Are there Spiritual Gifts today or have they Ceased?
Cessationism is the position that there is a stopping, a permanent discontinuance of the supernatural displays of God’s power through miracles or healings etc.
Some have taken the position that everything supernatural ended with the last written word of Scripture (the canon established) and with the passing of the twelve Apostles, no more miracles occurred.There is a small percentage of Christians or denominations that hold to this today. Most admit that supernatural healings and miracles do sometimes occur; God still answers prayer.
The other predominant view from Neo Pentecostals (latter rain / third wave) is that every gift the apostles had is still active in the church today. That all the offices, the manifestations and gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and the ministry gifts of Christ referred to in Ephesians 4:11 are active. Some go beyond the gifts explained in the Scripture claiming the church now has more power than the apostles had and abilities from new gifts that not mentioned.
Just as there are degrees of charismatic and Pentecostal teaching on this subject there are some diverse views among cessationists as to which gifts ceased and which continue today. So it is understandable that there is confusion on this topic.
For us to come to a correct conclusion we need to do a topical study on this and gather all the Scripture we can to gain understanding on what is or is not true. There are arguments on both sides that can make sense at first until we go deeper into it.
For example, some point out that the later epistle of Romans 12 does not mention tongues, so this letter is used for proof that the gifts were already ceasing in the apostles day. But there are other epistles also written before, that do not mention a specific gift or any of the gifts. So we could easily use this same argument and say that the gifts not listed were not functional during the apostle’s time period. We should put aside any wrong exegesis that can lead to a wrong application. We should try to be open and honest to what it is actually being said on this subject, even if the conclusion is not what we have held or were taught.
This article is focused on the belief of whether spiritual gifts ceased at the close of the Apostolic age (with the death of John, the last of the apostles). One could only wonder how this would have radically affected the Church at the time. That when John either penned his last word finishing the Canon of Scripture or died, all of a sudden those who were speaking in a Tongue or Prophesying were stopped dead in their gift, never to speak in this manner again. Bewildered and being perplexed they stood there scratching their head wondering what had happened, because no one told them, not even Paul, what would happen. I don’t think there is any proof that even one day after the last apostle died, or the last Scripture was written those who had a gift no longer were able to use it.
If the spiritual gifts did not stop functioning when the last book was finished, then when exactly? Some come up with certain dates but these are speculative proofs that the gifts are all gone. Was it when the Bible was put together in one book? Was it when the complete Bible was distributed? How many had to receive the Bible before these gifts ceased? Did it begin in a certain region or a certain Church? The point is nobody can pinpoint exactly when this occurred, or how but it does sound appealing to broadbrush the whole issue so we will not have to deal with it. It has become convenient in light of all the wickedness and wackiness that takes place in what is called spiritual gifts today. Unfortunately the counterfeits and natural human abilities have been confused with the genuine spiritual gifts at work. To dismiss it all, because of one reacting to all the abuses we see today is not a good position, nor is it a biblical position.
Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 14:23: “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”
Notice Paul makes a distinction of those who are unlearned on this matter, or ungifted, those who do not use the gifts in their walk. And then he says, those who are unbelievers will think you’re crazy. This is why it is so important to have an interpretation if a “tongue” is spoken out loud. It may be in the language of a foreigner and he will respond by asking how that person that was not trained in his language spoke it? So we find that the gifts are to be exercised Biblically if they are to fulfill God’s purposes.
Unfortunately there are few who believe and practice the gifts in a Biblical manner today but far more are abusing them or convoluting their practice. This makes those who don’t believe there are spiritual gifts even more sure of their position. This is regrettable, because when the Holy Spirit is given, the gift accompanies Him. For even the Holy Spirit is called a gift: In Acts 2:38 Peter tells his brethren to, "Repent, and be baptized” then you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 10:45 Peter as he was preaching to Gentiles recalls “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.” It was made known by hearing “them speak with tongues and magnify God” (v.46). Acts 8:20 Peter reacted to Simon the sorcerer who was a fake believer who wanted the gift manifest in him as it did with others and offered money to Peter to purchase this power. Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! If anyone teaches that sowing a seed or tithing will prompt /God to give you a gift, they are lying.
Every believer is baptized by the Spirit and this is who puts them in the body (1 Cor.12:13), and the Spirit indwells them. The Holy Spirit is our down payment that testifies we are under new ownership, we are saved. John 14:17"the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” This the promise of the new covenant that makes us all equal’s sharing the same spirit and being one in Christ. Rom 8:9: “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
He (the Holy Spirit) distributes gifts to each individual as he resides in them, but one needs faith to operate in them. If one does not even believe they exist they will not be open to seeing them at work in others or through them.
1 Cor. 12:4: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is the author of all the gifts and the Holy Spirit is still in those who believe the gospel, otherwise we could not have a Spiritual birth. We should make a distinction of the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit though both have their source from the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. The word for gifts is charisma. There were gifts were in operation in the Old Testament to only some people of faith for ministering before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. So the spiritual gifts did not begin in Acts 2 but they became available to be distributed to every believer by the new covenant and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So whoever has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them has one or more of the gifts that the Holy Spirit sovereignly gives to them. Since they did not begin in Acts 2 there is no biblical reason for them to end because one assumes the Bible was completed, as the same Holy Spirit is still saving people and indwelling them today.
