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The Gifts of the Spirit

The Gifts of the Spirit

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Published by Christopher Prime
"In the name of Jesus!" Are the gifts of the Spirit still active today?
"In the name of Jesus!" Are the gifts of the Spirit still active today?

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Christopher Prime on May 02, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Gifts of the Spirit
A casual survey of opinions concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit will usually result in a rather obvioussplit between those who believe the gifts ended with the Apostolic age (called
) and thosewho believe the gifts are still available today (
). My personal experience with theseextremes is embodied in two groups: continuationism in the Pentecostal denomination, andcessationism in the churches stemming from the Restoration Movement (the churches of Christ andChristian churches). The distinctive aspects of each:
experiential (based on personal feeling and experience)
gifts of the Spirit are available to all
gifts of the Spirit (especially tongues) are a sign of salvation following baptism
speaking in tongues and healing appear to be a focus, with true prophecy being uncommon
speaking in tongues is generally “angelic” –
not of any secular (earthly) language
Churches of Christ
non-experiential (rejecting any reliance on personal feeling and experience)
gifts of the Spirit were for the Apostles and those on whom the Apostles laid their hands
gifts of the Spirit are not a sign of salvation and have never necessarily followed baptism
during the Apostolic age, all gifts of the Spirit were given without preference
speaking in tongues always involved secular languagesIt has been my experience that the key passage used to justify cessationism, which happens to be inthe middle of the oft-quoted chapter on love, is 1 Corinthians 13:8
10 (note, all Scripture in this work isfrom the NIV):
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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
A cursory reading of this might leave one confused as to how it can be used to justify the disappearanceof the gifts of the Spirit with the end of the Apostolic age. If any timeframe at all can be determined from
this passage, it would seem to be connected to “when completeness comes.” This is where
cessationists pull what may appear to be some fancy footwork to get this passage to justify theirposition. Completeness, they say, is referring to the completed canon of Scripture, which was given bythe end of the first century.
What’s peculiar is that the completed canon is
anticipated nowhere else inthe New Testament. Even Revelation, the book that completed the Biblical canon, makes no mention ofthis. On the contrary, in Revelation 10, John is told to continue to prophesy
before many peoples, andnations, and tongues, and kings
This seems a strange command if the book John was writing was tobring an end to knowledge and prophecy. Of course, we could consider the fact that the Biblical canon
textually compiled until the third century, by which time, coincidentally, occurrences of the giftswere sparse (if any true examples existed at all), but we must also consider that few, if any, of the NewTestament writers ever anticipated that their letters
would eventually become as much “Scripture” as the
Tanakh (the Old Testament). Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews wereinstructing and reproving individual congregations while absent, the Gospel writers were merelytestifying of what they and others had seen in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of JesusChrist, and whether or not John knew the Revelation would become canonized is hard to say.Regardless, there is no obvious expectation
that God’s
Word given through these first-century authors
would become a combined work superseding the Jewish Scriptures. That makes it possible that thisinterpretation is a bias from hindsight (not to mention an interpretation of convenience). We will lookfurther into that later.On the subject of history, there is some historical evidence for the vanishing of the spiritual gifts. Atleast up to the time of Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, the gifts were still very much active.However, Chrysostom and Augustine, writing in the fourth and fifth centuries respectively, refer to thegifts as past and no longer occurring. The only exception to this is in a later report by Augustine of arevival of miracles
. It should also be noted that many examples of “miracles” following the second
century occur almost exclusively in cults and heretical sects, and quite often appear more magical thanmiraculous. Keep in mind that even the magicians of Pharaoh were able to replicate several of the
s plagues with their own secret arts. Here, we must p
ay special attention to 1 John 4:1: “
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world 
We cannot stress this enough.After the fifth century, miracles were mostly a feature of the Roman Catholic Church. It would evenseem that, within Catholicism, the miraculous is more often attributed to the Virgin Mary than to the HolySpirit of God. This, of course, is no less than idolatry, not to mention blasphemy against the Holy Spiritby indicating that such legitimate power is held by anyone other than the Spirit (see Mark 3:20
30).More recently, another group has taken hold of the miraculous and made it central to their work in thename of Christ. At the turn of the twentieth century (100 years after the Restoration Movement),Pentecostalism emerged in the Central United States, built upon the earlier Holiness Movement.Incidentally, the Holiness Movement did not involve the gifts of the Spirit. Instead, the movement, whichgrew from the teachings of brothers John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Wesleyanism), focusedon achieving sinless perfection following salvation through
God’s Grace and the work of the Holy Spirit.
From this, many people turned to Pentecostalism when it appeared half a century later, which added toHoly Spirit baptism the subsequent outward sign of speaking in tongues. Today, there are more 10,000distinct denominations within the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Of these, the largest is theAssemblies of God, having over 300,000 churches and 60 million adherents worldwide.In the midst of the Holiness Movement, in 1800, a second movement was getting its own foothold: theRestoration. Surprisingly similar to certain Charismatic denominations, the churches of the Restorationare independent congregations with no central leadership or overarching structure. Unlikedenominations, which are generally formed on the basis of some doctrinal distinction, the autonomouschurches of the Restoration assert only a return to New Testament principles
