Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience,
in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. - II
Not everyone would agree on the number of the special gifts of Spirit
identified in II
Corinthians 12:12 as the signs of an apostle. To the list of gifts
Corinthians 12:4-11 some would add exorcism, or even snake-handling
and drinking of poisons (Mark
16:17,18), others, administration and helps (I
Corinthians 12:27-30). But
few would disagree that tongues-speaking, prophecy and miracles, especially
miracles of healing, are the most important gifts. It is these three
gifts that we will be examining, believing that what we learn from Scripture
about these gifts will also be true of the other special gifts of the
The question whether or not these special gifts continue is sharply
divisive. Those who believe that these signs have ceased (cessationists)
see the Pentecostals and Charismatics,
who believe in their continuance, as being in serious error. Those who
believe that these special gifts are still to be found in the church
accuse cessationists of being without the Holy Spirit:
A Christian who denies and refuses to see what is plain to be
seen re: The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is seeking to do the will
of God without the power of God. Holy Ghost power came at Pentecost.
Your unbelief and tradition will keep you powerless.
The question is important. It is the question whether or not the church
has had and does have the Spirit of God. It concerns Scripture as the
inspired and infallible Word of God. It has to do with the foundations
of the church: whether the church is built on a firm apostolic foundation
against which hell cannot prevail, or whether she is built on a foundation
of sand and will be overwhelmed by the forces of evil.
We will show that these special gifts of the Spirit were only temporary
and limited to the time of the apostles, and that a belief in their
continuance is not only unbiblical but dangerous to the well-being of
Christ's church and God's people. The Word of God is clear on these
We will also show that, even if these gifts have not ceased, the use
of them by the majority of Pentecostals and Charismatics is unbiblical.
Their tongues are not the tongues of Scripture. Their miracles are not
the miracles of Scripture. Their prophecies and revelations are not
at all the same as the prophecies and revelations of Scripture. These
movements are in serious error; therefore, even if the special gifts
of the Spirit have not ceased.
II Corinthians 12:12
We begin with this passage because it has to do with all the
special gifts, and answers in a few words the question whether these
gifts of the Holy Spirit continue in the church. It does that by calling
them the "signs of an apostle," that is the signs which identify an
apostle and confirm a man's work as apostolic.
To understand this we must see what Scripture teaches about apostles.
We might insist that the special gifts of the Spirit belonged to the
age of the apostles and were given only to the apostles, but many in
the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements will respond by telling us
that the apostolic age has not ended. What then is an apostle?
Scripture sets a number of qualifications for an apostle and most would
agree with the following list:
- He must have accompanied Jesus during His earthly ministry, which
was from His baptism until His Ascension (Acts
- He must have been a personal witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus
Corinthians 15:7; I
Corinthians 9:1; Acts
- He must have received a personal call from Christ to Apostleship
and a commission to fulfill its duties (Luke
- He must have had as his field of labor the whole world rather than
a local church or group of churches (Matthew
In carrying out this personal commission from the Lord Jesus Christ,
these Apostles (along with the New Testament prophets) were in the process
of laying the foundations of the Church - a historical architectural
procedure which is a once-for-all exercise and which cannot be repeated
through out every era of Church history (read Ephesians
We would add to this that an apostle was the only one who could
confer these gifts upon others. There is no record in Scripture
of anyone receiving any of these gifts from anyone but an apostle. The
story of Philip's work in Samaria (Acts
8:5-25) demonstrates this. Philip was able to perform miracles himself
in Samaria, having been given that power through the apostles (Acts
6:5-8), but no one else received the Holy Spirit and His gifts until
Peter and John came from Jerusalem. So we read that, "When Simon saw
that through the laying of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost
was given, he offered them money," desiring not the Spirit of God, but
the special gifts of the Spirit, which only an apostle could bestow.
Paul would of course appear to be an exception to some of these qualifications,
and even he acknowledges that there were differences between himself
and the other apostles in that he was one "born out of time" (I
Corinthians 15:8). We know that he saw the risen Christ (from the
story of Christ's appearance to him on the Damascus road), but what
about accompanying Christ during His earthly ministry? As far as we
know, he had no contact with Christ's earthly ministry. Nevertheless
he had the signs of an apostle and that must mean that he not only had
the gifts of the Spirit himself (I
Corinthians 14:18) but had conferred them on others (in
this case the members of the church of Corinth, to whom he writes).
That was the only direct proof of his apostleship they had!
What is even more striking about his reference to being born out of
time is that it indicates that the time for apostles to be "born" was
already past. He was an apostle, his having conferred the signs on others
proved it, but born beyond the time when it was still possible to fulfill
the other qualifications for being an apostle of Christ. No other passage
shows so clearly that the apostolic age was temporary.
