs. Sullivan died of cancer four months after she had been 'cured' at Kathryn Kuhlman's miracle service - Nolen, p. 99.

    E. Summary: True Miracles Are Impossible by Natural Law

    Every true miracle possessed all four of the above characteristics. This demonstrated to the observers that the event was impossible by natural law, but had to be God's intervention.

    We will see that this was necessary in order for miracles to accomplish their purpose of confirming the word preached. When people today claim as miracles events that do not possess all these characteristics, they demonstrate: (1) either they misunderstand Bible miracles, or (2) they are false miracle workers, like those in the Bible whose works could not measure up to the miracles of true men of God.

    We have already given many examples in which modern preachers claim as miracles events that lack the needed characteristics. Many other examples can be given of events clearly not impossible by natural law, yet which are claimed as miracles.

    With my next letter to Brother Roberts I included an increased Seed-Faith amount ... First, my husband got a raise in salary. Then the Lord threw the miracle-doors wide open. We were able to build a new home! - Abundant Life, p. 17.
    This University is one of the few colleges ever to have achieved full accreditation in [six years] - and ... granted the full ten-year term when first accredited ... Another miracle! - Roberts, Twelve Greatest Miracles ..., p. 131

    "The Miracle of Our Athletic Programs" - In 6 years ORU's team became so good it "was unbelievable unless you believe in miracles." It set an NCAA scoring record, led the nation in rebounding, went to the N.I.T. and won a game! - Roberts, Twelve Greatest Miracles ..., p. 133.

    The Bible distinguishes miracles from events that happen in answer to prayer according to natural law.

    We have already described true miracles and also false miracles. But there is a third category of event in which God answers prayer, but does so by working through natural law. These events are blessings from God for which He should be thanked, but they are not properly classed as miracles because they are not impossible according to natural law and do not accomplish the purposes of miracles. [Matt. 7:7-11; James 1:17]

    Consider some examples that show the difference between miracles and answers to prayer through natural law:

    * If we pray for daily bread (Matt. 6:11), then get a job and work for it (Eph. 4:28) or grow it from the ground, that is a blessing from God in answer to prayer through natural law. But is not a miracle in the Bible sense of the term. A miracle would be: (1) using a boy's lunch to feed thousands of people and having more food left over than you started with (Matt. 14:13-21), or (2) manna coming directly from heaven and lying on the ground to be picked up (Ex. 16:14-16), or (3) turning water to wine (John 2:1ff).

    * If a man and his wife conceive a child by natural procreation (Gen. 4:1,2), that is a blessing from God (Psa. 127 & 128). If they prayed for a child, it would be an answer to prayer. But it is not a miracle, since it happened according to natural law. A miracle would be as when God created woman from the man's rib (Gen. 2:21,22), or caused Jesus to be conceived in the womb of a virgin (Matt. 1:18-25).

    * Likewise, if we pray for good health (3 John 2), God may bless us by healing in accordance with the gradual natural body process of healing, perhaps aided by medical or surgical treatment, diet, exercise, etc. This would be a blessing from God in answer to prayer, but it is not a miracle since it is in accord with natural law. Miraculous healings, however, are such as those we have described and clearly did not occur according to natural law.

    We should believe that God does answer prayer and meet our needs today through natural law. This does not mean, however, that these events are miracles. They do not fit the characteristics of miracles, nor do they accomplish the purpose of miracles. The Bible never calls such things as these miracles.


    At the end of his investigations of Kuhlman's miracles, Dr. Nolen concluded:

    In talking to these patients I tried to be as honest, understanding and objective as possible. The only things I refused to dispense with - couldn't have dispensed with even if I had tried - were my medical knowledge and my common sense. I listened carefully to everything they told me and followed up every lead which might, even remotely, have led to a confirmation of a miracle. When I had done all this I was led to an inescapable conclusion: none of the patients who had returned to Minneapolis to reaffirm the cures they had claimed at the miracle service had, in fact, been miraculously cured of anything, by either Kathryn Kuhlman or the Holy Spirit.

    We believe God can and does heal people today in answer to prayer through natural law. But we concur with Nolen's conclusion regarding miracles. We thoroughly deny that modern miracle-workers are doing the kind of true miracles done by Jesus and His apostles. They deceive the people and are really doing counterfeits.

