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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are All Spiritual Gifts Active Today?

Don Stewart :: What Are the Arguments That Evidence from the Plan of God Indicates the Sign Gifts Have Ceased?

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What Are the Arguments That Evidence from the Plan of God Indicates the Sign Gifts Have Ceased?

Are All Spiritual Gifts Active Today? – Question 4

Some people say that the sign gifts have now ceased because they no longer play a part in the plan of God. The argument reasons that miraculous signs have only appeared during new periods of revelation to confirm the Word of God. The reasoning is as follows.

Why Must the Spiritual Gifts Continue Throughout the Church Age?

While some Christians believe that miraculous gifts are to be expected today because they were found in the early church this is not necessarily the case. Why, it is asked, must God be bound to continue giving these gifts during the entire church age? There is nothing illogical, or unreasonable, with believing that God could have given miraculous gifts for only a short period of time. Indeed, God can do whatever He wishes to do with respect to giving confirmatory signs to people.

This is especially true since we have the example of the Old Testament. Miracles were not experienced during the entire Old Testament period. Indeed, as we read the Old Testament Scripture we find that they only appeared from time to time. This being the case, then we should not necessarily expect miracles to occur during the entire New Testament period.

There Were Three Periods of Confirming Signs in Biblical History

When the program of God is examined from the pages of the Bible, one can find only three periods of history when God worked miraculous signs. In each of these periods God sent special messengers to His people.

Period 1: The Signs during the Time of Moses Confirmed New Revelation

God worked miraculous signs was during the time of Moses. He was the first man in recorded biblical history to which miraculous powers were given. Moses was the man that God raised up to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Exodus 1-11 indicates that the purpose of these miraculous signs, done through Moses, was to authenticate the Word of God before Pharaoh. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the miracles died out. There was no more need for miraculous signs. This indicates signs are not always necessary in the plan of God.

The Miraculous Manna Stopped When Israel Entered the Promised Land

It is important to note that the supernatural provision of manna also stopped when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. We read.

The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan (Joshua 5:12 NIV).

While the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, they were supernaturally fed each day by manna that the Lord provided. However when they entered the Land of Promise, the manna stopped. Immediately upon entering the land they had to work for their own food.

This is highly instructive. Miracles do not necessarily have to follow believers for their entire lives. There comes a time when people have to trust the Lord based on who He is and what He has done – not on the fact that He keeps performing miracles.

Period 2: The Ministry of Elijah and Elisha Demanded Miraculous Signs

The other example of miracles during the Old Testament period was in the lives of Elijah and Elisha. They were special messenger sent to confirm God’s Word to a sinful nation who had fallen away from their calling. They performed miraculous signs to call a disobedient nation back to repentance. When these two prophets died, the miracles died with them.

The purpose of their miracles was not to confirm new revelation, as some have argued, but rather to authenticate these men as God’s special messengers. The religious leaders, who were supposed to be speaking for God, had fallen into gross sin. The nation followed their sinful ways. Elijah and Elisha were sent to bring a sinful nation back to repentance.

Period 3: The Ministry of Jesus Produced Signs and Wonders

The ministry of Jesus and the apostles represented the third and final cluster of miracles that we find recorded in Scripture. Jesus performed miracles during His ministry. The miracles were not done to prove that God existed or that He had compassion on His people. These miracles were public demonstrations that Jesus was the promised Messiah. John wrote.

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30, 31 NKJV)

The miracles were done to cause belief in Jesus.

The Testimony of Simon Peter as to the Purpose of the Signs

On the Day of Pentecost Peter also made it clear that the miracles were performed to confirm Jesus’ identity.

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know (Acts 2:22 NASB).

The purpose for the signs was to confirm the truth of God.

The Testimony by Jesus for John the Baptist

John the Baptist asked Jesus if He actually was the promised Messiah. To answer John, Jesus pointed to the miracles that He was performing.

John the Baptist, who was now in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me (Matthew 11:2-6 NLT).

This demonstrated to the people that Jesus was the one whom the Law and Prophets had foretold. They were expecting miraculous signs to come from the Messiah.

The Religious Leaders Asked Jesus for a Sign

We read of the religious leaders asking Jesus for a sign. Matthew records them approaching Jesus with this request.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” (Matthew 12:38 ESV).

They wanted a sign to confirm Jesus’ identity.

