It is my view that the past gifts (often called the sign gifts) of apostleship, prophecy, tongues, healings, and miracles etc. are no longer operational today because our Lord is not currently dispensing them at this time. The reasons (both biblical and reasonable) for this are numerous, and the Scriptural evidence seems to favor this conclusion more than otherwise.
Additionally, it does not appear that what presently passes as these miraculous gifts is the real deal because of the many emotional and ecstatic faking occurrences in many Charismatic and Pentecostal congregations. It is most certainly true that even many sign-gift supporters agree that these gifts are abused, misused, and manipulated for control and advantage. There is no denying the tremendous amount of silliness and spiritual immaturity among so many in these groups who look down on others who do not possess what they believe they have and what they think everyone else should be doing. That was part of the problem the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12) struggled with when they saw as less important anyone who wasn’t gifted as they were.
Ironically, Paul discussed some of the sign gifts with the most spiritually immature congregation we have mentioned in all of the epistles in the New Testament (hence they contain many chapters in both parts). This fact should give most who support their continuation a great pause. We see so many of the same problems today as those that occurred during Paul’s time that you can’t help but look around at the mess and wonder if what is being done today in these churches is the correct biblical approach. Things were bad enough in the Corinthian assembly, and today, many of those wrapped up in the sign gifts movements have taken the silliness a step further by warning that only those who can speak in tongues belong to Christ. The only way these individuals support these false claims is by ignoring or twisting the biblical text so that the true meaning does not need to be any concern for them or anyone else. Much of these types of churches have turned into cults and (depending on the individual church and denomination) promote all kinds of false teachings.
However, we must clarify that not all those who believe in the existence and participation of the sign gifts are like what we have described above. And there are various church groups and denominations (not just Pentecostals) that have eagerly embraced the charismatic movement that has stormed on for the past hundred years or more/less. Likewise, different charismatics hail from various walks of life. So it is never fair to lump all of these individuals into one batch of “sourdough.” There are many well-meaning, genuinely born-again believers who claim the existence and practice of the miraculous gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-7. But believing in and focusing on the wrong things that we shouldn’t be spending time on (the belief and practice of the transitional gifts) is dangerous and a complete waste of time when they are no longer given by our Lord today. God’s Word is what truly requires most of our attention and energy. The complete and perfect Word of God adequately lived out will safely get a believer from here to eternity.
However, the sign gifts were practiced during the early days of the church (obviously). Not only that, but some of them will come back to life at the tribulation’s start and after it during the millennium. So you could say they only temporarily ceased for reasons we will discuss later on. The sign gifts had (as many of the trends in Scripture show) specific purposes for particular periods so that their presence rises or falls based on where we are in history and whether they are needed for the time being.
Before we dive into this brief study, I would like to inform the reader that it is not my place to judge another person’s experience and that I will not attempt to do so. But this does not mean I or anyone else is obligated to accept such stories as true when we believe God’s Word does not support such occurrences. Allow me to say that it is not our job (nor should we) to force our views down other people’s throats. But we must remember that there is only one answer to this. Either these gifts have ceased since the closing of the canon (my view) or have continued up to our day. And allow me to clarify that God does indeed perform miracles! They are still around (they happen all the time) and occur through the almighty power of God whenever, however, and wherever He chooses to perform them. But that is not the same as giving some in the presently existing church the gifts (power) as were dispensed during the apostolic period. Yes, our Lord can do anything. However, just because He could give the miraculous gifts to believers today does not mean He is presently doing so. And it is never a matter of “wanting” or “desiring” something we most likely can’t and aren’t meant to have. So there is no point in asking for something God gives selectively and during different phases of history.
It is my hope that all who undertake to study the subject at hand would allow God’s Word to be their number one source for discovering the truth and living it out. The Bible always trumps experiences and emotions. So putting anything before the truth is always a dangerous thing to do.
1. The Dangers of the “Sign-Gifts Movements”
It should be apparent by now that the tribulation is not far off from our present time and that those coming days will see the most significant amount of false signs, miracles, deception, and apostasy the world will have ever witnessed. And there are many reasons why the great deception (2 Thessalonians 2:3) prophesied in Scripture will devastate the faith of so many believers alive at that time. We already know that the presently lukewarm state of the church will be the largest contributing factor because it will render the faith of so many of our brothers and sisters unprepared for those difficult times ahead (Revelation 3:14-22). Those less grounded in the Word will have a more difficult time coping with all the deception and satanic attacks prevalent during those days. False teaching is rampant in the church today, so many are already disadvantaged for what lies ahead. But the biggest problem with the sign gifts movement is that it is setting so many believers up for failure.
3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
The biggest issue with those who wish to expend so much of their time, attention, and energy focusing on the transitional gifts long past is that it encourages believers to live based on what they see, hear, and feel. The more time a congregation gives to emotional and ecstatic experiences, the less it has to grow as it should. Undoubtedly, the most excellent singular source of truth for any growing believer is the Bible, which deserves our utmost care and attention. We, the church, have the whole completed canon of Scripture to guide us in all areas of truth and proper application. So why do so many desire to focus on anything but the very inspired words of God Himself? If mental, physical, and emotional experiences become our litmus test for what is true and what is false, then all who wish to live their life for God in this manner will have to account for all the demonic physical and visible manifestations destined to occur during the tribulation (even if we presently alive may not see those dark days). Many gullible believers will fall for these shams because they will be unprepared to discern between truth and error. Many today already follow the false teachings of those who claim to know and do things they don’t understand. So how will so many naïve believers navigate the future tribulation when they haven’t learned to maneuver around all the obstacles so common now?
