By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Throughout time, God often provided His Prophets and Apostles the ability to perform miracles in order to confirm to the people that what they spoke and wrote was actually inspired and from Him.
Several passages of Scripture bear this out (cf. Exodus 3:12; 4:3, 1-7, 30-31; Judges 6:17-21; 1 Samuel 10:7-10; John 3:2; Acts 2:22; John 20:30-31; Hebrews 2:3-4).
Even the very words used in the New Testament to designate “miracles” show us that the purpose of these signs was to confirm the Word of God. As Norman Giesler has pointed out:
“Biblical Nature of a Miracle. The three words Scripture uses to describe a miracle help delineate the meaning of miracles more precisely. Each of the three words for supernatural events (sign, wonder, power) delineates an aspect of a miracle. From the human vantage point, a miracle is an unusual event (“wonder”) that conveys and confirms an unusual message (“sign”) by means of unusual power (“power”). From the divine vantage point, a miracle is an act of God (“power”) that attracts the attention of the people of God (“wonder”) to the Word of God (by a sign). The purposes of a miracle are 1. to glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40); 2. to accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4); and 3. to provide evidence for belief in God (John 6: 2, 14; 20: 30–31).” (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia Of Christian Apologetics, 482 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books).
During the first century, when Jesus first established His church, miraculous gifts were much needed for the revelation and confirmation of the Word of God.
However, was there a continuing need for miraculous gifts throughout the entire church age?
Or, did the inspired Apostles teach that the miraculous gifts were only to continue a limited time?
In fact, the Scriptures are clear that the miraculous gifts of the first century church were designed to be temporary.
Let’s open up God’s Word and study together.
One of the most clear indicators that the miraculous gifts of the New Testament church were temporary in nature deals with the way in which those miraculous gifts were received.
Those gifts were only made available in two different ways to early Christians. As we shall see, these two means of conveying the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have ceased; and as such, it is clear that these miraculous gifts have since passed.
Holy Spirit Baptism
From the New Testament, we learn several important facts about Holy Spirit baptism.
First, Holy Spirit baptism was an event in which a person was in some way immersed in the Holy Spirit (the third Person of the Godhead-1 John 5:7).
Second, the Scriptures record that Holy Spirit baptism occurred on two occasions: with the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); and with the household of Cornelius when the Gentiles were first admitted into the church (Acts 10).
Third, the purpose for Holy Spirit baptism on the Apostles was for the revelation of God’s Word to them, as well as for the ability to confirm that Word (John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 2:1-13). In similar fashion baptism of the Spirit on the household of Cornelius was to reveal and confirm to the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles may now be admitted into the church of Christ (Acts 11:14-17).
Fourth, Holy Spirit was always referred to as a promise to be received, and not a command to be obeyed (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). As such, Holy Spirit baptism could never be a command to be obeyed.
Fifth, Holy Spirit baptism could only be administered by Jesus Himself (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).
Sixth, Holy Spirit baptism was always accompanied by miraculous gifts (Acts 2:1-5; 10:44-46).
Finally, by the time the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, it was clear that there was only “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-6). This “one baptism” is clearly baptism in water as instructed in the Great Commission, since it would be the baptism to continue until the “end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
From these facts, it is clear that Holy Spirit baptism was a limited experience, for a specific purpose, upon very select individuals, and that this event was only limited to the first century.
Indeed, as the specific texts mentioned above make clear, Holy Spirit baptism was for the purpose of revealing and confirming the Word of God to the people. Since the Word of God has been fully revealed and confirmed (Jude 3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17), there is no more need for Holy Spirit baptism.
Therefore, miraculous gifts cannot be passed along today through Holy Spirit baptism; and indeed, Holy Spirit baptism has ceased.
In point of fact, the baptism that continues today is Great Commission baptism which is in water (Acts 8:35-38; 10:47-48), for salvation (Mark 16: 16; Acts 2:38; 22:16) of the believing disciple (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15) who, having been taught the Word of God (John 6:44-45; Acts 18:8; Romans 10:17), repents of sin (Luke 24:47), and confesses Him before men (1 Timothy 6:12).
The Laying On Of The Apostles’ Hands
In the Book of Acts, we are taught that the only other way miraculous gifts could be bestowed was through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands.
But who were the Apostles?
And more to the point, what exactly was an Apostle?
The word “Apostle” is very important for us to understand. Its’ general meaning was simply “one sent.”