Jesus Acknowledged the People Wanted to See Signs

On another occasion, we find Jesus acknowledging that the people were asking to see miraculous signs from Him. He said the following.

Jesus asked, “Must I do miraculous signs and wonders before you people will believe in me?” (John 4:48 NLT).

They expected to see Jesus performing miracles.

Paul Said the Jews Demanded Signs

Paul also wrote about the fact that the Jews demanded to see signs. He put it this way in his letter to the Corinthians.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22 ESV).

It seems the Jews needed to see visible signs to convince them of the identity of the Messiah.

Jesus’ Signs Were for a Specific Purpose

The healing of a paralyzed man was to show that Jesus had authority to forgive sin. We read Jesus saying the following.

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Matthew 9:6 NIV).

Jesus gave these signs to confirm His identity to that people would believe in Him. Unfortunately, the people rejected Jesus and His attesting miracles.

The Signs Were Given To Jesus’ Immediate Disciples

Jesus also gave His unique authority only to His handpicked Apostles. This includes the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote about the signs that were given to him to demonstrate his authority. He put it this way.

Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds (2 Corinthians 12:12 NKJV).

There were certain signs which showed the apostles had the proper credentials to represent Jesus. These signs were miracles. Paul also wrote about his exercising of these signs of an apostle.

By the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God-so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:19 ESV).

He exercised these signs throughout his ministry. This showed that Paul had God-given authority to preach and teach the Word.

The Second Generation of Christians Did Not See These Signs

We also find that the second generation of Christians did not see the exercising of the signs gifts; they were no longer in use. The writer to the Hebrews testified.

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3, 4 ESV).

Once the apostles passed from the scene, so did the miracles. The writer to the Hebrews spoke of the confirmation as something already past.

The Sign Gifts Were Not Functioning at the End Of Paul’s Ministry

It seems that the sign gifts did not function in the final years of the ministry of the apostle Paul. The last recorded miracles of Paul were on the island of Malta.

First, a deadly snake bit Paul but it did not harm him. We read of this in the Book of Acts.

As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. When the local people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man is probably a murderer, and though he has escaped the sea, Justice does not allow him to live!” However, he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would swell up or suddenly drop dead. But after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god (Acts 28:3-6 HCSB).

Here Paul is miraculously spared when bitten by a snake.

Paul also healed a number of sick people. For example, we read.

It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured (Acts 28:8-9 NRSV).

His healing continued at this time.

These Miracles Ceased

However, after Paul arrived in Rome his ability to work miracles seemingly ceased.

Paul Did Not Heal Epaphroditus

Paul wrote to the Philippians while he was in a Roman prison and explained how Epaphroditus, the messenger that was sent to him, almost died.

For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow (Philippians 2:27 NKJV).

It seemed that Paul was unable to help him. Why did this happen if Paul had the gift of healing? Could he not heal his friend, this man of God?

Paul Told Timothy to Take Wine for His Sickness

Paul was released from prison but was eventually brought back to Rome for execution. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy recommending that he take wine for his infirmed stomach and other recurring illnesses.

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) (1 Timothy 5:23 ESV)

There was no exhortation to find someone with the gift of healing.

Why Did Paul Leave Trophimus Sick?

In his last letter, the Apostle Paul tells how he left a believer named Trophimus in a sick condition. We read.

Erastus has remained at Corinth; Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. (2 Timothy 4:20 HCSB)

Again, Paul failed to heal a sick person. It seems as the Word of God was in the process of being completely written the miracles were falling off at the same time.

Some Important Observations about Miracles

There are a number of observations that should be made from the way in which miracles have occurred in the past.

God Has Worked in the past without the Supernatural Signs

God worked during other Old Testament times without having to display any supernatural miracles to confirm His Word. There are no examples of anyone working miracles until the time of Moses.

In fact, the translation of Enoch (Genesis 5) was the only recorded miracle from the time of Adam to the Flood. There were no recorded miracles from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Joseph. Israel suffered for four hundred years in Egypt until God raised up Moses to deliver the people out of bondage. It was not until the time of Moses that God first worked supernaturally through a person.

From the time of Joshua through King David there were only rare occurrences of miracles. During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, God was working His program without the confirmation from miraculous signs. Therefore, it is not necessary that the miraculous signs exist for God to perform His program. For the greater part of the Old Testament period, miraculous signs were not evident.

