Are Miraculous Gifts Still in Operation Today?

The Friday feature of the Worldly Saints blog has a NEW THEME. Fridays are going to be reserved for answering questions submitted to you (the reader of this blog). You can ask any question you would like, and it doesn’t have to be about a recent blog post. Any biblical or theological or historical or cultural question is encouraged.

Introductory Thoughts

I will do “my best” to present a case for what is called Cessationism. I say “my best” and not “absolute” because there are areas of dogmatism some go that we will not go because the Scripture is not dogmatic on every possible angle cessasionists take. Cessationism, I believe, is the best option but some godly men that we quote, refer to, and will continue to endorse do not agree with our position (e.g., John Piper, Wayne Grudem, C.J. Mahaney, D.A. Carson, etc.).

4 Main Views on the Topic of Miraculous Gifts

I want to give you a quick definition of the main views. When dealing with miraculous gifts, you have four options:

  1. Pentecostal View: teaches all gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the N.T. are intended for today, that Spirit baptism comes after conversion and should be sought by Christians and when Spirit baptism occurs, people will speak in tongues
  2. Charismatic View: teaches all gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the N.T. are intended for today, but the timing of Spirit baptism and tongues is debatable
  3. Cessationism View: teaches there are no miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation today
  4. Open-but Cautious View: teaches miraculous gifts of the Spirit are for today but the modern practice in most Charismatic churches is neither genuine or desirable; sees these gifts as occasionally or rarely occurring and not regularly as you see in the majority of Charismatic or Pentecostal churches

4 Disclaimers

Now, we before we make the case for Cessationism and much of it will stem from the next few verses, I want to share four disclaimers and/or reminders that are important from all of us to keep in mind on the question of the Cessationism of miraculous gifts.

  1. God works different ways in different administrations. While God Himself doesn’t change, and His plans are never thwarted, He operates, guides and directs in different ways during different periods of biblical history (e.g., priests and sacrifices, Spirit’s indwelling in the N.T age).
  2. Cessationism doesn’t deny that God performs miracles. The question is not, “Can God perform miracles today?” but “Does God still use men to perform miracles?” Cessasionists believe in miracles. The most miraculous work of the Spirit is still at work today: conversion and God will do whatever he pleases (Ps 115:3). Samuel Waldron in To Be Continued? speaks for cessasionists – “I am not denying by all this that there are miracles in the world today in the broader sense of supernatural occurrences and extraordinary providences. I am only saying that there are no miracles in the stricter sense [of] miracle-workers performing miraculous signs to attest the redemptive revelation they bring from God. Though God has never locked Himself out of His world and is still at liberty to do as He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases, and where He pleases, He has made it clear that the progress of redemptive revelation attested by miraculous signs done by miracle-workers has been brought to conclusion in the revelation embodied in our New Testaments.”[1]
  3. Cessationism is not an attack on the Person or work of the Holy Spirit. Some believe cessasionists are trying to limit the Holy Spirit or downplay his influence or importance by taking the miraculous gifts away. Cessasionists have the opposite goal in mind. Cessasionists don’t put the Spirit “in a box”; they say the Spirit put Himself there.
  4. Your view does not determine your salvation. Therefore, if someone wants to make a biblical case, allow it as long as they are not violation other parts of Scripture or hindering the Gospel.

Cessationism

Now, without further delay, here is why I believe Cessationism is the best view on the question of miraculous gifts.

  1. I Corinthians 13:8 – “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” The three gifts do not share the same verb that follows them. With “prophecy” and “knowledge”, we are told they “will pass away,” and with “tongues”, we are told they “will cease.” That is an important distinction. Without getting too technical here, the verb forms are not the same, which means you cannot assume the same thing is being communicated with each verb.The passing away appears in what is called the passive voice. What that means is that it will not just reach an ending point, but something will cause that end. In other words, “prophecy” and “knowledge” will reach an end based on something causing that ending (or cessation). What could cause the need for no more prophecy? How about a closed canon? How about the completed writings of sixty-six books?Tongues, on the other hand, are said to cease. And this verb form is different. We call this a middle voice. In the Greek, this verb form refers to something going on for a while and then just running out. It indicates that the object (“tongues”) has an intentional voluntary stopping place. Some translate this literally as “they shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves.”[2] The best I can describe it is that it is like a battery with a limited power supply or lifespan. The idea is that once it has served its purpose, it will cease to exist. The gift of tongues was when God directly revealed something to the speaker that was then in need of translation; the completion of the canon makes that no longer necessary. Nothing causes it to stop; it ends on its own. Thus, whenever this gift was no longer needed, it would have ceased.Prophecies and knowledge will be stopped by something outside of themselves (or caused to stop); tongues will end by itself. Prophecy and knowledge are stopped by something coming; tongues stops when it is no longer useful.
  2. The purpose of the gift of tongues and the performing of miracles was to confirm the Word being spoken by the apostles to unbelievers. These miraculous gifts were their credentials, you could say. In II Corinthians 12:12, Paul tells this same church, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” And they were meant for the unbeliever – not the edification of the church.In the next chapter, Ch. 14, we hear Paul say, “21 In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”In another letter in the N.T., we even read this starting comment – “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb 2:3-4). Isn’t is curious that the author speaks in a past tense here? God used to do this, is what vs. 4 implies to show us this was not a current manifestation.Thus, if these gifts had a specific purpose that is no longer valid, these miraculous gifts have ceased.
  3. Ephesians 2:20 calls the apostolic age foundational but it is not permanent – The church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Since there is no apostolic succession, any gift or feature an apostle would be given would “die off” with him.
  4. Miraculous gifts disappear inside the N.T. age. Why wouldn’t Paul, as he writes to Timothy, his pastoral protégé, when instructing him about all things relative to the church never mention miraculous gifts? If miraculous gifts were supposed to be practiced today, why not re-iterate them in the Great Commission? Or elder or deacon qualifications?
  5. Church history is silent on the practice of the miraculous gifts. No post-apostolic father mentions the practice or endorses miraculous gifts. The only early exception would be Montanus (2nd century), but he believed revelation continued through him and not the N.T. There is a long line of support in church history who taught that miraculous gifts ceased in the N.T. age with the apostles: R.L. Dabney, Charles Spurgeon, Abraham Kuyper, William G.T. Shedd, A.W. Pink, B.B. Warfield, John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, J.C. Ryle, Theodoret of Cyrus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, Thomas Watson, Matthew Henry, John Gill, Jonathan Edwards, etc. I usually don’t want to stand on the other side from them on this issue if I can keep from it.
  6. Scripture is sufficient. Sufficiency means that Scripture is complete; it is enough. It doesn’t lack support or validation. When Jesus spoke, He often performed miracles to prove His person. When Peter preached on Pentecost, the Spirit brought tongues to validate His message. These occurrences came during a time when a written Bible didn’t exist and wasn’t available to all. Today, the Spirit speaks through His Word. Why would He choose to use subjective means to communicate objective truth?

This is why we would say that even the experiences or stories we hear of regarding the miraculous must be heard with caution. Rarely can they be verified and they are often misunderstood by witnesses. Experience is not the primary test of truth. It is important to keep in mind that anything can be counterfeited or misunderstood.

In conclusion, the miraculous gifts have, in my opinion, ceased.

 

If you have a question you would like to submit to our blog to be answered in the future, please send them to charlesheck@cox.net or ask them in the comments section of this post.

——————————————

[1] To Be Continued?, pg. 102

[2] The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, pg. 380

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