Let’s look at the main passage in question that is used as proof that the gifts have ceased. None of this is easily obtained and these verses will have to be repeated as we look at them for the different aspects.
1 Cor.13:8-10 “Love never fails, but whether there are prophecies they will fail, whether there are tongues they will cease, whether there is knowledge it will vanish for we know in part and we prophecy in part. but when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”
In these verses, Paul draws distinctions in maturity to explain that a day will come when the gifts will no longer be necessary (v. 8). First, the gifts are partial and not perfect (v. 9). They will help bring the Church to a certain level of maturity, but cannot complete her. A time will come when they have done their job, maturing the Church as far as it could go, then something else must happen- perfect comes.
When that something else must happen is what Paul deals with in verse 10:
1 Cor.13:10 “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, 1 felt as a child, I thought as a child. now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.”
Some believe perfect is the canon of Scripture. So the question that must be answered, is “perfect” the Bible? Paul says the gifts are partial and unable to complete us. At that time he wrote this the canon was not complete. The Bible was being developed, letters were still being written then. If perfect is the completion of the canon then it had not taken place yet, it was still in the future.
It is rare when a single word can dictate the meaning of a Scriptures teaching on a subject or a whole portion of teaching. So we must read this through in context to its conclusion to understand what Paul meant.
1 Cor. 1:7 if perfect has come, then we no longer need faith or hope for all that is in part is done away with. Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, but it also says knowledge will vanish. Do we not still have knowledge and adding to it daily? (Paul says about the present, for ‘Now I know in part, 1 Cor. 13:12)
The word fail means to fall off, to cease, to become unnecessary.
How much of the New Testament needed to be written until the gifts were no longer active? It does not say "the word "is the perfect but that which is perfect is come, which has to do with US. Where else do we find the word perfect in Scripture? We do know the Greek term for perfect is a neuter “teleios.” the full-grown- telos - end, the mature. teleios (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.); neuter (as noun, with 3588) completeness: KJV-- of full age, man, perfect.
It is the same word found in Eph 4:13 “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
Matt 5:48 "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
teleios from 5056; complete, mature.
1) brought to its end, finished 2) wanting nothing necessary to completeness 3) perfect
4) what is perfect a) consummate human integrity and virtue
b) used of men, full grown, adult, of full age, mature
The same word for perfect is used in Matt 19:21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
It means to be fulfilled or complete as grown up, not acting like child (in this case it was someone being trained under the law).
Any specific word used in the Greek should always support the context of the sentence, “the spirit of the text.” If it does not, then we should look for another meaning.
Perfect is used in numerous ways:
Rom 12:2 perfect will of God.
Col 1:28 that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
James 1:4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 3:2 If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
All these would be summed up by Paul Eph 4:13" “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” The intent of the ministerial gifts are to equip us, until the fullness of Christ.
The “know in part, and we prophesy in part” refer to our knowledge and the spiritual gifts (verse 9). Only when perfect comes will these come to an end.
Does it make sense that gifts given to the church are no longer operating after the death of the last apostle? Are we to believe they woke up the next day and no spiritual gifts were ever used again? Is this an acceptable position, since everyone is continuing in teaching, serving and growing in knowledge.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
The words “became a man” Greek-ginomai a prolongation and middle voice form of a primary verb; to cause to be ("gen" erate), i.e. (reflexively) to become (come into being), used with great latitude (literal, figurative, intensive, etc.):
It means something had permanently changed, it came to pass. If that which is perfect was a reference to the completion of the canon of Scripture- we would now know more today than Paul and the apostles did (v. 9); we would be completely mature as a body of believers. The coming of the “perfect” which Paul refers is about a future state, which will replace our present state permanently.
The perfect cannot be the New Testament canon because no one can say they know everything fully now (or as we are known), nor have we put away childish thoughts and ways. Vs.11 we are children now with only a little understanding, but there is a day when we will become mature, complete. While on earth we see things dimly as if in a mirror that is blurred, in contrast when we get to heaven we will see [Him] face to face, then we will know not in part but with a full-complete knowledge. We will know him even as we are known. Even the apostles as individuals had not received the full revelation but it was given in portions to each one of them. But there is a day when we will all be changed together as the body of Christ and become pure, mature, sinless and immortal. It is that day when we will know, the all will be known.
But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away- in other words the things that we know in part will be gone.
V.12 “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.”
Paul is not predicting that he and the Corinthians would see the completion of the cannon of Scripture during their time but that sometime “the church” in the future we will see Christ "face to face." Paul is saying there is a day when we would all know God even as God knows us. Our growth in our relationship will be complete. When someone is away they write letters but when they are present we see them face to face. This is why this can’t mean the Scripture written for us is the perfect, as we wait for Christ to come again.The gifts are in operation until He who is perfect comes, then we see HIM face to face we will not need the letters. The Church is complete and removed from the earth at the Rapture/ resurrection this is when we will see him face to face, then the spiritual gifts will end, there use is no longer needed to mature us.