The ability to perform miraculous deeds has not been the experience of some of the greatest of the Old Testament saints. Neither King David, nor the prophet Isaiah performed miracles. Miracles were the exception, not the rule.

There Were No Miracles between the Testaments

There was also a four hundred year period of silence between the testaments, when God did not even speak to His people, let alone perform miracles. The forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist, did not perform miracles. God withheld the miracles until Jesus appeared on the scene. This was to demonstrate His uniqueness and the truth of His message.

Each Cluster of Miracles Had a Specific Purpose

Each cluster of miracles occurred for a specific purpose: to authenticate God’s Word through special messengers. If supernatural signs were meant to confirm these special messengers of God– Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jesus and His immediate followers, then it is obvious that signs are not necessary once the special message has been delivered. This is why we do not find signs through special messengers for a great deal of biblical history.

Now that the Bible is complete, no further authentication of the Word of God is necessary. Hence the purpose of the miracles in the plan of God demonstrates they are no longer needed.

Therefore, the fact that miracles occurred in the early church does not necessarily mean that they should be expected today. There is no biblical basis for assuming that these miracles should continue throughout the entire New Testament age. They are not needed and should not be expected to occur. In fact, the seeking after miraculous sign could be seen as lack of faith in God’s written Word.

Miracles Still Exist – Not Miracle Workers

While the Bible is full of miracles we do not find it full of miracle workers. The denial that specific people have miraculous gifts is not the same thing as denying miracles. God can, and does, still perform miracles today. However, He does them without using people with miraculous gifts.

Therefore, while we should expect God to perform miracles according to His will, we cannot expect to find miracle workers who will carry out this task.

In sum, the plan of God shows that miracles are not always necessary for God to perform His work here upon the earth. Thus, it is correct to argue that miracles of the sort we find in the New Testament, are not taking place today.

Summary – Question 4
What Are the Arguments That Evidence from the Plan of God Indicates the Sign Gifts Have Now Ceased?

It is argued that the plan of God shows the signs gift may be only temporary. It is emphasized that there is nothing unreasonable about asserting the sign gifts were given for a short period of time. In fact, this idea fits with the totality of the teaching of Scripture – unusual or confirmatory miracles were not evident in every generation. Indeed, the Bible records that miracles only happened at only rare times. When they did, it was in clusters. They did not occur until the time of Moses. He is the first individual to whom miracles are attributed.

There is also the example of the Lord supernaturally providing food for Israel while in the desert. Yet, once they were in the Promised Land the miraculous provision stopped. In a similar way, the church does not always need miracles or miracle workers to prove God loves them or that He exists.

The next time we find miracles occurring was at the time of Elijah and Elisha. They were sent as special messengers to call Israel back to repentance. The miracles were to confirm that God had a divine message to speak through them.

The final cluster of miracles occurred with Jesus and His apostles. The miracles of Jesus were confirmatory signs that He was indeed the promised Messiah. His apostles were given the same signs to prove that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Thus, He was the One whom the Law and Prophet wrote about.

Apart from these three times miracles were rare. In fact, the greater part of biblical history existed without the miraculous. There are no miracles recorded by any of the biblical characters before the time of Moses. No miracles are recorded for David or the prophet Isaiah. There were no miracles between the testaments neither did John the Baptist perform miracles.

Since miracles were not the norm for the Old Testament age, we should not expect necessarily them to be the norm for the entire New Testament age unless it is specifically stated in Scripture. In fact, it is not so stated.

It seems that miracles stopped occurring in the later stages of the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Three separate individuals, Epaphroditus, Timothy, and Trophimus, were not miraculously healed but were allowed to be sick. There was no intervention by Paul or anyone else which had the gift of healing. This seems strange if the gift of healing was still operating at that time.

It should be noted that the denial of the existence of miraculous sign gifts is not a denial of the miraculous. Miracles can still occur apart from people who have the gift to work miracles. However, the time and place of miracles is something which God alone determines.

Therefore, many conclude that the overall plan of God, as recorded in Scripture, gives evidence for the temporary nature of certain gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Why Do Some Argue That the Purpose of the Sign Gifts Shows That They Have Not Ceased? ← Prior Section
What Are the Arguments That Evidence from the Plan of God Does Not Indicate That the Sign Gifts Have Ceased? Next Section →
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