Have the Miraculous Gifts Like Tongues and Prophecy Ceased?
- 2011 28 Sep
The following is a [transcribed] Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety.
“I don't think the miraculous gifts have ceased. Now, if by the miraculous gifts, you mean the Holy Spirit inspiring fresh scripture written, that ceased. That's done. We had the canon, it's completed. We have all of what God means to tell us in his word. He's done a great saving act in Christ, and he is interpreted by his Holy Spirit, as the spirit was poured out on the witnesses of that act to interpret for us what God had done in history.
That's the pattern we see. God did a great saving act, like the Exodus or the Exile, and then God inspiring prophets before and after to interpret and explain to his people the significance of his action.
From what God has revealed, the next great saving act is his return. And he's already prophesied that. We have that clearly here. So we have no reason to expect any kind of continuing revelation in that sense. This word is sufficient.
Having said that, that doesn't mean, then, that the Holy Spirit has stopped acting in a supernatural way, since the close of the canon. People are still regenerated, born again. The Holy Spirit takes dead sinners and radically alters us, giving us new life.
I don't think the New Testament has a list of special gifts or miraculous gifts, but you'll notice the various lists in Paul's letters don't ... they're not all the same. They don't all add up. And some phrases even seem to be similar, but not exactly the same, because they're covering the same ground. I think all Paul is doing there, is describing a number of different things the Holy Spirit was doing in local churches.
The Holy Spirit is sovereign. He can do what he wants, when he wants, where he wants. And I don't think we have any statement in the New Testament that says, "Oh, by the way, I'm going to stop doing this in 100 AD." I don't think that happens.
When you're reading in the third and fourth centuries, Christians are aware that what seemed predominant in the first century in the New Testament did not seem as predominant and their church didn't seem to typify them. But I think that's for the Holy Spirit to determine in his sovereignty. I think that he gives gifts that build up his church. So when we look in First Communions 12 and 13 and 14, really the long chapters, because 13, it's just a little kernel of it. It's lived out in the way the assembly is in Chapters 12 and 14 of First Corinthians. And I think what we see is that everything we do is for the building of the church.
Now I think we can bring questions to the texts that kind of distort the texts. So for example, back in the 1970s, when the charismatic movement and where I was from anyway was going hot and heavy, and there were all kinds of people getting baptized on the Holy Ghost and praying in tongues, maybe some people right here ... This is the way God's word was used. Again and again, First Communions 14, I don't know how many times I heard people read Chapter 14 like this. Follow the way of love. Eagerly desire spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy, for everyone. Anyone who speaks does not speak to men but to God. And no one understands him, but he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophecies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. Then Verse Four is the one they always zoomed in on. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophecies edifies the church.
And what we were told is that there are two good things. There's self-edification through tongues and edification of the church through prophecy, preaching the word. Well, I don't think that's what Paul's saying there. If you read through this ... The whole letter of First Corinthians is Paul laying aside his own rights as an apostle, but even here, in Chapters 12, 13, 14, he's talking about what edifies the church, what builds up the church.
He says down in Verse 26, all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. So that's what he's about. That's not his nice way of saying, "Hey, you got two good options here. Edify yourself or edify the church." His whole point is, do what edifies the church. So that's the way of slamming it. I don't think he's approving of it in that sense.
Now having said that, clearly God's word presents tongues as a gift that God's spirit gives to people sometimes. And there are a lot of questions I can't answer about it, but what I can say is I don't think we have an exhaustive list of gifts. So I don't think there are these that operate it and these that don't. I think what we can say, is that God the Holy Spirit will build up his church and he will give us all the gifts we need to that end. He is sovereign, we don't need to worry about it. We can seek these gifts, seek the edification of the church, and pray that God glorify himself in that."