However, it often carried a special meaning in the first century:
““We saw in Chapter Four that the principle of apostolicity was central to the idea of a canon, and that it stems from the earliest days of the Christian community-indeed from the lifetime of Jesus himself. He appointed the Twelve to be his apostles, his shelichim, a word with very special meaning in Judaism. It meant a representative equipped with the full powers of his principal…“…It is interesting to note that the Jewish shaliach (apostle) could not hand on his commission to anyone else; it was for him alone…There was something unique and unrepeatable about their position. They were the guarantors of the continuity between the incarnate Jesus who walked the streets of Palestine and the glorified Jesus whom the church worshipped.” (Dr. Michael Green, The Books The Church Suppressed: Fiction And Truth In The Da Vinci Code, 84-84; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Monarch Books; emphasis added)
Christ had twelve Apostles (Mark 3:13-19). One of His Apostles, Judas, betrayed Him and was replaced by Matthias (by Divine appointment-Acts 1;15-26). Later, the Apostle Paul was made the last Apostle of Christ (Acts 26:16; Galatians 1:1-2).
These Apostles had His special authority (Matthew 18:18). Due no doubt to their important position in the church, the Apostles of Christ were able to convey the power to work miracles through the people upon whom they laid their hands:
Acts 8:12-18-But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,
The Apostles of Christ had laid their hands upon Philip earlier in the Book of Acts (Acts 6:5-6). Receiving the power to work miracles (Acts 8:4-8), Philip proclaimed the Gospel message to the people of Samaria and showed them through the accompanying signs and wonders the clear distinction between pagan sorcery and New Testament Christianity (Acts 8:9-10). Many of the Samaritans, including Simon the sorcerer, believed and were baptized into Christ (Acts 8:12-13).
The text goes on to show us that the only way for these Christians to receive the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit was to have the Apostles of Christ lay their hands upon them. Indeed, Luke is very clear to point out that this the fact (Acts 8;18).
Please notice that Philip had the power to work miracles, yet he could not pass on these abilities; indeed, the only way to pass on these gifts was for an Apostle of Jesus Christ to lay their hands upon that person.
Several other passages of the New Testament verify this fact:
Acts 19:6-And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
2 Timothy 1:6-Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
Romans 1:11-For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established—
Many in the second century church clearly understood that only the Apostles could convey these miraculous powers.
Chrysostom-“For it was the power to work signs that they received, not the power to give the Spirit to others. This was the prerogative of the apostles. And note [how they sent] not just anyone but the leaders, Peter [and John]. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 18. [NPNF 1 11:115**.]
Origen-“In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit was given by the imposition of the apostles’ hands in baptism.” (c. 225, E), 4.252.
Now, here is why this is so very relevant to our study: there have been no Apostles since the Apostle Paul!
You see, in order to be an Apostle, one had to be an eyewitness of Jesus Christ after His Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).
But the last one who saw the resurrected Christ was the Apostle Paul. He is very clear that “He (the resurrected Jesus, M.T.) was seen last of all by me, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8).
Since one had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ to be an Apostle of Christ, and since the Apostle Paul was the last eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, then it follows that there have been no Apostles since the Apostle Paul.
Yet we can go further with this.
Since the only way to pass on miraculous gifts was through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands; and since the Apostles all died in the first century; then it follows that the ability to pass on miraculous gifts ended with the passing of the first century.
As Warfield explains:
“The connection of the supernatural gifts with the Apostles is so obvious that one wonders that so many students have missed it, and have sought an account of them in some other quarter. The true account has always been recognized, however, by some of the more careful students of the subject. It has been clearly set forth, for example, by Bishop Kaye. “I may be allowed to state the conclusion,” he writes,^^ *’to which I have myself been led by a comparison of the statements in the Book of Acts with the writings of the Fathers of the second century. My conclusion then is, that the power of working miracles was not extended beyond the disciples upon whom the Apostles conferred it by the imposition of their hands. As the number of these disciples gradually diminished, the instances of the exercise of miraculous powers became continually less frequent, and ceased entirely at the death of the last individual on whom the hands of the Apostles had been laid. That event would, in the natural course of things, take place before the middle of the second century—at a time when Christianity, having obtained a footing in all the provinces of the Roman Empire, the miraculous gifts conferred upon the first teachers had performed their appropriate office— that of proving to the world that a new revelation had been given from heaven.’…Whatever we may think of the specific explanation which Bishop Kaye presents of the language of the second-century Fathers, we can scarcely fail to perceive that the confinement of the supernatural gifts by the Scriptures to those who had them conferred upon them by the Apostles, affords a ready explanation of all the historical facts. It explains the unobserved dying out of these gifts. It even explains —what might at first sight seem inconsistent with it—the failure of allusion to them in the first half of the second century.” (Benjamin Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, 23-24 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Charles Scribner’s Sons)
What should we expect to see in the writings of the second century Christians in regards to the miraculous gifts?