If there are no apostles today, nor even the possibility of having
apostles, then it must also be true that II
Corinthians 12:12 is teaching that the special signs of the Holy
Spirit, which belonged only to the age of the apostles, have not continued.
The passage cannot mean anything else.
"Signs of an apostle", therefore, are the signs or gifts which were
given to the apostles, belonged especially to the apostles, and marked
those who had them as being apostles and could be given to others only
by the apostles. This is implicitly recognized even by the Charismatic
movement, by its insistence that the apostolic age has not ended. That
it has ended can only mean that these signs have not continued in the
A second passage that shows the inseparable connection between the
special gifts of the Spirit and the Apostolic age is Hebrews
2:1-4. We quote verse 2-4: For if the word spoken by angels
was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just
recommence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation;
which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed
unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both
with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy
Ghost, according to his own will?
These verses make it clear that an apostle is one who personally heard
Christ, and that the miracles and other gifts of the Holy Spirit were
given to confirm the apostleship of these men and for that purpose alone.
One writer puts it this way in reference to the miracles worked by the
The message to which we must give heed `began to be spoken by the
Lord' himself. However, it was `confirmed unto us by them that heard
him'. First-hand witnesses or apostles who had personally 'companied
with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us'
1:21] had a confirming ministry. And Hebrews
2:4 tells us, `God also (was) bearing them witness, both with
signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy
Ghost, according to his own will.' Again New Testament miracles are
viewed in Scripture itself as God's stamp of approval upon the message
of the apostles, which was an inspired record of the things they had
seen and heard while with Jesus.
There is no one who can meet the qualifications for an apostle today.
These signs and gifts belonged to the apostles and their age. They do
not, therefore, continue. It is as simple as that. The gifts claimed
by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements can only be an imitation
of what is described in Scripture, an imitation which cannot have come
from the Holy Spirit Himself. This we will see even more clearly as
we examine the three most important gifts.
16:17,18 is another passage worth looking at. It does not mention
prophecy, but does mention tongues-speaking and miracles of healing.
It reads: And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my
name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing,
it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall
It is difficult to see that one can claim tongues and healings as gifts
of the Spirit without also claiming snake-handling and drinking of poisons
as gifts, since they are mentioned side-by-side and not in an order
that would allow anyone to separate these two from tongues and healings.
Yet, with the exception of a few Pentecostal sects in the Appalachians,
there are no Pentecostals or Charismatics who are willing to claim these
signs. To put it bluntly, they are willing to claim the "safe" signs
but not the "unsafe."
If they say that these two signs, snake-handling and drinking deadly
liquids, were only temporary, then they destroy the very ground on which
they stand with respect to tongues and healings. If they say that snake-handling
and drinking poisons are not temporary, then they must claim and practice
them also. Their failure to do so is a testimony against them.
It should also be noted that these signs are said to follow those who
believe. Mark, however, indicates in verses
19 and 20 that it was the apostles whom these signs followed
and to which the passage is referring: So then after the Lord had
spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right
hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord
working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
The signs followed the apostles and according to Mark were given for
the confirmation of their preaching. That is the issue. That is what
the Pentecostals and Charismatics do not accept and what is insisted
on by every cessationist.
We might also note the rather unusual language used by Mark. Twice
he speaks of these signs "following." That suggests that they are neither
essential nor necessary, but only something that accompanied the progress
of the gospel as preached by the apostles. They were in modem language
a kind of hitchhiker on the early road followed by the gospel as it
made its triumphant progress through the nations.
In looking at the actual gifts of the Spirit, we begin with the working
of miracles, but only because it is this gift which is most readily
accepted as continuing beyond the time of the apostles. There are those
who will have nothing to do with tongues or with new revelations who
hesitate to deny that the miracles continue to happen through the agency
of men. This we deny. We do not deny that miracles continue.
What we and every other cessationist denies is that miracles continue
to be worked by men.
Believing that all God does is miraculous and beyond our understanding,
we have no difficulty with the idea that God continues to do miracles
today both in the natural and in the spiritual realm - that He sometimes
heals the body, when humanly speaking there is no hope for healing,
and that He does other things that defy human explanation. Salvation
itself is a great miracle! We agree with MacArthur:
I do not automatically discount all claims of supernatural healings
just because some are false. But I am convinced that dramatic, miraculous,
immediate intervention by God is quite rare - and never dependent
on some supposedly gifted person who acts as an agent of healing.
Genuine healings may come as a result of prayer and most often involve
simple natural processes. Other times, God speeds up the recovery
mechanisms and restores a sick person to health in a way that medicine
cannot explain. Sometime he overrules a medical prognosis and allows
someone to recover from a normally debilitating disease. Healings
like that can come in response to prayer and the sovereign will of
God and can happen at any time. But the gift of healing, the ability
to heal others, special anointings for healing ministry, healings
that can be "claimed," and other typical faith-healing techniques
have no biblical sanction in the post-apostolic era.