    III. Speaking in Tongues

    The Bible contains several examples of the gift of speaking in tongues - Acts 2:1-13; 10:44-46; 19:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Mark 16:17-20. This gift served both the purpose of revelation and the purpose of confirmation.

    This gift is frequently claimed among people today. They say they want to receive the "Pentecost experience." We ask whether those who claim tongue-speaking today are really doing what was done in the Bible, or whether they have a counterfeit. Remember, that Satan sends false miracles and false gifts to try to lead people into error.

    One way to determine whether or not modern "tongues" are genuine is to study the nature of tongues in the Bible and compare that to what people do today. Do modern tongues measure up?

    Notice carefully the characteristics of tongue speaking.

    A. Tongues Were Previously Existing Languages.

    Tongues in the Bible


    One definition of the English word "tongue" is: "the language or dialect of a particular people" (Random House College Dictionary).

    We often refer to people speaking "their native tongue."

    Bible examples that use the word "tongue" to refer to natural, native, human languages:

    Revelation 5:9 - Jesus redeemed to God by His blood those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

    Revelation 14:6 - An angel had the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, tribe, tongue and people.

    [See also Revelation 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 17:15; etc.]

    Hence, tongues were languages. Modern examples would be English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, etc.

    A Bible example of the supernatural gift of tongues - Acts 2

    This is the clearest Bible example of tongues. It is the first example, and was recorded when the Holy Spirit came on the apostles in Acts 2. The gift that came on Cornelius' household in Acts 10 was a "like gift" (see 11:15-17).

    V4 - The Holy Spirit came on the apostles and empowered them to speak in other "tongues."

    Vv 5,9-11 - Men from different nations were gathered in Jerusalem. These men would speak different natural, native languages, as in the examples listed above.

    Vv 6,8,11 - When the apostles spoke, these people heard them speak in the languages in which they were born. Hence, the "tongues" the apostles spoke were the native "languages" of the hearers. The passage defines "tongues" for us. They were languages!

    Modern "tongues"

    1 John 4:1 - Many false prophets exist, so we should try the prophets. It is fair and right to put them to the test those who claim to have the Bible gift of tongues today.

    John 8:17 - Jesus said we can determine what people are practicing on the basis of the testimony of witnesses. [Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15]

    Note that the testimony of witnesses is not the authority we use to determine what is right or wrong, pleasing or displeasing to God. That is determined from God's word (in this case, God's word proves what real tongue speech is). We quote witnesses to show what modern so-called tongue-speakers practice; then we compare that to the Bible, to find out whether or not their practice is right and wrong.

    Most modern "tongue-speakers" do not claim to speak an existing human language.

    Bible tongues were languages. Since people today claim to have the same gift, it is reasonable to ask them: "What language do you speak?"

    Most make no claim to speak a language, until they are shown the above evidence (and many will not claim it even then).

    One "tongue-speaker" finally supposed he was speaking Korean. I said we could easily check. I offered to find some Koreans to listen to his speech and tell us what he was saying. He refused!

    If they have the real "Pentecost experience" like the apostles, modern tongue-speakers should speak known, existing, native languages. The apostles were glad for people who knew the languages to listen. They deliberately spoke to those people so they could listen! Why then do people today refuse to let people of other languages listen and tell them what language they are speaking?

    What is spoken in modern so-called tongues is gibberish. It is not a language.

    Many quotations below are from Handbook of Religious Quotations by Dawson and MacArthur (abbreviated HRQ).

    Language experts were given tape recordings of people speaking in modern "tongues." Consider the results:

    "The types of inventory and distribution would indicate clearly that this recording bears no resemblance to any actual language which has ever been treated by linguists ... On the basis of what I have learned about this type of phenomena of 'tongues' in other parts of the world, apparently there is the same tendency to employ one's own inventory of sounds, in nonsense combinations, but with simulated 'foreign' features" - Eugene Nida as cited by V. Raymond Edman, "Divine or Devilish?" Christian Herald, May 1964, p16 (via HRQ, p. 169).
    "And I must report without reservation that my sample does not sound like a language structurally ... The consonants and vowels do not all sound like English (the speaker's native language), but the intonation patterns are so completely American English that the total effect is a bit ludicrous" - Wm. Welmes, Professor of African Languages at UCLA, Letter to the Editor, Christianity Today, Nov. 8, 1963, pp. 19-20 (via HRQ, p. 168f).

