Modern Day Miracles
Are They Fact Or Fiction?
There is a large debate among modern religious thinkers concerning the issue of spiritual gifts. Some say that miracles are alive and being actively performed on a daily basis by men and women of God. Others are saying miracles ceased in the closing years of the first century. Who is right? Allowing the New Testament to be the authoritative guide in answering the question at large will increase our faith by a knowledge of truth (Romans 10:17). This exegesis of First Corinthians chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen will attempt to handle correctly the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). Either it is the case that the people of God today possess miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, or it is not. Before you continue, please take your Bible and read First Corinthians chapters twelve through fourteen and the first two chapters of Acts. Take upon yourself the nobility of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see whether or not the things which they were being taught were so (Acts 17:11). May God bless you in your pursuit for correct understanding.
Introductory Matters I.
Bible students notice early in a study of First Corinthians chapter twelve that the different gifts mentioned therein are of the Holy Spirit's authorization. Before approaching this study, however, the more careful student will notice the miraculous capabilities of the disciples prior to the Holy Spirit's coming on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two. The first workings of miracles by disciples were not by the authority of the Holy Spirit but by our Lord Jesus Christ. Read Matthew chapter ten. He gave the chosen twelve power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of disease. The inquisitive mind will want to know the purpose for which Jesus commissioned His apostles with these miraculous abilities. In this limited commission, the apostles were to preach, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 10:7). The miracles were to accompany the preaching. Why? The purpose of the miraculous empowerment was twofold. First, it confirmed the message spoken by the apostles as the Word of God. After the Great Commission, Mark wrote concerning the apostles: "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." (Mark 16:20 KJV). Secondly, it proved the messenger to be sent by God's authority. For example, Nicodemus confessed to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2 KJV). The evidence is clear at this point that the apostles of Christ had the power to perform miracleslong before the Holy Spirit ushered in the church of our Lord on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
Introductory Matters II.
Perhaps two of the most misunderstood and misrepresented chapters of the Bible are the first two chapters of Acts. Paramount to the birth of New Testament Christianity is a proper understanding of this text. It is here that a discussion of Holy Spirit baptism is debated among religious thinkers. It is here that it is argued between religious minds whether or not speaking in "tongues" is visible evidence of a new Christian's conversion. It is imperative that Bible students properly handle these chapters; for, if it is the case that true saints are only those who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then those who have not received such a baptism are imperfect in their conversion to Christ. If, however, it was only the apostles of the first century who received this baptism, then those who profess such gifts in modern religion have been deceived and are actively attempting to entice others into their error.
A thorough study of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which in this paper we will not fully exhaust, will reveal the abilities which the receptors, of said baptism, would possess. Those baptized in the Holy Spirit would have total knowledge and recall (John 14:26); they would be guided into all of the truth (John 16:13). Jesus told His chosen twelve apostles they would have no need of preparation for a sermon, no study; the words would be given to them to speak (Matthew 10:19). The Holy Spirit would enable the apostles to speak the wisdom of God without prior meditation (Luke 21:14, 15; 12:11,12).
The first mention of the baptism of the Holy Spirit came from the mouth of John the Forerunner, "And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost" (John 1:33 KJV). John said that Jesus would be the One who administered Holy Spirit baptism. He did not say who would be the recipients of it. It is from Jesus that we learn that He would baptize only the apostles with this baptism (Acts 1:4,5,8).
The promised baptism of the Holy Spirit comes to fruition in the second chapter of Acts. The chosen twelve were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Contrary to the views of some religious teachers, the tongues spoken were known languages (Acts 2:5-13). There were devout men gathered there for Pentecost from many regions of the world. Each man heard the apostles speak in his own language (Acts 2:8). The miracle was not upon the hearers but those who spoke. The tongue is a physical organ and speaks human language. The languages spoken this day were not a language unknown to anyone (Acts 2:4,6,8). They spoke a language known and understood by the hearer but previously unknown by the speaker. The apostle spoke languages they had never before uttered, not in unintelligent sounds or jabber. Any man who presently claims this ability would do well to go to the United Nations Assembly in New York and preach the gospel of Christ to all present, if he truly has such a gift. Imagine the jaws that would drop to the floor!
It is imperative that the Bible student notice here something far more important than the apostle's new ability to speak in languages once foreign to them -- the purpose behind the tongues. Peter, an apostle, immediately began preaching a sermon that would win over about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41). The power of God unto salvation is not the speaking in tongues. The power of God to save souls is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). It was the gospel that pricked the hearts of the hearers not linguistics (Acts 2:37).