Luther says, speaking of the "greater works" that the Christian does:
But which works of the Christian accomplish this? We see nothing
special that they do beyond what others do, especially since the day
of miracles is past. Miracles, of course, are still the least significant
works, since they are only physical and are performed for only a few
people. But let us consider the true, great works of which Christ
speaks here - works which are done with the power of God, which accomplish
everything, which are still performed and must be performed daily
as long as the world stands. Christians have the Gospel ... by means
of which they convert people, snatch souls from the clutches of the
devil, wrest them from hell and death, and bring them to heaven.
It is not miracles that we and other cessationists deny, but the continuation
of the spiritual gift of "working of miracles" (I
There are several things we wish to emphasize about miracles worked
by human agents. First, even in Scripture these were not common occurrences,
but appeared at certain times in the history of the church both in the
Old Testament and New Testament as confirmation of new eras of revelation.
John MacArthur speaks for every cessationist when he says:
Most biblical miracles happened in three relatively brief periods
of Biblical history: in the days of Moses and Joshua, during the ministries
of Elijah and Elisha and in the time of Christ and the apostles. None
of these periods lasted much more than a hundred years. Each of them
saw a proliferation of miracles unheard of in other eras. Even during
those three time periods, however, miracles were not exactly the order
of the day. The miracles that happened involved men who were extraordinary
messengers from God - Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and
Aside from those three intervals, the only supernatural events recorded
in Scripture were isolated incidents... For the most part, however,
supernatural events like those did not characterize God's dealings
with his people.
Morrison even goes a step farther and suggests that those who performed
miracles did not do so ordinarily, but only as a result of the direct
prompting of the Holy Spirit and only then, in very limited circumstances:
It is of great significance that the `gifts of healings' and the
`workings of miracles' are referred to in the plural in the Greek
Corinthians 12:9-10,28). This is because all occurrences of healings
and miracles were separate gift-events which took place through the
immediate impetus of the Holy Spirit. A person did not receive `the
gift of healing' on a permanent basis, so that he became a professional
`healer' and could heal at will, as it were. Every time a healing
or a miracle took place, the one through whom the healing or miracle
was performed received a specific prompting from the Holy Spirit to
carry out the act.
He cites the examples of the healing of the lame man at the temple
gate by Peter (Acts
3:1-10), the healing of the demon-possessed slave-girl by Paul in
16:16-19) and the raising of Dorcas by Peter in Caesarea (Acts
9:40). He insists that this it what Hebrews
2:4 means when it says: "God bearing them witness... with divers
miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will."
We believe that he is correct.
We must also say something about the purpose of biblical miracles.
They were never performed "on demand" or at random, but for a good reason.
But before we look at the purpose of miracles in Scripture, it must
be pointed out that the miracles claimed by the Pentecostal and Charismatic
movements do not follow the pattern of miracles in Scripture, are different
from the miracles worked by Christ and the apostles and are therefore
suspect. Not worked according to the pattern of Scripture, they cannot
be the work of the Holy Spirit. Whether they are real miracles or not,
and if real, where they come from is another question and a question
that is really beside the point.
Many objections to the miracles that are claimed today are proposed
by those who have examined them. The principle objections are (1) that
the healings claimed by Charismatics are generally of a non-organic
nature, i.e., they are of such things as weak eyesight, intestinal complaints,
etc., but not of diseases that visibly and permanently cripple the body,
unlike the miracles of Christ and the apostles;
(2) that when claims are made for the healing of organic illnesses,
these are always claimed in circumstances where no proof is available
so that they cannot be verified, whereas the miracles of Christ and
the apostles were in many cases verified by the testimony of their enemies
(e.g., the raising of Lazarus, the healing of the lame man at the gate
of the temple and the deliverance of the demon-possessed slave girl
in Philippi); (3) that Christ and the apostles' healings were complete
both in that they never failed to heal and that those who were healed
were healed completely, unlike the "incomplete" miracles of today's
faith-healers; and (4) that modern healings are always done today in
carefully controlled environments, whereas the miracles of Christ and
the apostles were done spontaneously and in a completely uncontrolled
This alone is proof that those who claim to do miracles as a gift of
the Spirit are lying. Their miracles are not the miracles of Scripture
and are not, therefore, from God.