    So the language experts plainly said that the modern "tongues" are not languages. But they went much further and said that they do know what they are. "Tongues" are the speakers' "own inventory of sounds, in nonsense combinations, but with simulated 'foreign' features." In other words, the speaker does not even make the sounds of foreign languages, but takes the speech patterns that he already knows and combines them in nonsense ways to imitate what he thinks sounds like a foreign language.

    In short, it is nonsense gibberish! It is like little kids who make meaningless sounds to imitate a "foreign language." This is what tongue-speakers subconsciously or unknowingly speak.

    So it is not just that tongue-speakers don't know what language they are speaking. The fact is, we do know what they are speaking. We know it is not a language. We know it is nonsense gibberish!

    B. Tongues Conveyed a Real Message with a Meaning Capable Of Being Interpreted.

    Bible tongues

    As with natural languages, miraculous tongues conveyed a message or a meaning, which was capable of being understood by those who knew the language and was capable of being interpreted or translated into other languages.

    Those who knew the language could understand the meaning of what was said, so they could be instructed or informed by it

    Note Acts 2:11. Those who heard the tongues, not only recognized the language, but understood the message. They recognized the subject matter as being praise to God. As with all other Divine revelation, tongues conveyed a true message or meaning expressed in the words. Those who knew the language could be instructed, informed, or edified by the message.

    1 Corinthians 14:5-12,19,26 - In church meetings speakers were to convey messages that all could understand and be edified. So tongues could only be used in church meetings if they were interpreted, so people could understand.

    1 Corinthians 14:28 - But if no one understood the message so as to interpret it to others, the tongue speaker should keep silent in church.

    Hence, true tongues contained a message capable of being understood, so as to edify. If no one understood the message, the tongue was not to be used in the assembly.

    As with other languages, the message in the tongue could be interpreted into other languages.

    1 Corinthians 14:5 - He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

    1 Corinthians 14:27 - If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.

    [1 Cor. 12:10; 14:13,26]

    The same (or closely related) word for "interpretation" is often used in the Bible for translating one language into another by natural means:

    Acts 9:36 - At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas.

    John 1:38 - They said to Jesus, "Rabbi" (which is to say, when translated, Teacher)...

    John 1:42 - Jesus said to Peter, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone)."

    John 9:7 - Jesus said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent).

    Hebrews 7:2 - Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace."

    Some claim "tongues" in 1 Corinthians 12-14 are different from Acts 2.

    They say these "tongues" are not human languages but an emotional prayer language or "the tongues of angels" (1 Cor. 13:1), which no one understands (14:2,14,19).

    * But the same word ("tongues") is used here as in Acts 2. We should not assume it is a different gift without some compelling reason.

    * These tongues still contained an understandable message which could be interpreted, provided someone present knew the language (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:5,13,27f). The reason they could not be understood, the way Corinth was using them, was that no one present knew the language (14:2). And Paul said, in that case, to quit using them!

    * In the expression "tongues of men and of angels" the word "tongues" must mean the same for "angels" as for "men": languages capable of translation. They were not a special prayer language, which no one can understand. Whether used by men or by angels, they were existing languages used to convey a message with meaning.

    * Paul's expression shows that speaking the tongues of angels would be rare.

    So why do people today almost never speak the "tongues of men" (the usual gift), but only speak the tongues of angels (the rare gift)? The example of Acts 2 shows God's intended purpose for tongues: speaking languages men could understand and be instructed by. Even the tongues of 1 Cor. 14 could be interpreted. Why do people today almost always speak that which no one can understand by natural means?

    * People claim they have the "Pentecost experience." But when examined, they immediately begin to claim they do not have what happened on Pentecost but something different!

    * The fact is that we know what modern tongue speakers speak! It is not any language at all, human or angelic. Language students recognize what it is: sounds the speaker already knows, but combined in nonsense ways. It is recognizable as gibberish!

