OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew

               The first century church was endowed with numerous spiritual gifts.  Paul listed nine of these gifts in I Corinthians 12:8-10.  “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.”  These miraculous gifts were bestowed by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:14-17).  These gifts provided instruction, confirmation, protection, and stability to the first century church.  In its infancy, thechurch of Christ did not have the completed revelation of the New Testament.  It would take some sixty-five years for it to be fully revealed.  Spiritual gifts were given, therefore, to provide what was needed until God’s Word would be fully revealed.

               The miraculous gifts of the first century church were not to be a permanent part of the Lord’s church.  There was going to come a day when the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit would cease.  There are several passages of scripture that support this assertion.  We will look at three texts in the remainder of this article.  We have already mentioned Acts 8.  In this chapter, an evangelist named Philip went into Samaria to preach the gospel of Christ.  Philip’s efforts were rewarded.  “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women (Acts 8:12).  Philip could work miracles (Acts 8:6, 13), but he did not have the ability to pass miracles on to others.  When the apostles heard of the redemption of the Samaritans, they sent two of their number to Samaria.  These two men, Peter and John, laid hands on the new converts so they could receive the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit.  “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:  who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:  (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them:  only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:14-17).  Note:  it was the apostles who had the power to pass on miraculous gifts.  When the last apostle died, therefore, the ability to pass on miraculous gifts also ended.  John was the last apostle to die.  He passed from this life near the close of the first century.  The ability to pass on spiritual gifts, therefore, ended at his death.  A few people may have lived into the second century who had the ability to perform miracles, but once they died the age of miraculous gifts came to a close.

               A second passage that reveals the end of spiritual gifts is Ephesians 4:7-16.  In verse seven, Paul acknowledges that the Ephesians had received spiritual gifts.  “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”  This ability had been predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Eph. 4:8-10).  These abilities were scattered among many offices within the church (Eph. 4:11) and served very important purposes:  “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).  After discussing the above things, Paul declared how long these spiritual gifts would last.  “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).  The word “till” sets forth a time limit on miraculous gifts.  These gifts would continue until something came to pass.  “Till we all come in the unity of the faith…”  Some believe that Paul is teaching that there would come a time when all religious faiths who acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ will be united.  However, Paul did not say:  “Till we all come to the unity of faith.”  He said:  “Till we all come to the unity of the faith…”  “The faith” is the system of faith which produces faith in man (Rom. 1:17; 10:17).  It is the completed revelation of the New Testament.  We see this use of “the faith” in many places in the New Testament (Acts 6:7; Jude 3).  Thus, spiritual gifts were to continue until the New Testament, the faith, was revealed in its entirety.  This Word would be able to protect the church from the deceivers who abounded in the first century.  No more would the church be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lay in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14).  Instead, they could speak the truth in love and grow up as a strong body to accomplish the work of God (Eph. 4:15-16).

               The final passage we will discuss takes us back to I Corinthians.  Three chapters are devoted to miraculous gifts in this epistle.  The church at Corinth was divided over these gifts.  Some were trying to exalt one gift above another.  In chapter 12, Paul taught that all gifts came from the same Spirit (I Cor. 12:4).  Paul also taught that all gifts were needed in order for the church to work as a harmonious body (I Cor. 12:12-27).  In chapter 13, Paul elaborated upon what he calls “a more excellent way,” the way of love.  Instead of wrangling over gifts, the Corinthians should be showing love one to another.  Why was love so important?  It would be what would continue when miracles had ceased.  “Charity never faileth:  but whether there be prophecies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (I Cor. 13:8).  If these words did not apply directly to the Corinthians, then Paul’s argumentation was futile.  The Corinthians were going to see miracles come to an end.  Their love for each other would need to endure.  In verses 9 and 10, the apostle told the church when the gifts would cease.  “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”  There is no disagreement that the phrase, “that which is in part,” refers to spiritual gifts.  Spiritual gifts would last until “that which is perfect is come.”  Here’s where the controversy begins.  What is “that which is perfect”?  “Perfect” means “full, complete, entire.”  When the full, complete, written revelation of the New Testament was come, then miraculous gifts would be done away.  In James 1:25, God’s Word is referred to as “the perfect law of liberty.”  It took until the close of the first century to reveal this covenant to man in its perfection.  When it came in its fullness, the miraculous, that which was in part, was done away.

               There are many who do not believe miracles have ceased.  These individuals believe they have witnessed miracles.  Some believe they themselves have performed miracles.  Such, however, is not the case. Trickery, deceit, and false claims are not miracles.  Miracles came to an end at the beginning of the second century.  They served their purposes and were taken away.  Dear reader, we have the written Word of God in its fullness.  Paul said that it is all sufficient for our needs (II Tim. 3:16-17).  We need to study it, apply it, and live by it until we die.  It alone will judge us in the last day (John 12:48).