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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

13 - Gifts and Cessationism

1. Are Spiritual Gifts for today?

1.1. There are those who argue for the cessation of certain gifts at the close of the apostolic era:

1.1.1. 1. Some argue that the so-called “sign gifts” (their term, not the Bible’s) were necessary for the founding of the church in its initial stage, but that there is no longer any need for them. These include the gift of the working of miracles, healings, and anything else that is spectacular. “The first proof for cessationism (the ending of revelatory and sign-gifts) is that healings and wonders could only be done by apostles and were their special authenticating signs. 2 Corinthians 12.12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. Believers would need to know who the true apostles were in order to respect their unique authority. They would know them by their healings and other signs. People who did not belong to the band of apostles (which included two named assistants) could not do these things. If they had been able to do them, then no one would have been certain who were true apostles. Acts 2:.43 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. Acts 5:12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. Hebrews 2:3-4 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

1.1.2. Similarly, the gifts of revelation (e.g., word of knowledge, word of wisdom, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues) were only necessary prior to the completion of the New Testament canon. Now that we have a complete Bible, we need no more prophecies. In fact, they say, any additional such revelations would compromise the completeness of the canon of scripture. The second proof that cessationism can be proved from the Scriptures (sign-gifts have ceased) is about tongues-speaking. It is the biblical statement that tongues-speaking was given by God specifically as a sign for Jews, signaling to them that the new era of Messiah had arrived. 1 Corinthians 14.21-22 In the Law it is written: “With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. The third proof of cessationism adds to the second, and it is this – that a gift of real languages was given on the day of Pentecost (and for a while afterwards), which has never been seen since that time. It should be obvious to us that the miraculous languages of the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians have never occurred since those days. Tongues-speaking of modern times is never any known human language, but only meaningless, disjointed speech. Nothing miraculous happens. In New Testament times the tongues-speaker was given by the Spirit the ability to speak in a real language which he had never learned, and people who had grown up with him were astonished. The fourth proof for cessationism is this: there are no New Testament instructions about appointing apostles, prophets, healers, or anything of the kind. This is a matter of tremendous significance, because God has given a detailed pattern for the church in the New Testament. The fifth proof for cessationism is that the Bible plainly teaches that revelation is now complete. There can be no new revelation after the time of the apostles. John 14.26 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 16.13 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. They would be the authors of New Testament books, and the authenticators of inspired New Testament books not from their own pens. Soon all the Truth would be revealed, and after the apostolic era there would be no more revelation of Scripture. The Word would be complete. John MacArthur Video The sixth proof for cessationism is that Scripture shows that they were in the process of being withdrawn at that very time. Paul, for example, who possessed apostolic power to do signs and wonders and mighty deeds, could not, in the course of time, heal Timothy or Trophimus or Epaphroditus. We also see the withdrawing of the healing gifts in James 5, where James gives instructions about praying for the sick, and how the elders may lay hands upon the bedridden. It is obvious in this passage that there is no gifted healer in sight, only elders, who pray. James 5:13-16 13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Seventh Proof Worldly entertainment-style ­music dominates charismatic churches, even music of the most extreme and godless kind. The theatrical antics of money-grabbing charismatic leaders may be seen at any time on religious TV, and the prosperity-gospel heresy is seemingly everywhere. Numerous charlatans and rogues have built large followings, carrying out their supposed ‘healings’ at venues throughout the world. Even music-hall fortune-telling techniques are being presented as spiritual wonders, in once respected churches. Benny Hinn Video

1.1.3. Another related claim is that speaking in tongues was only necessary when the unilingual church had to preach throughout the world in regions whose languages they did not know. All of these arguments suggest that there is no need for any but the most “unsupernatural” gifts (e.g., teaching, exhortation, giving, helps, leadership, showing mercy, etc.).

1.1.4. Some believe that Paul is referring to this cessation of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love

1.2. However, the scriptures provide no justification for the theory of the cessation of any of the gifts.

1.2.1. John Piper Video

1.2.2. Paul’s first discussion of the gifts (1 Corinthians 12) is given in what is also his first discussion of the church as the body of Christ. He compares differently gifted persons as “members” or “organs” in the Body—e.g., foot, hand, ear and eye (vv.15-16). These members are mentioned in connection to the service each performs (v.17). It is hard to know how the body of Christ could exist or function in the world today without its organic functions!

1.2.3. There is still much work to be done, and the church is no more capable of doing that work without the Holy Spirit’s aid than was the case in the early church. Gal. 3:3 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

1.2.4. The Bible says nothing about a complete canon of scripture. God has been speaking continuously to His people since the first chapter of Genesis. Where do we find any prediction that He would someday lapse into silence, and speak no more to us, other than in writing?

1.2.5. Modern prophecies would not add to the canon of the New Testament for the simple reason that the New Testament is not comprised of prophetic, but of apostolic, writings. The prophets like Agabus, Philip’s four daughters and those prophets in Corinth, of whom Paul speaks, did not contribute any material to the canon of scripture.