The crowd at Pentecost had a sin problem and the solution was Peter's command, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38 KJV). Acts 2:38 contains two commands, a purpose, and a promise. The commands are to repent and be baptized, the purpose is for the remission of sins, and the promise is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The word "gift" is singular, thus it cannot refer to the "gifts" of the Spirit. The only two logical possibilities for the phrase are either that the "gift" refers to salvation, as "gift" is used in Romans 6:23; or else, it refers to the Holy Spirit Himself. Let us keep in mind that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not neccesarily equate with miraculous empowerment. John the immerser was full of the Holy Spirit; yet, he never performed a single miracle. Read and compare Luke 1:15 with John 10:41. Thus, it is certainly possible for the Holy Spirit to dwell in a saint without reference to any miraculous capabilities. Consider 1 John 3:24 which reads, "And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." Truthfully, when we begin to understand how it is that we dwell in Christ, we will then begin to understand how it is that the Spirit, God, dwells in us. It is a covenant relationship. The Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13,14). Miracles guarantee nothing, in and of themselves (1 Corinthians 13:1,2). Hence, the promised gift of the Holy Spirit is not a promise of supernatural endowment; it is Divine approval and acceptance of a redeemed soul.
There were people in the first century, besides the apostles, who had the ability to perform miracles. Men upon whom the apostles "laid hands" received miraculous power. Study Acts 6:5-6,8; 8:6-7,13,17-19; 19:1-7; Rom. 1:11. These upon whom the apostles "laid hands," however, could not impart the gifts to others! Philip, the deacon, was such a man (Acts 6:5-6). See also, Acts 8:7,13. The apostles were needed to impart miraculous gifts (Acts 8:18). Yet, Philip could and did baptize believers (Acts 8:12-13). Hence, they would receive the "gift of the Holy Spirit" of Acts 2:38 and 5:32. Observe that the Holy Spirit was not given through the laying on of the apostles hands, only the miraculous element was imparted. This element, in turn, could not be passed to anyone else. The Holy Spirit as a gift came through obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:38); the miraculous manifestation came through the apostles hands only. The one and only time a miraculous manifestation occurred separate from the laying on of the apostles' hands was just prior to the conversion of the Gentiles in Acts chapter ten. God confirmed to Peter and to the rest of the Hebrew Christians that He was no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). The flow of this context shows that God accepts Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:43). None of the converted could transfer miraculous gifts to others. There is a purpose for everything God says and does.
We come now to the focus of our studies. Among the multitude of problems and questions addressed by Paul, the apostle, the issue of spiritual gifts is spotlighted in First Corinthians chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen. Specifically, these three chapters were written to correct disorders which had arisen in the church at Corinth.(1) The Christians had come to envy and strive over who had been given the superior gift. Some of them had come to abuse and misuse their gifts. Some had the same misconception that many religious people have today. The Corinthian brethren had come to desire spiritual gifts as the "end of their faith."(2) Actually, these gifts were intended to strengthen the church, to protect her, to confirm the Word, and to bring God's revelation to man. The Corinthian Christians failed to respect the fact that the gifts were given for edification.(3) It is critical that the Bible student identify the considerations Paul gives attention to concerning this vital issue at Corinth.
First Corinthians Chapter Twelve
In this passage of sacred text, Paul considers the source of miraculous gifts, the identification of those gifts, their relationship to love, the superiority of the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues, and the confusion and disorder which was being allowed in relation to these gifts.(4)
In this text, the source of miraculous gifts is the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). According to Acts 8:14ff these gifts could be imparted only by laying on of hands of the apostles. There are nine specific gifts mentioned: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healings, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (12:8-10). The last paragraph of chapter twelve lists them in rank of importance to the church (12:27-28). Notably, individual members of the church had different gifts. Not all were apostles. Not all were prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, etc. (12:29-30). Notably, the gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation are at the bottom of the list.
The same listing here is also in Ephesians 4:11. It is found in the Ephesian letter that the granting of these gifts is the fulfillment of Psalm 68:18 (Ephesians 4:8). The purpose for the gifts given in that text was "for the edifying of the body of Christ 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" (Ephesians 4:12,13 KJV). The clear understanding of this verse and 1 Corinthians 13:8 is that the gifts had an edifying purpose for the church and were temporary.
First Corinthians Chapter Thirteen
In all their splendor the miraculous gifts were inferior to what the inspired apostle, Paul, called "a more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31). Chapter thirteen of the sacred text brings to surface the supremacy of love.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 KJV)
Without love, charity as the KJV reads, Paul says we are nothing. The Corinthians needed to hear this message! They had become puffed up with envy and pride because of their miraculous capabilities. Love is eternal but, eventually, the gifts would cease (13:8). The prophecies would cease; the gift of tongues and their miraculous knowledge would come to an end. More on this will be addressed later in this paper but let it suffice to say for now, the spiritual gifts were temporal.
First Corinthians Chapter Fourteen
In 57 AD, the approximate dating of this epistle, spiritual gifts were a major part of Christian education and encouragement (14:31). The overall thrust of this chapter is a command for orderly Christian worship (14:40). The more direct concern for the issue at hand will compare the proper versus the improper use of spiritual gifts in the assembly of first century saints.
