Series: “Spiritual Gifts” (post #3)
Does God still impart all 20 of the spiritual gifts that are named in the Bible Unfortunately, the answer you get depends upon whom you ask. As for me, my answer is no. And in this post I’ll offer my reasons for that answer.
Let me start with the gifts of apostleship and prophesying (prophecy). The New Testament describes these as gifts that were foundational to the early church. Ephesians 2:19-20 illustrates this truth by calling the early Christians “the household of God.” The passage then says that the foundation of that household came from the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus, of course, serving as the chief cornerstone for the whole building. What all this means is that in the years before the completion of the writing of the New Testament, Christians with the spiritual gifts of apostleship and prophesying (prophecy) were vital.
As I mentioned in the previous post, prophesying is not the same thing as preaching. While preaching amounts to saying some things about God’s written word, prophesying is speaking new words that come directly from God. In the early church, the indwelling Holy Spirit imparted this spiritual gift to selected men and selected women. For example, Acts 13:1 tells us there were prophets in the church of Antioch, and Acts 21:9 says that Philip the evangelist had four virgins daughters who were prophetesses.
But isn’t the gift of prophesying (prophecy) still needed today? Not so much. You see, we now have the completed New Testament to consult. I’m not saying that getting a never-before-heard, fresh word from God by way of a modern-day prophet or prophetess wouldn’t be helpful. I’m simply saying that now that the foundation has long been laid for the church, the crying need for such a ministry is no longer there. After all, a foundation only gets laid once.
Likewise, we can place the gift of apostleship in the same category. Here, the New Testament case against the modern imparting of this gift is even stronger. I say this because the New Testament names two highly specific qualifications for an apostle, qualifications that are such that no man or woman today has them on a resume. Those two qualifications are:
- must have been an eyewitness of the fact that Jesus resurrected (Acts 1:21-22)
- must have been able to perform “the signs (miracles) of an apostle” (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12)
Furthermore, Mathew 19:28 and Revelation 21:14 both speak of the apostles as being a closed group of 12 in the future. There is a debate as to whether Paul or Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) will take the place of Judas Iscariot in the 12, but there is no debate about “the 12” being a unique group. As evidence of this, when James became the first of them to die, no election was held to name a replacement for him (Acts 12:1-2).
With all this said, are there men and women today who claim to have the gifts of prophesying (prophecy) and apostleship? Yes, there are. Christian circles are filled with them in the ranks of the Pentecostal and Charismatic groups. But are these men and women legitimate prophets/prophetesses and apostles in the New Testament sense? In my opinion, they aren’t. Again, the New Testament specifically describes these two spiritual gifts as being foundational to the church age (Ephesians 2:19:20), and that foundation got set in place a long time ago.
Now let’s move on and talk about the gifts (plural) of healings and the working of miracles. Both of these gifts were important for the work of legitimizing Christianity and were given to the apostles (Acts 3:1-11; 5:1-16; 8:5-13; 9:32-43; 19:11-12; 20:6-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12) to enable each apostle to perform “the signs (miracles) of an apostle.” Therefore, it stands to reason that if the Holy Spirit no longer imparts the gift of apostleship, He no longer imparts the gifts of healings and the working of miracles, either. Despite the grandiose claims of some preachers on television, it is obvious that God is no longer doing all the things that are mentioned in the book of Acts, the book that provides the record of the early days of the church age. It’s not that God can’t still do all those things; it’s just that He doesn’t.
Finally, it is doubtful that the Holy Spirit still imparts the gifts of speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. According to the New Testament, speaking in tongues was no more or no less than the ability to speak in an unlearned foreign language (Acts 2:1-12). Similarly, the interpretation of tongues was no more or no less than the ability to interpret an unlearned foreign language.
As for the church services today that claim to display the gift of speaking in tongues and sometimes even the interpretation of those tongues, those services violate the Bible’s most basic rules for speaking in tongues in church. This includes the rule that the tongues be unlearned foreign languages rather than being mere babble or gibberish (Acts 2:1-12). It also includes the rule that women be forbidden to speak in tongues in a church service (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). So, while it’s true that the apostle Paul spoke in tongues often (1 Corinthians 14:18) and warned against making the practice forbidden (1 Corinthians 14:39), the reality is that he wouldn’t recognize what passes for the gift in today’s church services. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.