The Holy Spirit's Work (No. 3): Miraculous Powers No Longer Needed
As we demonstrated in the preceding article, with the one exceptional case of Cornelius, the only Christians to receive miraculous spiritual endowments were the apostles and those on whom the apostles laid their hands. This leads us to conclude that the miraculous endowments would cease after the death of the apostles and those on whom the apostles had laid their hands. God evidently had no intention for these powers to continue after the apostolic age. The reason for this was that they would not be needed beyond that age. In this article, we will see that the supernatural endowments served two primary purposes, neither of which continued to exist beyond the apostolic period.
The first purpose was the revelation of God's word. In the first century the New Testament had not been written down in its completed form as we have it today; rather, it was in the process of being revealed to men. God's word, therefore, was given supernaturally to the Christians of that time by the Spirit. The preceding article pointed out that the apostles received revelation in this manner and were enabled to convey infallibly the truth which was revealed to them (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 1 Tim. 4:1). Additionally, some of the spiritual gifts received by other brethren were for that purpose. Among the gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12 were the gifts of prophecy (v. 10) and knowledge (v. 8). Though it may not be possible to determine the exact nature of every one of the gifts listed, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge would surely involve the revelation of truth. The New Testament prophet's role in this regard is mentioned in 1 Cor. 14:31 and Eph. 3:3-5.
The second primary purpose of the supernatural endowments was the confirmation or verification that the teaching was truly divine. Since the Christians of the first century claimed to be receiving a new revelation from God, it was necessary for them to provide evidence to verify this claim. Hence, they received supernatural powers to heal and perform other such miracles; it is specifically stated that these miracles were signs to confirm that their message was divine (Mk. 16:17-20; Heb. 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 12:12). The gift of tongues was for a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22). The fact that one could speak in a language which he had never, studied before would be quite a sign; a reading of Acts' 2 shows how it amazed the multitude on Pentecost. Similarly, the miracles of Jesus had been for signs to verify His claim that He was the Son of God (John 20:30-31).
Since the supernatural powers were for the purposes of revealing the truth and confirming the revelation that was being made, the need for them was limited to the time in which the truth was being revealed. It is a fact that the truth has now been fully revealed. Since Jesus promised His apostles that they would be guided into all truth (John 16:13), we must conclude that all truth - the complete revelation - was given during the lives of the apostles. Inasmuch as the truth has been fully revealed, we do not now need supernatural powers to serve that purpose. Moreover, since men are not now receiving divine revelation directly from God, there is no new revelation to be confirmed by miracles; the revelation given in the first century was adequately confirmed by those who received it then. Having served their purposes, the supernatural powers have ceased, just as the scaffolding is removed when the building is finished and it is no longer needed.
Sometimes it is argued that miracles are still needed to confirm that the Bible is from God, just as they were needed in the first century for that purpose. This reasoning involves the erroneous assumption that signs have to be repeated for each new generation. It is assumed that miracles which occurred in the first century are not sufficient to convince those who were not then alive to witness them. That this is a false assumption is clear from John 20:30-31, in which John said,
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
John said that his readers would be convinced, not by personally witnessing miracles, but by reading about the miracles that were done in the first century. We have seen no such miracles as were performed in the first century, but we read the testimony of credible, reliable witnesses, such as John, who did see the miracles; and by reading of the wonderful works to which they testify, we are convinced. John 20:30-31 clearly shows that miracles do not have to be repeated for each new generation. Whether it is the miracles of Jesus or the miracles of His followers, the principle is the same: once a fact has been adequately verified by miracles, it does not have to be re-verified for later generations by more miracles. The fact is that the so-called miracles performed by men today are not of such a nature as to convince unbelievers, anyway, as will be shown in a later article.
If we were receiving new revelations of truth from God, we would need to be able to perform miracles to prove these revelations to be divine. In the first century Christians did have new revelation, and they confirmed it by miracles (Mk. 16:17-20; Heb. 2:2-4). These signs do not have to be repeated for each new generation; rather, each new generation can read of the miracles of the first century and see that the word was confirmed by the abundance of miracles which accompanied it. Thus, Paul's affirmation that spiritual gifts would cease (1 Cor. 13) has come to pass. Our next article will deal with Paul's prediction in 1 Cor. 13.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 20, p. 312