For the purpose of educating the saints in eternal matters Paul cited prophecy as a greater gift than speaking in tongues (14:1-5). In the assembly, speaking in tongues would edify only the individual who spoke, unless the tongue was translated into a language understood by all. Otherwise, the spoken words would remain an unintelligible utterance. On this point, it is plausible to note that there may have been envious imposters in the assembly who babbled unintelligible words to make it appear that he or she had a miraculous gift as well as the others. To such a one would be addressed such comments of the inspired writer as, "So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air" (1 Corinthians 14:9 KJV). To those with the gift of tongues he again wrote:
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." (1 Corinthians 14:19 KJV)
Speaking in tongues, actually, was not even intended for the assembly of believers. It was meant to be an evangelistic tool (14:22). Nevertheless, Paul did not forbid their use (14:39). Rather, he commanded that they only be used in the assembly when an interpretation could be made (14:13,14). His reasoning was clear.
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? (1 Corinthians 14:15-16 KJV)
The last point to take note of in this chapter is the controllable nature of the spiritual gifts in the first century (14:26-40). These gifts were not meant to give the congregation an "emotional high" but to edify (14:26). If there was no interpreter in the assembly, the ones with the ability to speak in tongues were to remain silent (14:28). When they did speak, they were to take turns speaking one at a time (14:27). The prophets, too, were to take turns speaking, one at a time, and the others were to judge (14:29). "For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted" (1 Corinthians 14:31 KJV). The women were not permitted to speak to the assembly but were to remain submissive (14:34). "And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Corinthians 14:35 KJV). The thrust of the lesson is "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40 KJV).
Analysis Of First Corinthians 13:8-13
It is rarely debated among religious thinkers that the spiritual gifts are temporal. The heated question is as to the time at which they will or have already passed away. Arguments rise over the meaning of the word "perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10. By the flow of the context, once that which is "perfect" has come, then the miraculous elements would cease and only three major attributes of the Christian would remain, namely: faith, hope, and love (13:13).Advocates of the modern existence of miraculous gifts say "perfect" refers to Christ. They say that the age of miracles will continue until the return of Christ. There is a difficulty in that rationale within the context of First Corinthians chapter thirteen. When that which is "perfect" becomes reality, faith, hope and love will yet abide. According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Secondly, according to Romans 8:24, hope that is seen is no longer hope. When Christ returns, hope and faith will become a reality. Only love will remain, for God is love (1 John 4:8). Thus, logic prohibits the understanding of "perfect" to refer to Christ in this context.
The obvious question to propose then is, "what is the object of 'perfect'?" The affirmation made by those who believe man's possession of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased near the close of the first century say "perfect" refers to the completed revelation of God's Word. That is to say, that when the last letter of the New Testament was finished, the working of miracles had accomplished their purpose and therefore came to an end. Of a truth, the Word of God is perfect (James 1:25); in it, the saints can be made perfect (2 Timothy 3:17; Colossians 1:28; Hebrews 7:19; 10:14).
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (James 1:25 KJV)
The creation in which we now live came into existence by the miraculous power of God. It was necessary that God sustain its existence by miraculously creating the earth, stars, the plants, animals, and man each in proper order. Once creation was complete, God ceased from His works (Genesis 2:1,2). The creation of His church followed a similar pattern. The church was miraculously introduced by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2). In her infancy, it was necessary for God to strengthen the church by miraculous workings. The goal was to mature the church out of childhood by a faith and knowledge in and of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:11-15). Once adulthood was reached the childish things were done away (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Since the purpose of miraculous gifts has been fulfilled, to reveal and confirm the truth, these gifts have ceased (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3,4; Jude 3; Ephesians 3:3-5; John 16:13). The truth once confirmed is confirmed forever. We have the written, inspired Word to make believers (John 20:30,31). Also, the means of obtaining the miraculous gifts has ceased. Only the apostles had the ability, by the laying on of hands, to pass the gifts of the Spirit to another Christian. No apostles are living today to perform these signs, or to impart these gifts; and, based upon Ephesians 4:5, there is no Holy Spirit baptism today. Likewise, there is no one living today who has received a miraculous gift from an apostle. Thus, when the last apostle died and the last person upon whom the apostles had laid hands died, there was no one who could perform miracles!(5)
Those who claim miraculous gifts today are subject to be tested (1 John 4:1; Revelation 2:2). For the infamous reply from such advocates, "I don't have to prove I can perform miracles," read the following passages before such a hasty reply: 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 2:22; 2:43; 5:12; Romans 5:18,19. Those who try to escape from the light of proof by saying: "But, I'll be testing God," ought to read 2 Corinthians 12:12 where the apostles proved themselves by Divine signs.
"Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain" (Proverbs 25:14 KJV).
(1) Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians." Firm Foundation Publishing House, Austion, Texas, 1976.
(2) Connally, Andrew. "The Fundamentals." Connally Publications, Seagoville, Texas.
(3) Cotham, Perry B. "The Cotham-John Debate on Modern Day Miracles." Conducted at the Eastern Avenue Church of Christ, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989.
(4) Deaver, Roy. "The Living Message Of First Corinthians." The Living Messages of the Books of the New Testament. The First Annual "Spiritual Sword" Lectureship, Memphis, Tennessee, 1976. Published by National Christian Press, Jonesboro, Arkansas.
(5) Hodge, Charles, D.D. "An Exposition Of The First Epistle To the Corinthians." W.M. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reprinted 1974.
Published in The Old Paths Archive