    * We will see also that modern "tongues" have no consistent interpretation. Hence, they cannot fit 1 Cor. 14 (see below).

    So the tongues in 1 Cor. 14 were not different in nature from those in Acts 2, they were just being used differently. And Paul, by inspiration, said to stop it in church meetings!

    Modern "tongues"

    Modern "tongues" are often used in assemblies without interpretation, so no one receives any understandable message and no one is edified. This is a clear violation of the above passages.

    Again, "tongues" have been studied and proved to be incapable of interpretation, because they are not languages. They are gibberish with no real meaning.

    We attended many meetings where glossolalia both occurred and was interpreted, and noted that the interpretations were usually of a very general nature. After a segment of tongue-speech, an interpreter commonly offered the explanation that the speaker had been thanking and praising God for many blessings. Another frequent theme was that the speaker was asking for strength and guidance for himself and for others.
    However, perhaps a third of the time, the interpreter offered specific interpretation of what glossolalists said. More rarely, an interpreter 'translated' phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence. In order in investigate the accuracy of these interpretations, we undertook to play a taped example of tongue speech privately for several different interpreters of tongues. In no instance was there any similarity in the several interpretations. The following typified our results: one interpreter said the tongue-speaker was praying for the health of his children; another that the same tongue-speech was an expression of gratitude for a recently successful church fund-raising effort.
    We know of a man who was raised in Africa, the son of missionary parents, who decided to test the interpretation of tongues. He attended a tongue-speaking meeting where he was a complete stranger. At the appropriate moment, he arose and spoke the Lord's Prayer in the African dialect he had learned in his youth. When he sat down, an interpreter of tongues at once offered the meaning of what he had said. He interpreted it as a message about the imminent second coming of Christ. - Dr. John Kildahl, The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues, Harper & Row, 1972, p. 62f (via Handbook of Religious Quotations, p. 169f).

    Hence, modern "tongues" are not languages of any kind (men or angels), they do not contain a consistent message, and they are not capable of interpretation. Therefore, they are not the true gift of tongues as in the Bible. They are a counterfeit.

    C. Tongues Had Not Been Studied by Those Who Spoke Them Miraculously.

    Bible Tongues

    People were never taught how to speak in "tongues." The power came upon them suddenly and instantaneously.

    Acts 2 - The apostles were "suddenly" empowered by the Spirit to speak in tongues (v2-4). The men who spoke were all of one place (Galilee - v7), but they spoke in the languages of men from all over the world (v5,8-12). The hearers were amazed, because they knew these men were speaking languages they could not have learned.

    Acts 4:13 - These men were "ignorant and unlearned." This confirms that they had not learned these languages by natural means.

    Acts 10:44-46; 19:6 - People began speaking in tongues suddenly without warning or preparation.

    The true gift of tongue speaking was not learned or taught. It was not the result of training. Like miraculous healings, it came suddenly. Generally, people had no idea it was coming, were not expecting it, and had no control over when it came.

    The miracle of tongues was that people could speak existing languages, which they had never studied. And they could speak them so well that people who knew the language, as their own native tongue, could recognize the language and understand the message!

    Modern tongues

    Modern so-called tongue speakers often "learn" to speak in tongues by listening to others do it, trying to do it, and being trained how. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they are taught by others.

    Harold Bredesen instructs tongue-seekers:

    (1) To think visually and concretely, rather than abstractedly; for example, to try to visualize Jesus as a person; (2) consciously to yeild [sic] their voices and organs of speeck [sic] to the Holy Spirit; (3) to repeat certain elementary sounds which he told them, such as "bah-bah-bah," or something similar. He then laid his hands on the head of each seeker, prayed for him, and the seeker did actually speak in tongues - Cited by Stanley D. Walters, Youth in Action, May, 1964, p. 11 (via HRQ, p. 167).
    I have observed the same routine everywhere I have been: (1) a meeting devoted to intense concentration on tongue-speaking, followed by (2) an atmosphere of heightened suggestibility to the word of the tongue-speaking leader, after which (3) the initiate is able to make the sounds he is instructed to make." - Kildahl, op cit, p 74 (via HRQ, p 171).

