God gave the Church some spiritual gifts for a temporary purpose until the close of the apostolic period.
It’s not unusual for God to give special gifts for a limited period of time. He gave confirming signs to Moses that were never intended for common practice among the Israelites (Exodus 4:17 – 11:10). It would be wrong to assume that what Moses was enabled to do was intended as a norm for God’s people at all times. God also gave Elijah special powers that were not intended for normal practice among the prophets of Israel (1 Kings 17:17-24).
The Lord Jesus Himself did special signs during His ministry (John 3:2; 20:30-31; Acts 2:22) and God allowed signs and wonders to take place under the direction of the Apostles (Acts 5:12-16; 14:3; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4). This covers every period of biblical history: law, prophets, the gospels and the apostolic age.
A common reality in each period in which God allowed miraculous signs was the unfinished written revelation of God. Since the Bible was not complete as we have it today, many conclude that God used signs to confirm His message and messengers.
Nowhere does God indicate that the signs of the apostolic age were to be the normal practice of the church in every age. Rather, God indicates that the signs had a specific purpose directly related to the ministry of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4). Scripture specifically states that the gifts of apostleship and prophecy were foundational to the Church (Ephesians 2:19-20).
There are good reasons to anticipate the cessation of miraculous gifts after the apostolic age. We have the complete Word of God today in the sixty-six books of the Bible, and that word doesn’t need signs to confirm its validity (see: John 20:30-31). Let’s consider each gift in this category.
1. Apostleship (Ephesians 4:11;1 Corinthians 12:28)
‘Apostle,’ in its specialized meaning, refers to men who had been with the Lord from His baptism to His resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). They had seen the risen Lord and were appointed as official witnesses of His resurrection (Acts1:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15:8; Mark 3:13-14).
A specialized meaning of apostleship extended to the twelve apostles and Paul. God confirmed the work of the apostles with signs as He gave His revelation through them (2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:12; Acts 5:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Ephesians 2:20 clearly revealed that apostleship fulfilled a foundational purpose. The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent-one,’ – one commissioned by someone else. But the meaning of the word alone is not sufficient to define the specialized use of apostleship in the New Testament. There was also a broader use of the word ‘apostle’ in Scripture to refer to apostles of the church.
2. Prophesying (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:1-40; Ephesians 4:11)
Prophesying in its general meaning has to do with proclamation of truth or preaching. Prophesying in its limited sense had to do with receiving and speaking a message that came directly from God (1 Corinthians 14:29-32). The message may have been predictive of the future or a revelation from God concerning the past or the present.
This gift, as that of apostleship, was foundational (Ephesians 2:20). Prior to the completion of the written Word of God, the gift of prophecy was vitally important to the people of God.
The New Testament is now complete so prophesying would take place only in the limited sense of proclamation of the written word, which is the faith that has been ‘once for all’ delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The preacher today can be referred to as a prophet only in this limited sense.
3. Distinguishing of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10)
Distinguishing (or “discerning”) of spirits was the special ability to discern between true and false revelation. Before the written Word was completed, this was a vitally important gift because many false teachers claimed to bring revelation from God. This gift was protective. It served to verify the true message from God. The key references in relation to the function of this gift are in three different places (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
The gift of distinguishing spirits ceased with the completion of Scriptures because it fulfilled its purpose. Today all such distinctions are made by the truth revealed in Scripture alone. The Bible is the final appeal for faith and practice.
4. Message of wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8)
The message of wisdom was the special ability for perceiving and presenting truth revealed by God. 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 indicates that the wisdom under consideration is truth revealed by God. This gift would have been characteristic of the foundational gifts of apostleship and prophesying in Ephesians 2:20. The accomplishments related to this gift (as with the others) are enjoyed today in the completed Scriptures.
The temporary nature of this gift does not exclude the ongoing necessity of wisdom (Philippians 1:9-11;Colossians 1:28; 2:2-3; James 1:5). But the message of wisdom was a special ability for a special time during which God was giving His revelation.