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,
In addition to everything we have written above, those in the church are told to test the spirits (prophets) to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1). Some may argue they have done this. But what is their standard for determining the truth? If it is anything other than what the Bible teaches (experiences, emotions, etc.), they have not biblically approached these matters. The Bible always trumps all experiences, whether they manifest themselves inwardly or outwardly. Faith is the only way believers can walk through this world safely to the end. But signs are for the spiritually immature.
29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
A major problem within the charismatic movement is the idea that they HAVE to have some visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. However, the reasons among charismatics and all such believers vary and are not the same for all individuals. True, genuine faith produces (James 2:14-26), and the Spirit will produce good works and virtues through the growing believer (Galatians 5:22-23; John 15:1-8). But that is not the same as present believers receiving the now discontinued gift of tongues, prophecy, healings, and miracles. During the early days of the church, not every believer had a miraculous gift. The biggest problem is when outward signs are taught to be the absolute proof that one is saved. To put it this way, some in the signs movement falsely proclaim that anyone who does not possess and manifest these gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy, do not belong to Christ because the Spirit produces these miraculous works through all spiritually born-again believers. But this is easily refuted by 1 Corinthians 12:29, which states, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” Our passage is clear that not everyone had the sign gifts during the apostolic period.
The greatest danger with those who support this type of modern “spirit manifestation” is that some who believe it to be a sign of a true conversion experience think that these gifts must occur to prove a person’s salvation legitimate. Again, this is obviously false when we consider 1 Corinthians 12:29 and all the biblical evidence showing that salvation is by faith through grace alone and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 11:5-6; Acts 16:31; John 3:16). And tongues (as one of the miraculous sign gifts) were not always present every time a believer had a conversation experience throughout the transitional book of Acts. This book, written by Luke, is historical and transitional, telling us precisely what happened during this time when the church was being established and adjusting to the New Covenant way of life. We cannot stress that fact enough! Not everything done during the apostolic period in Acts was meant for us to carry on today! This point is extremely crucial to understand as we continue to evaluate our present subject.
For example, the sign gifts were often associated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which began being poured out at the first Jewish Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. Acts 2:41 then tells us that 3,000 people “were added to their number that day.” Water baptism was involved, but there is no mention of tongues or other miraculous things occurring. However, this is not proof that the gifts were absent but only possibilities that they weren’t present. Although many large groups of believers spoke in tongues and prophesied after receiving the Holy Spirit’s baptism, not everyone or every group had these same experiences (for reasons we will mention later in our study). Prime examples that come to mind are the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:27-34), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-49), and Saul (who became Paul) (Acts 9:1-19).
The problem with having to see some “sign” to confirm the salvation (or strengthen one’s faith at the very least) of every person who comes to Christ is that it defeats the entire purpose of believing in Jesus. First, our Lord said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign” (Matthew 16:4a). The whole point of faith is to believe in what we cannot see but know exists! Hebrews 11:1 puts it well when it says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Either a person believes in Christ’s words that they are saved the moment they receive His offer of eternal life (His Son Jesus Christ) or believe in the signs they think confirm Christ has received them into His family. The thinking circulates in the following manner: “Lord Jesus, I’ll only believe you saved me after I’ve seen something to confirm you kept your promise that all those who believe will be saved.”
I will not attempt to judge the spiritual condition of such people, but it does appear these individuals aren’t exercising faith at all. Case in point is that it is a false and very dangerous teaching which contradicts everything the Bible says on the issue of receiving eternal life. “I’ll only believe I’ve been rescued until I’ve seen signs to prove it!” True faith KNOWS that the promise of salvation will see fulfillment upon initial belief. But this judgmental attitude from so many who wish to believe tongues must accompany an actual salvation experience is false in many ways. It discredits a large portion of the church by lumping those who lack the gifts as unbelievers void of the Spirit. This belief system forces them to conclude that most believers in the past 2,000 years of church history were never saved at all.
However, we will clarify later in this study that many charismatics and sign-gift supporters do not believe this. Instead, many (if not most) think these individuals are still saved but lack the faith to receive these spiritual gifts. Others believe there are two baptisms of the Spirit. Finally, there are those who believe the possession of a sign gift depends on whether God has given said person that particular gift. This reasoning is better than that of the others, but still false considering these gifts have been discontinued. Nonetheless, this just goes to show that not all Charismatics believe the same thing. There exists some differences among them.
The Spirit’s voice is “still,” and “small” for a reason (1 Kings 19-11-13; Hebrews 12:18-24), and that is for the very purpose of our Lord not wishing to violate anyone’s free will. During our Christ’s time on earth, many would respond to Him enthusiastically only because of the signs and miracles their eyes would see and not necessarily out of a deep and loving desire to follow the Lord with STEADFAST FAITH faithfully to the end.
The above was a major problem during our Lord’s stay on earth when so many eagerly embraced Him because of the many miracles and false expectations of what they thought He was going to do in their time. For example, Israel expected a conquering king to liberate them from the Romans but instead got a suffering servant and Messiah who would end His earthly life on a tree. The whole reason Jesus performed signs and miracles was to help reveal Himself to the world. But it is unlikely He did any of this for the first thirty years of His life before His three year public ministry. And the reason for this was because our Lord was not yet revealing Himself to Israel. In the modern church today, we have the completed canon of Scripture which has all the truth we need. There is no more need for continuous revelation. Therefore, there is no need for miraculous gifts.
