Their Purpose and Method of Reception
What was the purpose of miracles in the ministry of Christ, or in the apostolic age? As noted above, their design must be consistent with the lofty theme of redemption.
Of the early disciples who were endowed with spiritual gifts, Mark declares:
And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed (Mark 16:20).
The function of the signs was to confirm the revelatory process, i.e., the word of truth being communicated from God to man.
The writer of Hebrews argues similarly. He declares that the message regarding the “great salvation,” which at the first had been
spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will (2:3-4).
Of special interest in these passages is the term “confirm” (Grk. bebaioo). The word denotes evidence that establishes the validity of the divinely-given word (Brown 1975, 658). The supernatural gifts of the primitive age, therefore, had as their design the establishment of the credibility of Christ and his spokesmen, and so ultimately, the validation of their message, namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world!
Now observe this very important point. If it can be established that those early miracles do corroborate the testimony of Christ, and those commissioned by him; and further, that the recording of these events in the New Testament was designed to perpetually accomplish that function, then it stands as demonstrated that the repetition of such signs is not needed today.
The fact is, that is exactly what is affirmed by the apostle John. He declares that the “signs” of Christ, which he records in his gospel account, “are written [gegraptai—perfect tense, abiding effect] that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
- T. Robertson notes that this book “has had precisely this effect of continuous and successive confirmation of faith in Jesus Christ through the ages” (Robertson 1932, 317). Even those who claim that God is working miracles today, when asked if they believe that the recorded miracles of Christ in the New Testament are sufficient to establish faith in him, will answer affirmatively.
It ought to be abundantly clear, therefore, that since the miracles of the Bible continue to accomplish their original purpose, there is no need for a repetition of them today. They are not being replicated in this age!
Next, one should explore the method of gift reception, as that concept is set forth in the New Testament. Christ, of course, was empowered directly by God to work miracles. Such signs demonstrated that he was a “man approved of God” (Acts 2:22).
So far as New Testament information goes, there were only two ways by which others received spiritual gifts in the apostolic era. The first was by means of Holy Spirit baptism, i.e., an overwhelming direct endowment of the Spirit’s power. Second, miraculous gifts were bestowed by the imposition of the apostles’ hands. Let us consider the biblical facts regarding these two matters.
Holy Spirit baptism was demonstrated in only two New Testament situations. It was given to the apostles of Christ (Acts 1:5; 2:4). Then, as a very special case, it was received by the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-47; 11:15-17). Is Holy Spirit baptism available today? We can show that it is not by the following logical argument.
First, when Paul wrote to the Ephesians (ca. A.D. 62), he affirmed that there was but “one baptism” at that time (4:5). It is generally conceded that this baptism must be either Holy Spirit baptism or water baptism. If it can be established that the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5 is water baptism, then it is obvious that Spirit baptism was no longer available.
That water baptism is age-lasting is demonstrated by the fact that it is the baptism of the great commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16). In Matthew’s account, the Lord promised that as long as his people were making disciples, baptizing, teaching, etc., he would accompany them always, even to the end of the age. Whatever the baptism of this passage is, therefore, it continues in force until the end.
This baptism, however, must be water baptism, as evidenced by the fact that it is administered by human beings: “Go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing . . .” On the other hand, Holy Spirit baptism had no human administrator; it was bestowed directly by Christ (Matthew 3:11).
It must be concluded, therefore, that the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5 was water baptism; consequently, Holy Spirit baptism had become obsolete. Such being the case, spiritual gifts are not received via Holy Spirit baptism today.
Other than by Holy Spirit baptism, miraculous gifts could be conveyed only by an apostle of Christ. Note the evidence.
Philip, the evangelist (not an apostle), could perform miracles, but he could not pass that gift along to others. Accordingly, apostles, namely Peter and John, were sent to Samaria, where Philip had been preaching, so that the church there might be furnished with certain divine gifts (cf. Acts 8:5-6; 14-17).
In connection with the foregoing circumstances, Simon the sorcerer “saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given” (Acts 8:18). He wanted to purchase that privilege for himself, but he was informed that he had neither part nor lot in that matter, i.e., the impartation of spiritual gifts.
At Ephesus, Paul laid his hands on twelve converts and “they spake with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).
There was an unruly element within the church at Corinth that denied Paul’s apostleship. Such, however, was a very illogical position, for that church possessed spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14), and they had received them from none other than Paul. The “signs of an apostle” had been wrought among them (2 Corinthians 12:12), so Paul forcefully could say:
If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord
(1 Corinthians 9:2).
The Corinthian church (with its spiritual gifts) was, therefore a “seal” (divine documentation of Paul’s apostleship), and accordingly, indirect evidence that such gifts were received only from an apostle!
Paul urged Timothy to “stir up the gift of God,” which, says he, “is in you through [dia—denoting the instrument or agency by means of which the gift was imparted (Arndt and Gingrich 1923, 179)] the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Some argue that 1 Timothy 4:14 indicates that Timothy had received a spiritual gift from a certain “eldership,” which establishes a precedent for the reception of supernatural powers from a non-apostolic source. However, the passage does not suggest that.
Timothy had received a gift “by prophecy, with [meta] the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Meta simply denotes “attendant circumstances” and does not suggest that the gift came by the hands of the elders (Green 1907, 207).
This verse asserts that Timothy had received a spiritual gift on the same general occasion when elders had laid hands upon the evangelist—doubtless to appoint him to some special mission. It does not affirm that the elders themselves imparted miracle-working ability to Timothy.
Since, therefore, there is no Holy Spirit baptism today; and further, since there are no apostles (or successors to them) in this age, it should be quite clear that men are not in possession of supernatural gifts of the Spirit in this post-apostolic era of the Christian dispensation.