The body of Christ is complete at the rapture/ resurrection of the church. 1 Cor. 1:7-8: “so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Notice, Paul says when perfect comes it will be face to face. As the apostle John states in I John 3:2: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Just as Paul said in the passage on the gifts in 1 Cor.13:12 “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” It is then imperfect knowledge will cease. In other words if perfect had come we would then see face to face, we would be changed, transformed to a perfect man in the likeness of Christ.
Face to face- Greek- prosopon pros prosopon.
a) the front of the human head
b) countenance, look; the face so far forth as it is the organ of sight, and by it various movements and changes) the index of the inward thoughts and feelings
c) the appearance one presents by his wealth or property, his rank or low condition
1) outward circumstances, external condition
2) used in expressions which denote to regard the person in one's judgment and treatment of men
2) the outward appearance of inanimate things
from 4314 and ops (the visage, from 3700); the front (as being towards view), i.e. the countenance, aspect, appearance, surface; by implication, presence, person: KJV-- (outward) appearance, X before, countenance, face, fashion, (men's) person, presence.
Acts 25:16 "To them I answered, 'It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.”
Face- Greek- prosopon
This same word pros is in Jn. 1 of The word being WITH God. Towards in deep relationship
the front (as being towards view), i.e. the countenance presence, person:
This is the same word used for looking at Moses face in 2 Cor.3:7 when he had to put a veil over his face because of the glory that outshined from him from being in the presence of God for 40 days. (Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; 14:14; Compare Jn 12:41; 1:1). "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Cor. 3:18
He is showing that we are not looking directly at him now but as through a mirror.
It is the same face that is used for the angels in heaven Matt 18:10 "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
Rev. 22:3-4 speaking about the throne and the lamb and we as servants v.4 “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”
When Jesus comes for us we see HIM face to face, we will be changed-permanently. This is the eternal state we reach (by death or by the rapture/ resurrection). When we are glorified these gifts will no longer be necessary.
Heb 11:40: “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” When does perfect come? When Christ comes and changes our lowly bodies to heavenly ones. We then will not need the gifts because we will all have the giver of the gifts.
The same example of language is found with faith in Gal 3:25: “But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Israel was under the law as the teacher but once faith came it was discarded.
The same idea of beholding in a mirror is used in the 2nd epistle by Paul 2 Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” It is this same revealing that some of the apostles saw temporarily in Matt 17:2 “and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” This was a glimpse of his power and glory.
Phil 1:6: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” On this day we will be made like him, all will be completed, what was temporary revelation will be discarded for the full complete understanding.
Thus it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:27-28). By being taught correctly and continuing in the faith they (we) will be part of this glorious event.
Eph 4:12-15 The specific ministries mentioned are for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”
Each person is a “gift” from Christ to His Church, his body and will have other spiritual “gifts” to function “evangelists” and “pastors and teachers” and “apostles and prophets.” These are there for the “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry”, which is required throughout the Church age (an explanation of these specific gifts and offices will be in part two and three). The point is that there is a time they are used until we come to the event of a perfect man, the fullness of Christ.
The true gifts practiced Biblically will move us toward maturity in faith and knowledge. Eph 4:15 “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Those who have genuine gifts will be able to identify the counterfeits, even if they do not have the specific gift of discernment, because they understand the word.
The canon of Scripture did not have our knowledge vanish. Daniel says knowledge will increase in the last days, knowledge of Bible prophecy will not decrease but increase. Knowledge is something a Pastor or teacher continues to use. There is no proof they completely ceased in the church age, actually there is mention of them from the church fathers after the apostolic age. A better position is the gifts may have decreased in number but they never vanished.
To emphatically say that the "perfect" referred to is the completed canon of Scripture was not Paul's intention when he wrote the words. Paul began the chapter by explaining how the gifts amount to nothing without love being the basis of their operation and he ends with “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13). Faith, hope, love- these three will continually be with us. He summarizes this teaching through Chapter by stating 1 Cor. 14:1 Pursue love, (and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy”). Paul ends the epistle to the Corinthians with 1 Cor. 16:13-14: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”
One cannot in any biblical sense say that God is not using spiritual gifts somewhere in the world at this time. The Bible does say the gifts will completely pass away while the church is growing, the point is "when" they will pass away. Since we still have knowledge and the perfect has not come Spiritual gifts are still are available to build up the body. But we must understand they are not under mans but God's control when they will be used.
On a subject like this I know that there will be disagreement from either one side or the other. This is my conclusion after many years of hearing both sides of the arguments for and against and personally seeing actual spiritual gifts in action in my life and others. This is not to be understood as an endorsement of what we see in many Charismatic or Pentecostal churches. There are many counterfeits and many works of the flesh that are presented as a spiritual gift.
I believe there are spiritual gifts for today (with certain qualifications) but I want to believe and practice and accept them them as the Bible teaches. Spiritual gifts exercised correctly will always bring health and life to the body of believers.
In what capacity are the gifts active today, are they like they were in the first century or different? This is what we will look into in the next portions of this topic.
pt.2 the intent of Spiritual gifts and how they operate