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
The biggest issue with the charismatic movement is the misplaced hope in the sensation of the mind and body over the excitement of something so highly abused (not to mention nonexistent) and misunderstood in our current day of the church. These groups and organizations have and continue to do enough damage in the past and in our present time. We will witness the full impact of this damage during the most horrific period in human history to come, the tribulation. We must remember that, just as how so many embraced Christ for all His miracles during His time on earth, a vast number (consisting of both unbelievers and apostate believers who become unbelievers) will do the same when the false christ (the antichrist) comes on the scene performing many false signs, “wonders,” and miracles. If outward manifestations are what so many believers today want, then the beast and his false prophet will have plenty of them to suit the tastes of all those who choose “senses” over faith. I would ask the reader to allow this point to sink in!
11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.
2. Examining the Biblical Evidence
Our examination will begin in Acts 2:1-4, where tongues often occurred with the baptism (baptizo) of the Spirit in the New Testament.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
These four verses are beloved by those who wish to use them as proof texts that the sign gifts are for today. However, it is not enough to take those verses and force them into some doctrinal teachings without considering the rest of the context in chapter two. And this is where so many go wrong when interpreting the passage because they misunderstand the prophecy spoken by Joel (Joel 2:31) used by Peter to explain what was happening. So what do those verses refer to?
16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:17 “‘ In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
All the words in bold directly above speak of the second advent return of Jesus Christ at the battle of Armageddon when He returns to slaughter the antichrist and his forces. Other passages that foresee these events include (but are not limited to) Matthew 24:29, Isaiah 13:1-13, Zechariah 14, Joel 2:31, and Revelation 6:12. The return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is what ushers in His thousand-year Millennial reign on earth. Some of the sign gifts will be present during and after the tribulation period because of the transitional importance those years will carry.
When we examine the whole Bible, we notice patterns with miracles, signs and wonders throughout the Old and New Testaments when they were more prevalent than at other times. There were indeed various miracles and signs throughout the Old Testament after Moses and the Exodus (the prophets and other great believers). However, before Moses and the giving of the Law that kickstarted the Old Covenant, we don’t see many miracles taking place the way they did during the beginning of both the Old and New Covenants. Moses and the Exodus saw the plagues and the parting of the red sea around the time God gave them the Mosaic Covenant. Likewise, we see that signs and miracles were heavily active when the Old Covenant was phased out by the New (hence Acts being a transitional book). The final major transition left to take place will be during the tribulation and after Christ’s return during the Millennium. Once again, these are all MAJOR transitional periods in the church’s history. We must understand that those during Old Testament times did not have the completed canon of Scripture available (the NT and parts of the OT). So the need for prophets after Moses and Elijah’s/Elisha’s time was necessary to communicate and confirm God’s power, truth, and presence to all who were present or nearby.
And we should not forget that (before the giving of the Law) miracles and divine manifestations were foreign to the Israelites who had never seen them before in such dramatic fashion. The biggest reason for this was that the first major covenant with God’s people as a collective whole was something the nation had not transitioned into yet. And despite all they witnessed, most of the Jews during this time still refused to stay faithful, as much of the OT books reveals.
Today, we have the entire completed Bible, which contains ALL the information we need to grow, progress, and produce for Jesus Christ. But this was not so during the apostolic period when the New Covenant way of life was becoming predominant. Moses and the Israelites underwent their transition with the giving of the Law. But even after them, until the gospels and Paul’s letters, there were no NT teachings and doctrines. Therefore, it was necessary for the Prophets and great believers of old to communicate the present and future truth to their audiences when the complete Canon was lacking. Now, the transitional period of the New covenant had come, and the apostles and their associates had received miraculous sign gifts to help the church adjust to the New Covenant until the completion of the entire canon. The ultimate “instruction manual,” the complete Bible, " would replace the communication gifts.
So Acts 2:19-21 refers to the final transitional period, the Tribulation and the Millennium when some of the sign gifts shall return to help the church transition into and evangelize the new and last era of their history before eternity. Additionally, the signs and wonders to occur from believers during the tribulation will come from the two witnesses and (very likely) the 144,000 Jewish evangelists. So, for that time period, they will be limited to specially selected individuals.
So why did the Jews at Pentecost and the Gentiles in Acts 10:46 speak in tongues? The spirit enabled these believers to do so as a sign and preview of the more remarkable pouring out of the Spirit that will come at Christ’s return and into the Millennium. These events mentioned in Acts confirmed to these Jewish believers that the New Covenant was present and that they had officially received the Holy Spirit. This event also acted as a sign and witness to unbelievers that God was with them (Acts 2:5-12), acting as an evangelistic tool (the primary purpose of tongues was for evangelism)!
Likewise, we see a similar event occurring with the Gentiles (the Samaritans came earlier in Acts 8) in Acts 10:46 when (through miraculous SIGN gifts) the Lord confirmed to these believers that they were now accepted into the New Covenant as equals with their Jewish brethren. They, too, got to foresee the greater pouring out that would occur at Christ’s return. After the events of Acts 10, the Ephesians in Acts 19:1-7 were the next group to receive the Holy Spirit and witness His working power through the enablement to speak in various languages. And yes, this was still part of the transitional period from the Old to the New Covenant. They were already saved but had only received John’s water baptism. For this reason, Paul had to lay hands on them to mediate the Spirit. Of course, we don’t see this today because it is no longer needed. Nowhere does Acts command believers to lay hands on others or pray for the coming of the Spirit. But that is something that all of these events (the receiving of the Spirit by the Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and Ephesians) have in common. In every one of these occurrences where many believers received the Holy Spirit, an apostle was always present.
