It is undeniable that miraculous gifts—gifts such as the ability to heal the sick, work miracles, prophesy, discern spirits, speak in tongues, and interpret tongues (1 Corinthians 12:7-10)—were present in the early church (Acts 2:1-12; 3:6-7; 5:12-16; 8:5-24; 9:32-42; 10:44-48; 11:27-28; 13:1-12; 14:8-10; 16:16-18; 19:1-7; 20:9-11; 21:10-11). But does their existence in the first century necessitate their existence today? Must a church that seeks to emulate the first century church advocate the presence of miraculous gifts today? To answer this question we must examine everything that the New Testament has to say about miraculous gifts, and in so doing we will discover three important specifications about such gifts.
First, the Bible teaches that miraculous gifts existed for a specific purpose. The purpose of these gifts was to confirm the message presented by God’s messenger. This purpose is evident in Mark’s description of the post-ascension work of the apostles. After receiving the Great Commission, Mark states that the apostles “went out and preached everywhere,” and he added that “the Lord [was] working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). Additionally, this purpose is evident in Luke’s description of the work of Philip the evangelist. Philip “preached Christ” to the Samaritans and they “heeded the things spoken by [him]” not only because they “heard” the message but also because they “saw the signs that he did,” which included exorcising demons and healing the paralyzed (Acts 8:5-7). Finally, this purpose is evident when the author of Hebrews said that the message presented by Jesus was “attested” not only “by those who heard” Him, but also by “God” via “signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:3-4). Based on such passages, it is apparent that miraculous gifts existed for the expressed purpose of confirming the message that was spoken through God’s messengers.
Second, the Bible teaches that miraculous gifts involved a specific means of reception. There were only two ways by which individuals received miraculous gifts in the New Testament.
- One means through which miraculous gifts was received was what we might call “Holy Spirit baptism.” This particular means of transmission was unique to two specific occasions. First, the disciples who were assembled in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost received this “baptism” (Acts 2:1-12), and, second, the household of Cornelius who were assembled to hear Peter share the Gospel received this “baptism” (Acts 10:44-48). In both of these instances, “Holy Spirit baptism” served as evidence that God was opening the doors of the church. On the Day of Pentecost, this “baptism” marked the institution of the church and endowed its original members with the ability to confirm their message of salvation via miraculous abilities. In Cornelius’ house, this “baptism" communicated to Peter God’s acceptance of the Gentiles into the church by “gifting” them in the same way that Peter received his miraculous gifts on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 10:47). No other instance of Holy Spirit baptism is preserved, prophesied, or promised.
- Another means of imparting miraculous gifts was through “the laying on of the apostles’ hands.” In Acts 8:17, Peter and John “laid hands on” the Samaritan Christians, and, as a result “they received the Holy Spirit.” The next verse is important because it states the simple observation of Simon the Sorcerer regarding how miraculous gifts were imparted. Acts 8:18 states that “Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands.” Thus, Simon realized that in order for someone to receive a miraculous gift an apostle had to lay his hands on him. But Simon the Sorcerer’s observation is not the only evidence for this means of transmission. It is also evidenced by the fact that the “wonders,” “signs,” and healings conducted by Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7) occurred only after the apostles “laid hands on them” (Acts 6:5-6), and the disciples of John the Baptizer that Paul converted in Ephesus began speaking in tongues and prophesying only after “Paul had laid hands on them” (Acts 19:6). These examples indicate that the primary means through which miraculous gifts were imparted in the first century was through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.
Since the New Testament only describes two ways for an individual to receive miraculous gifts then one of these means of transmission must exist today in order for miraculous gifts to be imparted. “Holy Spirit baptism” only occurred on two specific occasions, and no indications of it happening again are mentioned in Scripture. The “laying on of an apostles hands” necessitates the existence of an apostle; therefore, once all of the apostles ceased to exist then the ability to impart miraculous gifts also ceased to exist.
Finally, the Bible teaches that miraculous gifts possessed a limited duration. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul began a rather lengthy discussion on the subject of the miraculous that spanned three chapters. In chapter 12 he indicated that the Holy Spirit had equipped various individuals with unique abilities that were designed to benefit the church body as a whole. At the end of chapter 12, he said, “I will show you a still more excellent way” (12:31), which lead to his famous presentation on love in chapter 13. Based on what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 we learn that 1) love is a more excellent and necessary attribute than miraculous gifts (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), 2) miraculous gifts (such as prophecy, tongues, and knowledge) would eventually “fail,” “cease,” and “vanish away” (1 Corinthians 13:8), and 3) miraculous gifts are partial revelations rather than complete revelations and, as a result, would be unnecessary once “that which is perfect has come” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). It is quite obvious that Paul expected miraculous gifts to dissipate at some point in time, but what would dictate when they dissipated? Or, to put it another way, what is “that which is perfect” which would render the miraculous gifts unnecessary? “That which is perfect” can only be a reference to God’s inspired Word compiled in what we now refer to as the New Testament, since it is the source of information for “the man of God” to “be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and to know everything that “pertain[s] to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). In other words, we no longer need miraculous gifts to confirm God’s messengers because we have the self-confirming message recorded in the Bible.
Based on these biblical teachings, we can conclude that once the purpose of miraculous gifts was no longer necessary and the means by which their reception was no longer available, then miraculous gifts naturally dissipated. As a result, the congregations associated with the Church of Christ do not believe that miraculous gifts continue to exist today.