There are a lot of people that believe that Spiritual Gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesying are still employed by God today. However, there is evidence in the Bible that can lead one to believe this is not true. The purpose of this study is to show what the Bible says about Spiritual Gifts and hopefully edify the reader in some way.
I. God has Operated in Two Ways
A. Supernaturally: 2Kings 6:14-17
2Ki 6:14-17 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. (15) When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (16) He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (17) Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
In this Old Testament story, God overcame an army with an army of angels which was a supernatural operation by God.
B. Naturally: Habakkuk 1:5-6
Hab 1:5-6 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. (6) For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
In this Old Testament story, God overcame a people with another physical army from the Chaldeans. This wasn’t a supernatural operation by God, but rather a natural, physical way that God put His will into action
These two different ways of God operating in the world are the same two ways that we see throughout the Bible. A simple example would be a supernatural way of showing love like healing the blind versus a natural way of showing love like giving your money to them.
II. The Spiritual Gifts
1Co 12:7-11 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.
Rom 12:6-8 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; (7) if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; (8) the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Looking at all the different gifts mentioned, some of them don’t seem to be something that would be divinely given such as the ability to speak in a different language or the ability to prophesy. However, all of the things mentioned are gifts that each person in the church at the time supposedly possessed. Something to notice is that with the exception of prophecy, most all of the gifts can be obtained naturally and not just supernaturally. For instance, I can have faith, speak another language (“tongues” refers to foreign languages: Acts 2:4-12), and have faith through a natural working of God rather than a supernatural. So all gifts except for prophesy can be obtained naturally, but we also have evidence from the Bible that the gifts were supernaturally obtained.
III. Why did God Give Spiritual Gifts?
A. How do you Know I’m not Fooling You?
When considering why God gave spiritual gifts, it’s good to consider your own spiritual life today. How do you know that I’m not lying if I tell you that Jesus died on the cross? The answer would be the Bible. Working under the assumption that you’re a Bible believer, you can know whether or not I’m teaching truth by checking my facts against the Bible. However, in 40 AD there was no Bible, there were no epistles from Paul, the Gospel was primarily spread orally, and any form of “Biblical” writing would have been scarce if not nonexistent. How did they know what the truth was?
B. The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
Act 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—
Joh 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
Act 8:13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Heb 2:3-4 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, (4) while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Joh 20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; (31) but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
These verses give an account of the general use and affect of spiritual gifts, and reading any one of the first three Gospels will show how effective it was to get a crowd with the use of miracles. The purpose of the supernaturally given spiritual gifts was to prove a teaching is correct. Jesus taught about people coming and claiming to be a Messiah and Paul talked about false prophets coming, and we know that there were a lot of liars around trying to be some prophet. How were they supposed to know who to trust without the written Word of God? Spiritual gifts is the answer. Just imagine being in the first century with many people running around trying to gain fame by being the next Jesus or being a Messiah. Who would you trust, the guy who made someone’s arm grow from a nub to full length or the guy standing there doing nothing but teaching? The purpose of the Spiritual gifts was to help listeners know God’s truth.
IV. Did Spiritual Gifts Cease?
A. The Purpose was Fulfilled
We now have the written Word of God that was passed on by the Apostles. There is no longer a need for spiritual gifts to make sure that what someone tells us is true. We can go to the Bible and test what we hear from there.
B. Means of Obtaining them have Ceased
Act 1:5-7 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (6) So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (7) He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
One means of obtaining spiritual gifts is being baptized with the Holy Spirit, an occurrence that is only documented twice in the Bible (Acts 2 and 10). Both involve the Holy Spirit filling someone and the people immediately speaking in tongues. This isn’t something that happens today.
Act 8:18-19 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, (19) saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
The second way of obtaining spiritual gifts is through the laying on of hands by the Apostles. Seeing as how all the apostles are long gone and dead now, this way to obtaining the gifts is no longer possible.
C. Paul said they would Cease
1Co 13:8-13 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.
Paul said that the miracles were going to cease. Therefore, they either already have or they will some time. What it depends on is what “the perfect” that is coming is because when that comes/came the miracles will/did cease. The word “perfect” in the Bible often means “complete” or “mature” rather than immaculate like we think. A quick look at the Greek will confirm that this is the case for verse 10. So what is needed is to discuss the options of that the “complete” thing is in the context, and to do this I’m going to discuss the context with the written word of God being the complete and then Jesus as the complete.