Finally, the Greek word for “tongues” in Acts 2:4 is glossa and does refer to an existing spoken human language that could be understood and interpreted. One of the bigger problems with the idea that tongues are still around today is that we don’t see hardly anyone using them for their intended purpose of evangelism. That right there is a strike against those who so favorably embrace and promote the practice. Why not encourage others in the supposed tongue-speaking community to use their gift for missions? If what is spoken in so many of these churches is an actual intelligible human language, then the best way to confirm if it is legit is to find someone to witness to who can interpret and understand it. But I have not seen any convincing evidence that these gifts are still operational in our modern time. If anything, there are many fakes and emotional, ecstatic utterances within these congregations.
As we have already seen, tongues are not ecstatic utterances due to emotionally and psychologically driven activities. From what the Bible and history tell us, ecstatic utterances have nothing to do with God and are often practiced by unbelievers of various backgrounds, such as certain Catholics, Eastern religions, etc. (the list goes on). So what passes as real tongues in charismatic groups today is nothing more than emotional, psychological, and (perhaps) demonic activity. This is not to say that all or even most of those attempting to speak in a foreign language are under satanic control. It just means that such a thing is a possibility for some (no doubt about that).
2.2 A Second Blessing? The Baptism and indwelling of the Spirit
A common belief among some charismatic assemblies (especially Pentecostals) is this belief of some type of second baptism or indwelling of the Holy Spirit as an addition to the only indwelling or baptism of the Spirit all believers undergo. This teaching, also known as the second blessing, has two parts—it refers to the modern belief of sinless perfection and the Pentecostal idea of a second baptism or coming (however you want to word it) of the Spirit to believers. The first meaning is easily refuted by 1 John 1:8 because only liars and self-deceivers claim to not sin. However this was not how John Wesley (a major supporter of this teaching) taught the second blessing. He believed that spiritual growth and continuous sanctification would continue even after this event in a believer’s life. In other words, it is unlikely he taught this to mean that any individual could achieve such great maturity that they no longer committed any sin.
Now, to address the second meaning, we must understand right from the beginning that there is only one baptism of the Spirit that ALL believers receive at salvation (Matthew 3:11, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 Peter 3:21, Galatians 3:27). Ephesians 4:4-6 clarifies that 4 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” This “one” baptism can only refer to the only baptism that has the power to place a believer into Christ—the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Water baptism cannot accomplish that.
One of the arguments to support a second coming or empowerment of the spirit to enable one to exercise the sign gifts stems from John 20:21-22.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
The part in bold we have above was not our Lord setting a pattern. The eleven (eventually regrouped as the twelve) were to be apostles and endowed with greater special authority than the rest of the church. The disciples were unique and had a special role to play that the rest of the body of believers did not possess. There were only twelve apostles (as there will only be twelve thrones from which they will judge the church or twelve tribes of Israel Matthew 19:28). So what was this “breathing on” of the Spirit, and what did it entail? We understand it was not the coming or baptism of the Spirit recorded in Acts 2:1-4 because those are different events marked by other times and circumstances. The Spirit comes upon believers only ONCE when they receive the gospel, not twice. This special and temporary filling of the spirit given by Jesus to His disciples was selective and fleeting for special empowerment, just as it was for many Old Testament saints who never possessed the permanent indwelling of the Spirit. This type of filling also occurred with Mary in Luke 1:35. None of these occurrences refer to a permanent indwelling, as in Acts 2:1-4 and all the instances after that. We see no passages in Scripture that support the so-called “second blessing,” and the burden of proof is on those who claim it.
As examples of the selective nature of the Spirit (which is the case with our John 20:21-23 context), we have the following passages mentioned in our excerpt below. Text is taken from The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some may bring up the challenge that king David lost his salvation when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. But, of course, that is not the case.* *The Holy Spirit was given differently during old testament times as opposed to how we receive it today. Ever since the Jewish and Gentile Pentecost, the Spirit has come to indwell the person who has accepted Christ permanently. But the Holy Spirit did not reside in believers in this manner during Old Testament times or before the major believer pentecosts.
15“ If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
We contrast the above passage with the passages below, which show that the Spirit came upon specific believers during old Testament times to empower them for particular tasks the Lord had for them to accomplish. In David’s case, the Spirit came upon him to be God’s chosen king of Israel, and would empower him to carry out the work the Lord had for Him to do, and in addition to this, acting as a sign of his kingship.
10 Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are these all the children?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
Immediately after this section of the passage in the next verse, we see that the Spirit had departed from Saul, indicating that God gave Saul’s kingship to David. Because of his carnal disobedience, the Spirit no longer empowered the once king of Israel to carry out his duties since the Lord had rejected him. As discipline, the Lord sent an evil spirit to torment David’s future foe.
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.
Other passages that show that God’s Spirit would come upon people who were already believers to empower them for specific purposes and tasks are Numbers 11:24-30, Judges 14:5-6, Judges 6:34, and Judges 3:9-11. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit during Old Testament times was selective and temporary.
A major problem that exists with the second blessing teaching is encountered in John 7:38-39.
