Cessation of Miracles:
Two Contexts Considered
Were miraculous gifts to abide with the church until the end of time, or, due to their specific design, were they only a temporary phenomena? This matter is discussed rather comprehensively in two New Testament contexts. We will consider each of these.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the inspired apostle addresses the duration of spiritual gifts in the Lord’s church. He commences by showing that these gifts must be exercised in love, for miraculous powers, void of love, were worthless. This theme was quite appropriate in view of the disposition of rivalry which threatened the unity of the Corinthian congregation (some exalting certain gifts above others, etc.).
From this initial instruction there is a very natural transition into the character and permanence of love, in contrast to the transitory function of spiritual gifts.
Of the nine gifts mentioned in 12:8-10, Paul selects three to illustrate his argument. Significantly, all three were related directly to the revealing of God’s will to man. The apostle affirms that prophecies shall be done away, tongues shall cease, knowledge (i.e., supernatural knowledge) shall be done away. It is wonderfully clear, therefore, that these three gifts (and by implication all miraculous gifts) were not designed to be a permanent fixture within the church.
In 1 Corinthians 13:9, Paul contends that God’s will, by means of these spiritual gifts (knowledge, prophecy, etc.) was made known gradually, i.e., “in part.” The expression “in part” translates the Greek to ek merous, literally, “the things in part.” It denotes “a part as opposed to the whole” (Abbott-Smith 1923, 284).
And so, we make the following argument: The “in-part” things shall be done away. But, the in-part things are the supernatural gifts by which the will of God was revealed. Thus, the supernatural gifts, by which the will of God was made known, were to be terminated.
But the question is: when were these gifts to pass away? The answer is: “When that which is perfect is come.” In the Greek Testament, the expression literally reads, to teleion, “the complete thing.” The term “perfect,” when used of quantity, is better rendered “complete” or “whole.”
A noted scholar observes: “In the Pauline corpus the meaning ‘whole’ is suggested at I C. 13:10 by the antithesis to ek merous” (Kittel 1972, 75). In his translation of the New Testament, J. B. Phillips renders it, “when the Complete comes, that is the end of the Incomplete.”
So, we may reason as follows: Whatever the in-part things are partially, the whole is, in completed form. But, the in-part things were the spiritual gifts employed in the revealing of God’s will (word). Therefore, the whole was God’s will (word)—as conveyed through the gifts—completely revealed.
Within this context, therefore, the apostle actually is saying this:
God’s revelation is being made known part-by-part, through the use of spiritual gifts; when that revelation is completed, these gifts will be needed no longer, hence, will pass away from the church’s possession.
As noted scholar W.E. Vine observed:
With the completion of Apostolic testimony and the completion of the Scriptures of truth (“the faith once for all delivered to the saints”, Jude 3. R.V.), “that which is perfect” had come, and the temporary gifts were done away (1951, 184).
Remember this vital point: spiritual gifts and the revelatory process were to be co-extensive. If men are performing miracles today, their messages are as binding as the New Testament record! If such is the case, the New Testament is not the final word.
This theme is similarly dealt with in Ephesians 4, where it is affirmed that when Christ “ascended on High” he “gave gifts unto men” (vv. 8ff). The gifts were miraculously endowed functions in the church (e.g., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers). The design of these capacities was “for the perfecting [katartismos] of the saints.”
The original word denotes “complete qualification for a specific purpose” (The Analytical Greek Lexicon n.d., 220). Or, as Arndt and Gingrich render it, “to equip the saints for service” (1967, 419).
Moreover, the duration of these supernatural governments was specified. They were to continue “till we all attain unto the unity of the faith” (4:13). “Till” is from mechri, and it suggests a “specification of time up to which this spiritual constitution was designed to last” (Ellicott 1978, 95).
The word “unity” (henotes) basically means “oneness” (_The Analytical Greek Lexicon n.d., 119). It derives from the term hen, the neuter of heis, and it emphasizes oneness “in contrast to the parts, of which a whole is made up” (Arndt and Gingrich 1967, 230).
Finally, the expression “the faith” refers to the revealed gospel system (cf. Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 5:8).
And so, to sum up: the apostle contends that spiritual gifts would continue until the gospel system, in its individual parts (as portrayed in 1 Corinthians 13), came together in oneness, i.e., the completed or whole revelation (New Testament record) (see MacKnight 1954, 335). Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 13 are wonderfully complimentary.