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The Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit

There are individuals in the religious world today who claim to possess the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Religious programs portray televangelists speaking in tongues and healing the sick. However, excitement over these gifts is no longer limited to “charismatic” churches. In recent years, I have heard members of several different mainstream denominations claim to have the ability to speak in tongues.

No one can deny that the apostles and some other Christians in the New Testament possessed the ability to perform miracles. The question that we will address in this article is whether or not the Bible teaches that these same gifts exist today?  

 

The Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit Identified and Explained

Paul devoted three chapters of his first epistle to the church in Corinth to a discussion of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (chapters 12-14). At the beginning of this section, he identified some of these gifts.

“For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues (vs. 8-10, emphasis mine – HR).

This passage is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, but many of them appear to be included.

  1. word of wisdom – this gift would be an oral proclamation of a message which had wisdom for its content.
  2.  word of knowledge – the exact distinction of this gift from the previous gift is unknown. Perhaps it was a more precise understanding of God’s will.
  3.  faith – this was not mere belief, but was apparently a miraculous working faith; a faith that carried with it a divine power (1 Corinthians 13:2, Matthew 17:20, 21:20-21).
  4. gifts of healings – the power to restore health to those with physical aliments. This is one of the more popular gifts that people claim to have today, but the spectacles that are passed off today as evidence of a miracle do not compare to the healings that were actually performed by the Lord and His apostles in the New Testament.
  5. working of miracles – the ability to perform supernatural acts in order to confirm the teaching of the gospel.
  6. prophecy – the word “prophet” indicates that one is a mouth-piece or spokesman for God. This gift enabled one to reveal the truth concerning the past, present, and future will of God. One who possessed this gift had the power to impart divine revelation. Paul said that this was a more desirable gift (1 Corinthians 14:1). 
  7. discerning of spirits – in a time when divine revelation was being given through men, the church needed a way to determine who was a true prophet or teacher (1 Corinthians 14:29, 37; 1 John 4:1). This gift was a means of protecting the early church.
  8. different kinds of tongues – the ability to speak in an existing, understandable language that one had not learned (Acts 2:4-8). This gift is misunderstood today to be the uncontrollable uttering of ecstatic sounds. However, the Bible says that this gift could be controlled (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
  9. interpretation of tongues – this gift was the ability to understand a language and translate it for the church.

 

The Purpose of the Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit

God does not do anything without a purpose. Understanding the reason that God gave these gifts to some Christians, and the role that these gifts were to play in the early church, will help us understand their intended duration. These gifts served two important functions:

1. These Gifts Edified the Early Church in the Absence of the Written Word.

These various gifts were given for the benefit of the entire church, not just those who possessed them. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

The first century church did not have the New Testament, and the apostles could not be in every local church on every Lord’s day. In the absence of the apostles, local congregations needed these gifts in order to be “established” (Romans 1:11). When a local church assembled, they relied upon the members who had miraculous gifts as a means of receiving instruction.

“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification… How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 26).

2. These Gifts Confirmed the Word.

“And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen” (Mark 16:20).

The word “confirm” means “to certify or prove as being true.” As the apostles and evangelists went out preaching the gospel, the miraculous gifts would accompany their preaching and prove that they were speaking the word of God. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (Acts 8:5-6). If someone came to town preaching a resurrected Christ, some might scoff and reject the stranger’s message. But if he came to town and healed the sick and raised the dead, everyone would be inclined to listen to what he had to say.

The New Testament indicates that these gifts were never intended primarily as a means of helping people physically. Epaphroditus was sick unto death (Philippians 2:25-27) and Paul had a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). These two men were already believers and laborers in the gospel. They did not need confirmation of the word, so they were not healed miraculously.

When God’s revelation was completed and compiled into what we have as the New Testament, these gifts ceased to be necessary. The word was confirmed (Hebrews 2:3-4) and delivered in its entirety (Jude 3). These gifts have served their purpose and are no longer necessary.

 

Means of Receiving The Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Many people today believe they possess the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit because they claim to have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. In a previous article in this series (to read this article, click here), we noted that this was not the purpose for Holy Spirit baptism.

According to the Bible, the only way that someone other than an apostle received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit was through the laying on of the hands of an apostle.

In Acts chapter eight, after the city of Samaria had received the gospel, Peter and John were sent to them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-15). Luke tells us that “they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). One of the new converts in Samaria was able to see for himself exactly how men received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:18-19).

The apostle Paul indicated that this was the reason that he wanted to visit the church in Rome. “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established” (Romans 1:11). Paul also instructed Timothy “to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). 

 

The Duration of the Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit

When one understands the intended purpose of these gifts (to reveal and confirm the truth), and the means of receiving these gifts (through the laying on of the hands of an apostles), it should be easy to understand how long God intended these gifts to last. When the last apostle died, the means of receiving these gifts was gone. When the generation after the apostles died, these gifts disappeared. This is also the time when the New Testament was taking shape: the gospels and epistles were being copied, distributed, and compiled.

For one to have these gifts today, he would have to prove:

  1. An apostle is still alive.
  2. Some who received these gifts directly from an apostle are still alive.
  3. God is now imparting these gifts to men in a way that is not revealed in the Bible.

Any serious Bible student must reject all three possibilities.

The New Testament actually speaks of the time when the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would be coming to an end.

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Paul said that these gifts (prophecies, tongues, and miraculous knowledge) would “fail,” “cease,” and “vanish away.” This miraculous means of receiving revelation was knowing God’s will “in part” (v. 9). The early Christians received God’s word piece by piece during their weekly assemblies.

The “perfect” would do away with the “part” (v. 10). The “part” is the miraculous gifts, but what is the “perfect”? Charismatics say that the “perfect” refers to Christ, and that these gifts are to last until He returns. However, to be honest with the text, the “perfect” has to correspond to the “part.” The “parts” make up the “perfect.” If the “part” was the means of receiving God’s revelation piece by piece through the miraculous gifts, then the “perfect” is the complete revelation. The New Testament is the perfect and complete revelation of God’s will. It has come, so the “part” has “failed, ceased, and vanished away.”

Paul went on to say, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (v. 11). In their infancy, babies need things that adults do not need. The church, in its infancy, needed some things to help it that it does not need today. Those who desire to have the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would actually have the church regress back to its infancy. Like Paul, the church has put away the things that are associated with its youth. 

Scaffolding is put up to help with the construction of a new building. After the work is completed, the scaffolding is taken down. The miraculous gifts helped the church as it was being established, but have long since been taken down because they are no longer needed.

 

Conclusion

Some people today believe that they have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues and to prophecy, to perform miracles, to heal the sick and cast out demons. Regardless of the sincerity of these individuals, these claims do not harmonize with the Bible’s teaching regarding the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were real. They were given to believers through the laying on of the hands of an apostle. These gifts were the means of equipping the church and confirming the word to unbelievers.

When the last apostle died, these gifts were no longer available to mankind. The “part” was replaced with the “perfect.” Today we have the New Testament to guide us in all things pertaining to God’s will.