38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The Spirit was not given permanently to anyone until the first Jewish Pentecost, which occurred in Acts after our Lord’s ascension to the Father’s right hand. To get around the text’s clear meaning, some will go as far as to concoct a theory that there were two ascensions to the Father to justify another type of indwelling of the Spirit. This theory is how some explain John 20:21-23. But the Bible nowhere states that Christ ascended to the Father twice. The list mentioned here (Acts 2:32-35, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 3:22, Acts 1:6-9) doesn’t imply He did. If He had done so, why is there no mention of it? Did Christ need to die on the cross twice? Did He need to be buried more than once? Then why go and sit next to the Father two times? John 20:17 indicates that Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father after His resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’
Some of the difficulty over the above no doubt stems from the confusion over the difference between being baptized “with” or “by” the Spirit and “into” Him. But this is a simultaneous act where the Spirit baptizes us into Christ while the believer is filled with the Spirit’s presence. Ultimately, we are baptized into both Jesus Christ and the Spirit. The infusion of the Spirit to indwell us instantly places us into Jesus Christ. So in the end, there is only one coming or baptism of the Spirit.
2.3 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14
The final central biblical context which discusses the sign gifts is found in 1 Corinthians chapters twelve to fourteen. But we need to understand that Paul mentions them in the letter to the Corinthians because of that congregation’s spiritual immaturity, understanding, and misuse of spiritual gifts. These three chapters tell a pretty revealing story about how some of these spiritual manifestations became a distraction and a stumbling block for the early church. We will briefly examine the parts of these three chapters about our subject to better understand the issue.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
As our passage above shows, the sign gifts were given to certain believers and utilized by those such gifted. They existed for a time during the church when communicating the truth was more difficult because the Canon was not yet complete. The apostolic period was marked as a transitional time when the truth had to be communicated in special and unique ways to compensate for the lack of a complete Bible.
During Paul and the apostle’s time, the Spirit directly spoke to believers who possessed the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and faith. But, like the rest of the gifts mentioned in our passage, they too would phase out later on. The Spirit no longer directly communicates the truth to believers because there is no need when we have the completed Canon to read, understand, believe, apply, and teach. The truth can only come in the church today when believers grow in the Word as they should and understand and apply it sufficiently enough to instruct others. But, of course, all of this is still accomplished in the Spirit’s power. 1 Peter 4:11 sums this up by stating (regarding the gift of pastor teachers), “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”
To put it this way, the Spirit works through the believer to help Him understand what he reads from Scripture. But that still requires faithful study. Those thus gifted in Paul’s time who lacked study material would automatically receive the information they needed without any content to analyze because there was little yet available in written form. That is the change that has occurred, along with the cessation of the gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
God does heal (some have this gift today but not in the same form as the miraculous type that existed during the apostle’s time) and perform miracles in our own time. And He does answer prayers for healing. But only those given the power and authority to heal another person could do so. The purpose of this manifestation was to aid the church in evangelizing the lost without a complete Bible and organized church. The gift of miracles and healing were temporary gifts that proved the message and the one presenting it as trustworthy. Hebrews 2:1-4 below relates to this time when the church needed special help for its establishment.
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 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.
And since the Bible’s completion, there was no longer any need for the gift of prophecy (foretelling new revelation). And the ability to discern between spirits was only needed during the early phase of the church when false teaching would have been more of a threat to the faithful in the absence of many New Testament teachings found in the completed Canon of Scripture (1 John 4:1-6). Without all of the truths of the rest of God’s Word to disprove any false claims and attacks from outsiders (as well as insiders), many believers would have been in greater danger of falling away from the truth. As for tongues, we will discuss those further in our examination.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31 shows us the order of the greatest gifts in terms of which carried the most authority. Apostleship (a gift that has also disappeared) carried the greatest responsibility within the church. Paul and the other apostles were prime examples of this. Their gifting was unique and is no longer available to believers today. However, there were two forms of the gift. One was possessed by Paul and the eleven, and the other in the form of evangelism. So there were other “apostles” just not the same type as the twelve. In Greek, the word apostle refers to one sent out. But during the early church days, the type of apostleship possessed by Paul and the disciples had the highest rank and was unique to them specifically.
As for the rest of our context, it is not an uncommon belief among Charismatics that certain gifts (tongues are a prime example) can be sought or asked for if the desire and faith to receive them is great enough. But it is not a matter of faith or desire. It is even more unrealistic to seek something the Lord is not currently giving. And as verses 29-30 clarify, not all have the same gifts. In other words, just desiring something and asking for it will not necessarily mean said person will get what they want. No believer gets to choose their spiritual gift because they are God-given to each individual for intended results overseen by the Spirit. Verse eleven in the earlier part of our context confirms this when it says, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one just as He determines.” The gifts we receive at salvation are ultimately God’s choice, so making the results a matter of what one wants is very dangerous. This mentality has inflicted so much damage on the church since it distracts so many from serving where God wanted them originally. So if the Lord wants us to do one thing, but we chase after something else, we don’t end up going in the right direction. For example, no one should become a teacher if God wants them to be a missionary (assuming that is their only gift). It is never a good idea to do something one is not gifted to do.