1.2.6. The gift of tongues was not intended to be used in preaching to foreign lands—nor was it ever so used. The apostles, by speaking Greek, could communicate with everybody they encountered. If tongues were needed for preaching the gospel to foreign cultures, then we would need them now more than ever, since there are thousands of languages of the unevangelized, who were unknown to the church in the first century. Modern missionaries devote decades of their lives to learning and translating into these languages.

1.2.7. The Bible says that all the gifts shall remain in the church until the coming of Christ (1 Cor.1:7) 1 Cor.1:7 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

2. The Gifts of the Spirit

2.1. I. What is meant by a “gift of the Holy Spirit”?

2.1.1. In the phrase “gifts of the Holy Spirit” in Hebrews 2:4, the word “gift” is the Greek merismos, meaning “dividing.” Hebrews 2:4 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

2.1.2. The term “spiritual gifts” occurs repeatedly in the English translations at 1 Corinthians 12:1; 14:1, 14:12, but, in those places, the term “gift” is not in the original Greek, which simply contains the adjective “spiritual” (pneumatikos) [things]. 1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit 1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

2.1.3. Nonetheless, in Paul’s discussion of the “spirituals,” we find the Greek word charisma (plural: charismata) appearing in the phrase, “there are diversities of gifts (charismata), but the same Spirit” (1 Cor.12:4)—seemingly justifying the expression “gifts of the Spirit” throughout the discussion. 1 Cor.12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.

2.1.4. As in 1 Cor.12:4, there are other passages speaking of the same matters, using the term “charismata” (Rom.12:6; 1 Peter 4:10), which seems to justify the identification of these phenomena as “gifts” in our entire discussion. Rom.12:6 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 1 Peter 4:10 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

2.1.5. Charisma comes from the root word charis, meaning “grace.” It is more scriptural to speak of these matters as “gifts of grace” than by the term “gifts of the Spirit” (though both terms apply, since the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of grace”—Heb.10:29). The Holy Spirit bestows grace, and grace “manifests” in our lives in the form of the “gifts,” among other things. Heb.10:29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

2.1.6. Each “gift” is referred to as a “manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Cor.12:7). According to Paul, the varying gifts differ according to the grace given to each person Rom.12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 1 Cor.12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

2.1.7. Paul’s spiritual accomplishments as an apostle are said to be “according to the grace” given to him (1 Cor.3:10,15:10; Eph.3:7). Peter views our proper use of these gifts as the right stewardship of the “manifold grace of God”(1 Peter4:10). 1 Cor.3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 1 Cor 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Eph.3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 1 Peter4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

2.1.8. Though they are “gifts of grace,” they are manifested, and distributed among members of the body of Christ, by the Holy Spirit at His own discretion 1 Cor.12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Cor.12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

2.1.9. Essentially, a gift is an endowment from the Holy Spirit, a spiritually-empowered ability given to an individual to enable service to be performed by and for the body. An office might be regarded as the position held by the gifted person.

3. How many “gifts” are there?

3.1. Paul gives several lists of charismata manifesting in the church. No list is comprehensive.

3.1.1. He lists 7 gifts in Romans 12:6-8. Romans 12:6-8 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

3.1.2. There are 9 listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, of which only one (prophecy) is common to both lists. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

3.1.3. Five “gifts” (a different Greek word) are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 though they more properly could refer to “offices,” since the list refers to people not to abilities. Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,

3.1.4. There is another short list, borrowing from items on the three previously mentioned lists, in 1 Cor.12:28-30. 1 Cor.12:28-30 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues

3.1.5. Omitting the “offices” mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, Paul’s lists, in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, contain a total of fifteen separate gifts (though it would be unwarranted to assume that this is the complete number). Those listed can be categorized into five groups of three: Gifts of Revelation Word of knowledge Word of wisdom Discerning spirits Gifts of Power Working miracles Healings Faith Gifts of Utterance Prophecy Tongues Interpretation Gifts of Corporate Ministry Teaching Exhortation Leadership Gifts of individual Ministry Giving Service Showing mercy

3.1.6. Peter divides the gifts into two categories: Those that involve speaking and those that involve serving (1 Peter 4:10-11). Speaking as the oracles of God Prophecy Discerning of spirits Teaching Exhortation Word of Knowledge Word of wisdom Tongues Interpretation of tongues Serving as of the ability God gives Leadership Giving Service Showing mercy (Miracles, Healings and Faith do not neatly fit either of these two categories)

3.1.7. Some of the gifts are clearly supernatural abilities bestowed on those who would obviously have no involvement with them outside of the gifting (e.g., working miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues). Others, like teaching, leadership, service, giving, may involve the Holy Spirit’s anointing and “vitalizing” an existing natural ability that the person had or would have independently of even being a Christian. In the latter case, it is the anointing of the Spirit that accomplishes the work of God, not the natural talent brought by the individual.


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