    If people today were really speaking in tongues, as in the Bible, a person would suddenly be able to speak French, Spanish, Russian, etc., without ever having studied the languages or practiced them at all.

    That is not what happens in modern tongues. They do not speak real languages. And what they do speak is learned by observing others and even by being given instruction how to do it.

    D. Tongues Were Impossible by Natural Law

    What made the gift of tongues supernatural was the way in which it occurred.

    Many Bible miracles consisted of acts which might occur naturally, if done in a different way. What made them supernatural or miraculous was that they were done in such a way that would be impossible naturally.


    * People can be healed of many diseases naturally, but Jesus and the apostles healed instantaneously just by speaking, etc.

    * Storms can calm naturally, but Jesus calmed a storm immediately by speaking to it.

    * Food can grow over a period of months from seeds planted in the earth, but God provided manna from heaven that lay on the ground, and Jesus fed thousands from a boys' lunch.

    In the same way, the word "tongue" refers to native languages. They can be natural or supernatural. What made them miraculous was the way the Spirit empowered people to speak them. They had not studied or learned the language, yet suddenly they were able to speak it well.

    Modern tongues

    One does not have to be a glossolalist to produce glossolalic speech. Al Carlson at the University of California recorded the speech of glossolalists during their spiritual exercise; Later he recorded the speech of non-glossolalist volunteers whom he asked to speak spontaneously in an unknown language. Glossolalists were asked to rate the different recordings. They were unable to distinguish them. A similar test was made by Werner Cohn of the University of British Columbia with identical results - Glossolalia, Jividen, p 163
    The Moslem claims miracles. He believes that these miracles show God's favor and confirms the correctness of his faith. Tongue speaking is one of the miracles which is claimed. Hudjwiri describes the miraculous powers of an Islamic saint. He says that "he can transform himself, transport himself to a distance, speak diverse tongues, revive the dead..." Other examples are cited in Kenneth Morgan's book entitled, Islam the Straight Path. - Jividen, p.75
    Incidents of glossolalia can be multiplied from religions ancient and modern; eastern and western; established and heretical. The glossolalia experience is to be found in all different cultural strata from non-Christian priests to medicine men. The experience is to be found among the Hudson Bay Eskimos, North Boreno pagans, 'demoniacs' in China and east Africa as well as Christianity. Burdick concludes:
    "This survey has shown that speaking-in-tongues is widespread and very ancient. Indeed, it is probably that as long as man has had divination, curing, sorcery, and propitiation of spirits, he has had glossolalia ... Whatever the explanation, it is clear that pagans as well as Christians have their glossolalia experiences." - Jividen, p. 74,75
    I have observed the same routine everywhere I have been: (1) a meeting devoted to intense concentration on tongue-speaking, followed by (2) an atmosphere of heightened suggestibility to the word of the tongue-speaking leader, after which (3) the initiate is able to make the sounds he is instructed to make. It is the same procedure that a competent hypnotist employs. Like the hypnotist, the tongue speaking leader succeeds with some subjects and with others does not" - Kildahl, op cit, p 74 (via HRQ, p 171).

    So modern tongue speaking is not a supernatural phenomenon incapable of natural explanation.

    Speakers do not speak an existing language at all. What they do speak is based on what they have learned, and the means used to teach it are known. The methods are similar to hypnotism.

    The same conduct has been duplicated around the world by people who are clearly in error, including Moslems, pagans, and people who are deliberately "faking it."

    If what tongue speakers do can be duplicated by people in error, then how can the tongue speakers know they have a genuine gift? How can they use their gift (as they often do) to prove they are pleasing to God?

    Clearly modern "tongues" are not supernatural or miraculous.


    Understanding the nature of true spiritual gifts helps us to appreciate the true greatness of those gifts, and also helps us distinguish them from modern counterfeits. The Bible gift of tongues involved people speaking existing languages without ever having learned them. The result was a message with a real meaning capable of being understood and translated by those who knew the language.

    Modern "tongue speaking" fails on every count. It is a counterfeit, a fake, sent by Satan to fool people into accepting false doctrines.

    To see the next article in this series about spiritual gifts, please click here.

    (C) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte;
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