The phrase, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts,” is in the plural, not the singular. It does not imply that we can do and become whatever we want. If someone was to ask the Lord for the gift of teaching, that doesn’t mean God will lead that person into a teaching ministry. It is all about God’s plan and what He wants us to do. This concept should be clear from all we have said above. Paul was not speaking to individual believers but the entire church as a corporate whole. He encouraged His listeners (the entire Corinthian assembly) to pray for the higher communication gifts (such as prophecy) because of their more effective ability to communicate the truth (especially in those early days when the Bible was not complete and written New Testament teachings were scarce). No one gets to choose what they become.
The Corinthians had so many moral issues that Paul needed to encourage the entire assembly to pray for the growth of those individuals so gifted in communicating the truth to step up to the plate to aid in the congregation’s spiritual advance (since they were struggling so badly). Many were abusing their gifts or chasing after and focusing on the wrong ones. These were among the many problems the Corinthians had, so they needed all the biblical truth they could get. As one of the more carnal and “childish” churches Paul had to deal with, the Corinthians desperately needed more truth than any of the other assemblies mentioned in the New Testament (the Philippians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, etc.). They needed a heavy dose of the Word; information they could often only receive with the help of those given the ability to communicate it directly and effectively.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The biggest question readers of this passage face is, “What is the ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ referred to in these verses?” Four common views for the “perfect” are the eternal state, the closing of the Canon, the believer’s death, and the return of Christ at His second advent before the Millennium. We won’t examine all of those here for the sake of time and space. However, I believe the perfect or complete refers to the completion of the Bible and the second advent (Daniel 9:24) since verse twelve suggests a concept instead of a concrete thing (as opposed to verse ten). The Greek word for “complete” is to-teleion and means complete, perfect, and mature. But that and the word partial are in the neuter gender, so the “perfect” refers more to a thing (by implication), showing us that this word is referring to the completed Bible (vs 10) in addition to the return of Christ (vs 12). Dr. Luginbill of Ichthys.com put it this way to me in an email—
So it’s not really that there are two things here but that there is “one thing” which encompasses all of this: no more partial knowledge in the shorter term (Bible replaces temporary gifts) or in the longer term (complete knowledge when we see the Lord in resurrection)
Prophecy, knowledge, and tongues were communication gifts that spoke the truth to audiences who lacked the completed Bible. So they are contrasted with the entire Word of God because that is now complete and fully able to communicate everything the Lord wants us to know. All the partial knowledge derived from the sign gifts (all of them including the others not mentioned in our passage) would cease when all the much needed truth was presented in “completed” form through a finished canon. But even with this knowledge available to us, what we know as believers will never be complete until we become perfect at the resurrection.
The phrases to describe the ending of knowledge and prophecy are in the future passive indicative, while the words to describe the ending of tongues are in the future, middle, indicative. In other words, an outside force (Christ’s return) will bring prophecies and knowledge (their results) to an end, while tongues (the gift) will stop on their own long before the second coming along with the gifts of prophecy and knowledge. All the sign gifts did cease around the time of the apostle John’s death (even though the results of the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues (which proclaimed incomplete truths) won’t see their fulfillment until Christ’s return and after it.
Those who support the eternal state view contest that continuing revelations will occur during the Millennium, so Paul could not have spoken about the second advent but at the end of Christ’s thousand-year reign. However, this continuing revelation will come to believers not yet in their resurrected bodies. Paul was not speaking or referring to those individuals but his present audience and all those (us included) who will be resurrected at Christ’s return. There is no reason why Paul couldn’t have referred to just those believers and all resurrected at Christ’s second advent (including all of us alive today), especially since we see this very same pattern in other Scripture passages (two examples below). All those who believe in Christ at and after His return will have to wait until the second and final judgment of believers (millennium believers) to receive their resurrected bodies and eternal rewards.
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
In verse eleven of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses an illustration to show that believers don’t have to wait until Christ’s return to grow to spiritual maturity. The complete Canon of Scripture would soon be available so that the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit (all the sign gifts, but especially those which proclaimed new and future truths such as prophecy and tongues) would disappear because they would no longer be needed. The Corinthians needed to stop acting like spiritual infants and grow up spiritually since they were becoming so distracted by the presence of all the temporary gifts. But from verses 10-12, Paul tells us that these gifts would fade out because they were only temporary “aids” or helps" meant to help establish the growing church from infancy to adulthood. Thus, this passage is saying that the Corinthians needed to grow up spiritually along with the church which would eventually become fully established with no need for the “extra divine helps” that were necessary for that goal to be reached. By themselves, the sign gifts were good (and many of the Corinthians possessed them during that time as our passage shows). However, their purpose would be finished once the church became fully established and the Scriptures completed (sometime around the apostle John’s death). Therefore, the Lord would no longer give them. All those who did possess the gifts would eventually pass away so that there was no longer anyone left gifted as they were.
So how does this apply to the church today? Well, those presently in charismatic churches need to put away the childish things of the past (the sign gifts) because they were discontinued a long time ago. As children grow, they no longer need things they used to, such as car seats, training wheels, or high seats et. So the church needs to stop pursuing things they no longer need that were meant only for their “infancy stage” (the sign gifts). So this verse applied to the Corinthians (because the miraculous gifts would not last for them) and still applies to those within the church today, especially those within the charismatic movement.
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.
To conclude, Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is that love is something that should continue and will always remain (never fails), even though the temporary sign gifts would not be continued and would phase out. They were not needed for believers to continue loving each other. Therefore, Paul made a contrast between the eternal Word of God and our eternity with Him and (on the other hand) the temporary sign gifts.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
Paul continues with his central message that love is the ultimate pursuit and the crown jewel of the Christian life. He then encourages the Corinthians to “earnestly desire” those gifts that most effectively spread the much-needed truth not yet entirely available. The best way to express the greatest love to one’s brothers and sisters was to minister to them in the most effective way possible.