5. Message of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8)
The message of knowledge seems closely related to the gift of wisdom. Knowledge may deal with the ability to understand the wisdom of God correctly. While it is true that all believers are to grow in knowledge (Colossians 1:9), the message of knowledge would have had a special function for a time when the written Word was not completed. This gift would also have been related to the gifts of apostleship and prophesying. All knowledge of God’s revealed truth now comes from the Bible.
6. Miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28)
The gift of miracles was a special ability to exercise divine power. The book of Acts displays this gift functioning either by an apostle or the one directly commissioned by an apostle. Examples of this general ability to do miracles can be found throughout the book of Acts (Acts 3:1-9; 5:8-11; 13:8-11). According to 2 Corinthians 12:12, miracles functioned as authenticating signs of true apostles.
The temporary nature of the gift of miracles does not imply that God cannot do the miraculous today. God had a specific purpose for the gift of miracles within the apostolic age. The new birth is itself a miraculous work of God (Titus 3:5).
The gift of healing, as the gift of miracles, is found throughout the book of Acts. The gift of healing is one example of the miraculous. A careful study of the healing ministry of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles exposes most of the healing preachers claim to do today as superficial showmanship (Mark 1:4; John 9:1-25; Matthew 14:35-36; John 11:43-44; Acts 9:36-41).
The miraculous gifts of healings, tongues and interpretation of tongues were meant to serve a specific purpose in the apostolic age for confirming God’s message and messengers (Hebrews 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
As I indicated earlier, this temporary purpose is consistent with Biblical history.
The Apostle Paul exercised the gift of healing in Ephesus (Acts 19:11-12); however, there were times when he did not use this gift (Philippians 2:27; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20).
There is no question as to God’s ability to heal today. It is clearly evident that God still heals, but the gift of healing fulfilled a special divinely appointed purpose in the apostolic age. While we can still experience faith related healing (James 5:15), but we should not look to faith healers for receiving God’s healing.
8. Tongues: (1 Corinthians 12:10)
Tongues (as a gift) appear to be a God-given ability to speak in a known language that was never learned by the one speaking. Scripture indicates that the gift of tongues was related to known languages (Acts 2:4-6; Acts 10:45-47; 11:15). It is most fitting with the context of Scripture to view the gift of tongues as a supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages.
This gift has been the focus of considerable confusion and conflict. Most of the confusion is the result of elevating experience over Scripture. The prominence the gift of tongues receives in some churches and denominations is a direct violation of Scripture. Much of the wrong approach to this gift is based on careless approaches to the first book of Corinthians.
The Corinthian church was known for their abuse of this gift. We must be cautious about using examples from the Church at Corinth to form a doctrine about tongues because the tone of Corinthians regarding tongues is one of rebuke.
The Corinthian Church was guilty of counterfeiting the real gift of tongues under the influence of commonly used ecstatic utterances in heathen worship. The Apostle Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for mixing pagan practices with Christian worship.
The gift of tongues, as all other spiritual gifts, was given according to the will of God and it’s very clear that God did not intend for everyone to have the gift of (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). A comparison of 1 Corinthians 14:5 and 7:7 will reveal that the Apostle Paul’s statement in 14:5 was simply a personal desire, not a command.
The purpose of the gift of tongues was identical to all the miraculous gifts. Hebrews 2:3-4 reveals that the purpose was to confirm God’s message and messengers. The gift of tongues was also given as a sign to unbelievers, especially to unbelieving Jews (1 Corinthians 14:21-22). This gift was limited to the apostolic age according to its purpose and is unnecessary today because we have the completed written Word of God.
9. Interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10)
The gift of interpretation of tongues was a supernatural ability to interpret a known language never learned by the interpreter. This gift eliminated confusion and accompanied the gift of tongues as one of the confirming sign gifts. The gift of interpretation took place in the gathering of the local church (1 Corinthians 14).
In using the title “temporary” regarding spiritual gifts, I am not implying that God can no longer perform such miracles. Instead, I am recognizing that the temporary gifts all took place in the apostolic age for the purpose of revealing and confirming God’s message and messengers. Rather than pursuing these gifts, we should praise God that we have the final court of appeal in His living and written Word. Our efforts are better directed toward the study and proclamation of that written Word.