We should expect to see the miraculous gifts tapering off, and then disappearing altogether as the ability to pass on those miraculous gifts was removed with the death of the Apostles of Christ.
Incredibly, that is exactly what we find.
There are references in the writings of the second century Christians of the miraculous gifts occurring (since some of the believers whom the Apostles had laid hands were able to work miracles, at least into part of the second century).
Then, there are references to the miraculous gifts ceasing.
Indeed, some of the early “church fathers” talk about the fact that miraculous gifts had ceased by their time:
Chrysostom-“[Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:] “This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place.” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians , 36.7. Chrysostom is commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:1–2 and introducing the entire chapter. Cited from Gerald Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians , Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999), 146)
Chrysostom (Commenting On 2 Thessalonians 2:7)-“One may naturally inquire what is that which restrains the man of lawlessness, and in addition, why Paul expresses it so obscurely. What then is it that holds back, that is, that hinders the revealing of, the Antichrist? Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit, but others the Roman Empire. I agree with the latter position. Why? Because if Paul meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely but plainly, that even now the grace of the Spirit, that is the gifts, hold back the Antichrist. If not, he should have come by now, if his coming was to occur with the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit; for they have long since ceased….But because Paul said this of the Roman Empire, he merely touched the topic, understandably speaking covertly and darkly. For he had no need to create unnecessary enemies and useless dangers.…(Homilies on 2 Thessalonians 4. [NPNF 1 13:388-89*.])
Theodoret of Cyril-“In former times those who accepted the divine preaching and who were baptized for their salvation were given visible signs of the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in them. Some spoke in tongues which they did not know and which nobody had taught them, while others performed miracles or prophesied. The Corinthians also did these things, but they did not use the gifts as they should have done. They were more interested in showing off than in using them for the edification of the church.” (Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians 240. [PG 82:319])
Augustine-““In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away.” (Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John , 6.10. Cited from Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers , 1st series (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2012), 7:497–98)
Gregory the Great-“Is it, my brethren, because we do not have these signs that you do not believe? These were needed at the church’s beginning. The new faith needed to be nourished by miracles to grow. When we plant a vineyard, we must water the plants till we see they have begun to grow in the earth, and when they have once taken root we cease to water them constantly.… But true life cannot be obtained by means of these outward signs by those who perform them. For although corporeal works of this kind sometimes do proclaim an inner holiness of life, they do not bring it about.” (Homilies on the Gospels 29. [Cetedoc 1711, 2.29.4, 5, 4.39; SSGF 2:428*; PL 76.])
The miraculous gifts of the first century church were temporary my friends. They were to last primarily until the completion of the New Testament Scriptures had been accomplished (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10). With the limited nature of Holy Spirit baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6), and with the death of the last Apostle (Acts 8:13-18), the ability to pass these gifts on has ceased.
Those who claim that the miraculous gifts are available today are in contradiction to the Scriptures.
Does that mean that we should not pray for God to work in supernatural ways today? Of course not: for the Bible is clear that God can answer the prayers of His people in many ways (James 5:16-18; Ephesians 3:20-21; Revelation 8:1-7).
Yet we must understand that the miraculous gifts fulfilled the task for which they were ordained: the confirming of God’s revealed Word (John 3:2; 20:30-31; Acts 2:22; Mark 16:20; 2 Corinthians 12:12), and are therefore not needed today.
As such, they have ceased.
Are you building your life on the solid Word of God my friend?
The God of Heaven loves you so very much that He sent His own precious Son to die on the cross of Calvary to pay for the debt of your sins (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9). Jesus came to the world, ready to sacrifice Himself to save you from eternal Hell (John 10:17-18; 2 Corinthians 8:9). He died for us, was buried, and arose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). He invites believers to repent of their sins and to be baptized into Him for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38). Why not obey His invitation today? If you are a child of God who has left the Lord in sin-why not come back to Him by repenting of sin and praying to Him (1 John 1:9; Revelation 3:20)? Your brethren stand ready to assist you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.