As an aside, we need to remember that the primary purpose of prophecy was to communicate truth not yet available. Tongues were limited in a church setting because they were intended for evangelization. These two gifts acted as crutches while the Scriptures grew into maturity. The gift of healing and miracles, on the other hand, confirmed those who spoke the truth and the message they presented. Their purpose was to help spread God’s revelation within and outside the church. There is a reason Jesus did the same while He was on earth: to reveal Himself to the world (John 20:30-31).
The most impactful of these communication gifts was prophesy, which filled in the gaps while the Bible was still in the works. Paul commended this gift more than tongues because the gift of tongues had a limited impact because they were not always intelligible to the rest of the congregation. They could be helpful, but only if the person speaking (or someone else) knew their meaning. Paul lays everything out for his hearers by stating the need for order in the assembly. Prophecy was greater because it expressed the truth in a language other believers could understand, believe, and apply. In other words, this gift fulfilled the purpose that all spiritual gifts are intended for; edifying the church. But if someone spoke in a tongue without an interpreter, then no one could benefit from that because no one could understand. And we must remember that the Greek word for “tongue” is glossa and refers to an actual human language, not a bunch of gibberish. 1 Corinthians 14:10 only a few verses later confirms this when it says “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning.” Not everyone who spoke in tongues understood what came from their mouths unless they or another individual could interpret the meaning. If no one were present, then it would have been better for those individuals to remain quiet (something Paul exhorts later in this passage).
Tongues were no good in a church if they only edified the person speaking them. Paul wasn’t discouraging this gift but how it was utilized in the meetings. The whole point of spiritual gifts in church is to encourage, strengthen, and uplift the rest of the assembly. But the person who edifies himself doesn’t serve anyone and accomplishes nothing for anybody else.
This message above, written by Paul, is one that charismatics and all self-proclaimed tongue speakers must heed. What passes as this biblical gift today is likely anything but what we see in our context. Tongues are probably the easiest to fake and misunderstand than all the other sign gifts mentioned in the New Testament. One of the biggest problems in so many “tongue” speaking churches is the disorganization within their congregations because they prefer to do whatever they want instead of what the Bible prescribes.
1 Corinthians 14:6-12
6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 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.
Again, Paul teaches his listeners the need for edification within the body. Tongues without meaning were nothing but noise going into the air benefitting no one. There wouldn’t be any truth available to contribute toward the spiritual growth of the other members present. Prophecy gave this critical information while unintelligible tongues profited no one unless there was an interpreter. For this reason, Paul uses an illustration involving wind instruments to convey his message best. An instrument that plays randomly without any distinction in its notes is something others cannot discern. “Is a song being played here? And if so, which one?” Tongues were only beneficial if they could be translated to the audience who could benefit from the God-given message.
Tongues were a legitimate gift during this time but only for a temporary period to aid in evangelism. A question that may surface is, then “what was their purpose in the assembly?” Their purpose (like prophecy though in a limited way) was to communicate much of the truth not yet available in written form (the completed Bible). God would speak to an individual who would proclaim these words to those present. If the hearers could understand the dialect, it served a valuable purpose. But if not, then it edified no one.
One final point we will make here is that the church does not need any new revelation because the Bible has all the truth we need. That is the case today so that no one who claims the gift of tongues or prophecy can say they receive new revelation from God. If any of today’s believers continue to receive divine revelations from God not mentioned in Scripture, then the Bible is not complete, and there is further information available to only a chosen few. But we know the truth, and everything believers need for spiritual growth is available to them in God’s complete and perfect Word. Faith in the ability to exercise the gift of tongues is not the issue. The problem lies with some of those who aren’t satisfied with the truth they already have. That is a lack of faith. God is not currently giving any new revelation because He has already spoken to us through His Word.
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
1 Corinthians 14:13-19
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Again, Paul stresses the need for clarity and understanding for both the speaker and the listener. If one wants to speak in tongues to pray and edify themselves and others, they need to understand what the Spirit says through them. And if they understand what the Spirit is speaking to them, they (or someone else) needs to relay it to the rest of the assembly. That is why verse 13 exhorts the one so gifted to pray that he may understand and communicate the truth given to Him by the Lord (assuming it was from the Lord).
The rest of our verses above confirm that Paul would rather see unintelligible language cease than to see it continue in chaos. If the gift does not edify anyone, it has little use in the church and should be suppressed only until it is appropriate to resume with an interpreter. And this self-control was possible, as verse thirty-two clarifies for the prophetic gift, “The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.” Tongues were a gift that could be stopped for the moment’s sake. The ability and the need to control it did and had to exist. And since Paul understood this gift and its proper use better than anyone else, he would feel more at ease knowing he had the experience to instruct the rest of the assembly on how to use it. His final point in verse nineteen is clear because just a few understandable words will benefit a church more than far more which no one can understand. Focusing on the exciting but non-profitable results of the lesser gifts was akin to a child fascinated by all the less important things in life. Children enjoy less essential things, while adults prioritize more critical ones. That is how it is generally speaking. Hence, Paul says in verse twenty, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” The Corinthians cared more about the excitement tongues brought but less about the effects and influence it had on others.