especially as found inthe book of Acts. They seek only to be Scriptural, not dogmatic on any trivial or otherwise questionableissue, using the first-century Church as their example, in contrast to denominations based on theteachings and experiences of fallible men from later centuries. Many religions begin with an experientialevent (most often a vision or angelic interjection), and denominations arise because of difference ofopinion and interpretation. The Restoration, however, began separately in several regions of the UnitedStates with nothing more than the urge to return to New Testament basics
that is, to
theChurch to its former foundation. There are only two groups (these churches reject the denominationlabel) among the churches of the Restoration: the churches of Christ and Christian churches. The onlydifference between these two is the name
a matter of preference among individual congregations.Before continuing on, it should be quickly noted that, today, many people believe i
n God’s ability to
heal, but they give very little thought to the gifts of the Spirit. The two are quite different. Praying for Godto heal someone is not a gift (though prayer, itself, is most definitely a gift); it is an appeal to the hand ofGod. The gifts of the Spirit were an allotment of the power of the Spirit into the hands of certain men ofGod. Healing, as a gift, was a matter of contact. For example, the one having the gift would lay theirhands on the one who was sick (or, in the case of Peter, the one who was sick would merely touch theshadow of the one having the gift) and they would be healed by their faith. This is a very importantdistinction, and whether or not God does heal is not the subject of this study (though it can be said that,if God so chooses, he can heal whomever he wants, and the prayers of the righteous will certainly beheard).
 Returning to the passage in 1 Corinthians 13, it is first of all important to understand the context ofwhat Paul was writing. Read chapters 12 through 14. Paul begins by stating two simple facts: allspiritual gifts are from the same Spirit, and every gift is necessary for the proper functioning of the bodyof Christ.
Paul’s listing of the gifts of the Spirit implies that ther 
e are greater gifts and there are lessergifts (though, again, all are equally necessary), and he tells the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts
 presumably prophecy and teaching. Note that, three times, Paul lists the gifts of tongues andinterpretati
on last, after every other gift. He explains this in 14:2, saying, “
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit 
” The gift of tongues relies on another gift –
the gift of interpretation. Otherwise, the speaker isspeaking nonsense, even to the point of deterring outsiders (14:23). In fact, Paul here explains that onecan pray in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, but even they may have no understanding of what they aresaying (14:13
17). Furthermore, Paul says prophecy is the greater gift (14:1
5), because it instructs theChurch. What greater purpose is there for these spiritual gifts than the instruction and increase of theChurch? Any gift that achieves this purpose is surely of a greater kind.At the end of chapter 12, after telling the Corinthians to eagerly desire the greater gifts, Paul makes an
interesting statement: “
And yet I will show you the most excellent way 
Even greater than the greatest
of spiritual gifts, there is a “most excellent way.”
What could that possibly be? Chapter 13 is dedicated tothis most excellent way. Paul writes (13:1
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. 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.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.
The first thing to notice is Paul’s use of hyperbole (exaggeration). The abili
ty to speak in the tongues ofmen and angels; the ability to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge; faith to move mountains; giving
all possessions to the poor; giving over the body to hardship (some manuscripts read “to the flames”).
The entire theme of
chapter 13 is the imperfection of the spiritual gifts. Paul says “we know in part andprophesy in part” (13:9), and yet here he refers to knowing and prophesying in full. Obviously, he is
exaggerating. This means we can conclude nothing from his reference
to “the tongues of men or of angels.” This, too, is an exaggeration and cannot be used to justify the “angelic” (also called “ecstatic”
)tongues being spoken today. One consistent theme throughout the New Testament is the purpose oftongues: to establish the taking of the Gospel to all peoples, nations, and languages. The Apostlesspoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost so that they would be understood by the Jews of all nationsand dialects (Greek:
, used in Acts 2:6) who were gathered at Jerusalem. And Paul explicitlystates the purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues in 1
Corinthians 14:22: “
Tongues, then, are a sign,not for believers but for unbelievers 
Speaking in tongues was not meant to be kept among thechurches; it was designed to take the Gospel to people of diverse languages
languages the onestaking the Gospel out are unable to speak on their own.Readers of the King James Versi
on will see “unknown tongues” throughout 1 Corinthians 14 and will
typically equate that with languages unknown to men (that is, angelic languages). What readers of the
KJV need to keep in mind, however, is that the word “unknown” is, in every instance, italicized
.Unfortunately, many people
even preachers and teachers of the Word
will see the italics of the KJVand assume it implies emphasis. Actually, it indicates the exact opposite. Any word italicized in the KJVis an editorial addition not found in the original Greek.
 Also, the word “tongues,” itself, has gained an ecstatic connotation over time, mostly due to the use of 
the word by the Charismatic Movement. We need to remember that the Greek word translated as
, was synonymous with
(dialects). Literally,
referred to the tongue (the
physical tongue in the mouth), but, because of the tongue’s role in speaking, it was also used
metaphorically to refer to languages. Multiple times in the book of Revelation,
is used to indicatethe peoples, tribes, languages and nations of the earth. If angelic languages were ever the subject, the

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