1. The Written Word of God
i. Prophecies, Tongues, Knowledge
It seems reasonable that the need for prophecies and supernatural knowledge from God would go away when the written word of God was complete because all the prophecies would be written down, the knowledge would be written down, and anyone who accepted it as the Word of God (as we do today) would have what they needed. Tongues is where the idea may seem to fail, but since some people have the natural ability to translate, it seems reasonable that that gift may pass away. All miracles in fact could be done away with since the purpose was to know for sure what God’s truth was. Therefore, “perfect” being the written word of God is reasonable in light of the context here.
ii. Know in Part vs. Know Fully
Something to consider with this point is what each individual apostle may have known. One could argue that every divinely inspired piece of knowledge that Paul knew, Peter knew as well. However, in 2Pe. 3:15-16 Peter refers to Paul’s writings as difficult to understand. Therefore, one could argue that he didn’t. Regardless of this is the fact that Paul wrote the Corinthians, a church that had members possessing divinely given knowledge from God. If all the people knew everything then Paul wouldn’t have need to write to the Corinthians. Therefore, they didn’t know fully—they knew in part. However, when the written word of God was completed, they could know fully God’s will. Therefore, this works in this context.
i. Know in Part vs. Know Fully
Seems pretty obvious to that when Jesus comes back and we go to heaven that we will know fully. Therefore, this fits the context.
ii. Prophecies, Tongues, and Knowledge
When Jesus comes back and the dead in Christ rise and go to be in heaven, it seems reasonable that Prophecies and Tongues may cease. There will be no need to heal, no need to prophecy, and no need for tongues. However, what about the miracle of God giving you knowledge? I believe that after Jesus comes back that I will receive knowledge directly from God in Heaven. I believe that I will obtain knowledge of the glory of God, the glory of heaven, and the knowledge what an angel looks like, and so on. I believe that after Jesus comes back I will know far more than I know now. Based upon this perspective, I do not think that it fits the context for Jesus being the “perfect” because knowledge from God is supposed to cease after the perfect comes, and that’s just not the case.
D. The Supernatural Spiritual Gifts have Ceased
Looking briefly at 1Co. 13:13 again, notice it says that now abides hope, faith, and love, but the greatest is love. One could suppose that he is making another point about how love will never cease, but other things will. The Gifts from God were going to last until the perfect comes, but faith and hope and love would continue. Moreover, faith and hope would continue until the coming of Christ, but after that they will cease because we’ll have eye sight knowledge and we will have obtained our hope. However, love will continue. I use this example to show how God is working in stages and always has. He began the world talking directly to the beings he created, then the fathers, then the prophets, then through Jesus, then through the Holy Spirit through the apostles to others with spiritual gifts, and now through faith and hope found in the written word. One day he will communicate his love by love and it will endure forever. Supernatural spiritual gifts were just a stage of development and have cease; likewise, one day our faith and hope will cease and we will simply have love.
V. Answering Common Objections
1. If You don’t do Miracles then You don’t have the Spirit
This common objection just doesn’t work because it also implies that if you have the spirit then you do miracles, and this just isn’t true. This can be proved by looking at John the Baptist.
Luk 1:15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Joh 10:41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.”
Examining John shows that he was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, but never did a sign or a miracle, rather. Therefore, just because you have the spirit doesn’t mean that you do miracles. Moreover, just because you don’t do miracles doesn’t mean you don’t have the spirit.
2. You Can’t See them because You Lack Faith
If there’s any group of people in the Bible that didn’t have true faith, it’d be the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
Joh 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.
Act 4:16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
And despite their lack of conviction and faith in Christ, they saw the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Therefore, the observer’s faith should have nothing to do with the miracle performed. In fact, Biblical examples show that lack of performance correlates with lack of faith on the performer’s part.
Mat 17:15-20 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. (16) And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” (17) And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” (18) And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. (19) Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” (20) He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Here we have an example of the disciples of Christ not being able to perform a miracle. And what was the cause of their lack of ability? Jesus said that it was because of their little faith. Therefore, it seems to me that if miracles have not ceased then one’s ability should not depend on the observer, but their own.
Supernatural spiritual gifts simply do not exist today. God’s Word says that they would cease, it seems reasonable with the context that they should have when God’s Word came, and the lack of evidence for supernatural spiritual gifts shouldn’t depend on my faith. The purpose of the gifts is fulfilled through the written Word of God and if any person desires to know God’s truth, said person should turn to God’s Word.
Touching on natural spiritual gifts, these do exist today, and reading and meditating on God’s Word helps Christians obtain these gifts. Many of these gifts are contained in the fruits of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, and these play a crucial role in the life of a Christian. Moreover, if one begins to think that supernatural spiritual gifts are necessary to prove they are Christ’s then they are wrong because a natural fruit of the spirit is sufficient—love. Love is more excellent than all supernatural gifts (1Co. 12:31, 13:13), and is how many will know you are Christ’s (Jn. 13:35). Therefore, since supernatural spiritual gifts don’t exist today and there is still a need to prove discipleship, the modern Christian should—above all else—seek to excel in love.