1 Corinthians 14:21-25
21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
To continue, Paul then uses a passage from Isaiah 28:11-12 to prove to his audience that tongues’ primary purpose was to evangelize the lost. The Assyrians were the subject in our context because God used them as a disciplinary whip to scourge Israel. They spoke a foreign language to that of the Israelites, who could only understand them if someone interpreted the message. Paul used this example because the foreign language acted as a sign to these unbelieving Jews. And this is where he drove home his point. Tongues were for evangelistic purposes. How many charismatics are using it (assuming it is still around for argument) for that reason today? It was the how, where, and when which was the issue during Paul’s time.
Intelligible prophecy which proclaimed the truth in an organized manner would more likely positively influence any unbeliever who would walk in the door. They would hear the truth spoken in a unified manner, bespeaking a mature group of believers. Outsiders could understand the message and come to Christ through conviction (the secrets of their hearts being their realization of their sinfulness and need for salvation). But if they happened to visit and see a bunch of babbling people with no interpretation, the result would be chaos and the unbelievers getting the wrong impression.
1 Corinthians 14:26-28
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
Paul finishes his discourse on tongues by laying out some extra rules for the goal of edification. They are as follows:
1. Only two or three at most may speak during the meeting.
2. Of those who speak, only one may talk at a time.
3. Someone must interpret.
4. If no one can interpret, then there must be silence.
1 Corinthians 14:29-33
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
Similarly, Paul also had regulations for the gift of prophecy in the local assembly to keep it from getting out of control. Two or three at most were to speak, each to take their turn. Those with the gift of distinguishing between spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10) would listen carefully and evaluate the message to see if it was from God. It was to be received if it was trustworthy and in line with the truth. But it was to be rejected if it didn’t pass the “sniff test.” Assuming everyone spoke the same language (Greek), all those present could understand what was said.
If the message of divine revelation came to someone during the meeting, the first speaker was to pause and allow the other recipient to relay the words. The reason for this is most likely that, since God spoke at that moment, the message was urgent enough to justify asking the initial speaker to hold. Then, all would be able to have their turn. But more crucial information given at the moment needed to be spoken immediately. You could think of an emergency message on a tv channel, “We interrupt this program to bring you important information about dangerous weather conditions.”
Finally, Paul reminds his hearers that (as with the gift of tongues) prophets had control over their gift. So there could be no excuse for those who wished to continue speaking uninterrupted because they thought God or some other force compelled them to talk nonstop until they were finished.
Paul then finishes this chapter with the concluding remark (vs 40), “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” That and the pursuit of love is the whole point of chapter fourteen. Verses thirty-four and thirty-five discuss the issue of excessively vocal women stepping out of line during the church meetings. Of course, men were also to abide by the rules for the service to run smoothly, but it was women that Paul had in mind here because they were the ones most likely causing problems. Their example ties in with the church’s necessity for peace, unity, and orderliness.
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
Verses thirty-six to thirty-eight give us a further glimpse of the Corinthians’s arrogant attitude. They thought they were better than everyone else (did the word of God originate with you?) and that others not gifted as they had to be inferior. They also misused the gifts they had received and failed to understand the whole meaning and purpose of Christian assembly. Believers come together to hear the truth taught so they may grow in it to minister, edify, and build each other up as a body. Although they did improve, we must allow ourselves to learn from the example of the Corinthian church.
36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.
We conclude that all of the sign gifts have disappeared based on the trends and teachings found in the Bible. We must never forget that Scripture trumps “experiences and emotions.” There will also be many false signs, wonders, and miracles performed by at least some during the tribulation. So trusting in the senses instead of God’s Word will bring disaster. Confusion and deception are just what Satan wants to aid in the church’s destruction. And the Charismatic movement has caused some of the greatest damage in the past fifty years or more.
However, the goal of this paper was not to attack, insult, hurt, or offend any who believe in the continuation of the sign gifts. My intent was to teach the biblical truth of the matter. I assure my readers that I wrote this study from a loving and caring heart. But the truth must be spoken regardless of what other people may think of it. If all we did were tell people what they wanted to hear, then compromise would sink in, and the church would falter. That is not love! Therefore, we must always speak the truth graciously and lovingly.
I am not against wanting to speak in tongues, heal, prophesy, and do the like. It is safe to say we all wish we could do those things! Who wouldn’t want to possess one or more of those gifts? But the issue is whether not God is gifting people this way today. It is all about what the Bible says on this subject, not what we want to believe and imagine. We must also consider the tremendous distraction the charismatic movement has caused. It seems that those of that persuasion have done far more harm than good by putting too much attention on the wrong things. If the truth were the priority, we would have less of the mess we see in so many churches today.
I would again like to clarify that God does heal and perform miracles. Nobody has a right to object to that. The difference is that God doesn’t gift individuals to perform them as He did during the apostolic era. I don’t think examples are necessary here as the reader should grasp the point. There is a difference (on the one hand) between the Lord healing and performing miracles today and (on the other hand) giving others the ability to do so. Cessationists don’t reject God’s working power. But they are skeptical of what many claim as legitimate gifts that likely ceased long ago. We are not against the people but the beliefs.
To conclude, let’s put our love for Christ and His Word before anything else. For love of the truth (rightly understood, believed, applied, and taught) is the same as love for God because He is the truth. Therefore, let’s us strive to pursue this love all the more by diligently studying the Scriptures to uncover the answers so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ need today.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 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.