Morrison issues a unanswerable challenge to every modern miracle-worker:
Here is a challenge to any readers who may imagine that they
can lay claim to a personal ongoing `healing ministry' today:
Don't just minister in your tent meeting, conference or prayer seminar,
waiting for all those misled people to line up in front of you. Instead,
go out in the casualty departments of your local hospitals on a Saturday
night and bring instantaneous organic healing to the battered and
broken victims of the brawls and accidents that present themselves
there for treatment. Then nip up to to the surgical wards and lay
your hands on the amputees, everything-ectomies and hopeless cases,
so that their limbs and entrails will be restored to them whole. When
those places have been emptied, find your local `Institute for the
Blind' and bring some colour into their lives for the first time with
your remarkable `healing' powers. Then bus over to the offices for
one of the societies for the handicapped and get them to take you
out to their many training centres, where you can restore those withered
and calipered limbs on the spot. If you still want to show
you have a `proven anointed' ministry, find some local authority Special
Schools and make that Down's Syndrome melt away from those pleading
little faces. And if you still have any energy left, take a taxi across
to the local mortuary and bring some of its frigid occupants out with
you for a breath of fresh air and a good meal.
If you lay claim to a `healing ministry', the Word of God challenges
you to do all these things today. Why wait? For those are the
kinds of healings which the Lord Jesus and the Apostles carried out
in the course of their ministry... Not only did they have a 100% success
rate, but nothing was too difficult for them to tackle. If you believe
you should be healing just like Jesus, then anything less than the
same success rate and instantaneity of His healing is a complete sham.
By all means call yourself a 'faith-healer' or even a Shaman, but
do not make the false claim that you are doing the works of Jesus.
The inescapable conclusion is that the miracles claimed today are not
the miracles of Scripture. Whether they be real but lying miracles,
therefore, or only trickery, is not the issue. Unlike the miracles of
the prophets and apostles and of Christ Himself, they do not come from
God, and that is all that matters.
Be that as it may, the most important thing is that miracles were for
the sole purpose of authenticating some of Old Testament prophets at
importance junctures in Israel's history, as well as the work of Christ
Himself and of the apostles. They were not an evangelistic tool or means
of conversion as many Charismatics believe. Jesus makes that clear in
the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: "If they hear not Moses and
the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the
dead." They were not performed simply out of pity for those who were
suffering. Jesus healed only one man at the pool of Bethesda (John
5:1-9). Nor were they ever used for personal reasons.
2:25-27 Paul mentioned his good friend Epaphroditus, who had been
very sick. Paul had previously displayed the gift of healing. Why
did he not simply heal Epaphroditus? Perhaps the gift was no longer
operational. Or perhaps Paul simply refused to pervert the gift by
using it for his own ends. Either way, healing Epaphroditus was beyond
the purpose of the gift of healing. The gift was not given to keep
Christians healthy. It was to be a sign to unbelievers to convince
them that the gospel was divine truth.
We find a similar case in II
Timothy 4:20, where Paul mentioned that he had left Trophimus
sick at Miletus. Why should Paul leave one of his good Christian friends
sick? Why didn't he heal him? Because that was not the purpose of
the healing gift. (See also
I Timothy 5:23 and II
Why do we seldom hear of the gift of healing being used in the hospital
hallways? Why aren't more healers using their gifts on the streets
in India and Bangladesh? Why aren't they in the leper colonies and
AIDS hospices where masses of people are racked by disease?
It is not happening. Why? Because those who claim the gift of healing
do not really have it. The gift of healing was a temporary sign for
the authenticating of the Scriptures as the Word of God. Once that
authenticity was established, the gift of healing ceased.
The fact that miracles were a matter of authentication in the ministry
of Jesus is clear from Jesus' reference to them when asked by John's
disciples if He were truly the Messiah (Matthew
11:2-6). John says of Jesus' miracles that they were done and recorded
"that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and
that believing ye might have life through his name" (John
20:30, 31). Hebrews
2:1-4 says the same of the miracles performed by the apostles.
This means that miracles are secondary to the Word. In Charismatic
circles the opposite is often true. The miracles become an end in themselves.
Thus the proliferation of services for healing, and the endless "healings"
that take place at such services make the Word of God take second place
or no place at all.
Miracles, therefore, are always associated with prophecy:
It is an inescapable conclusion of Biblical study that no true servant
of Christ will be given power to work miracles unless he is directly
associated with prophecy. Whenever we see men working miracles by
the Spirit of God, we will expect an inspired communication of God's
words to attend them. Miracles are God's attestation to the divine
mission of those who bring his fresh revelations to us. We are compelled
to look upon the men who work wonders and transmit the ability to
others not merely as preachers, but as the very prophets of God.
Have miracles worked by human agents ceased? Only if prophecy has also
ceased. The Pentecostals and Charismatics would say that prophecy has
not ceased and that miracles continue to be the attestation of prophecy
and prophets. We must; therefore, examine the matter of prophecy more
closely. (To be continued...)