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Those who argue for the cessation of the sign gifts at the end of the first century appeal to the evidence of the New Testament writers to back up their claim.
First Corinthians 13:8-10
Love never fails. But whether there are
prophecies, they will fail, whether there are
tongues, they will cease; whether there is
knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
These verses teach that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will someday cease. The question is: When will this occur? Those who believe the sign gifts are not for today argue that they ceased of themselves at the end of the apostolic period.
The word translated cease is the Greek word katargeo
, which in this context means "cease of itself." The gift of tongues, the argument goes, ceased of itself when the apostles died. The sign gifts were given to authenticate the gospel until the Bible was completed. Once the Scripture had been completed, there was no more need for signs because the Word of God was then perfect and available.
The question comes up about the meaning of perfect.
What does it refer to. Some people believe that perfect
refers to the Bible. When it was completed there was no more need for signs. The Greek words to telion
, translated "the perfect," are in the neuter gender. This leads some to believe it cannot refer to Christ.
Tongues will indeed "cease of themselves," but only when the "perfect" has come. "Perfect" refers to the perfect age when Christ returns.
Beloved, now are we children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
The idea that Paul had in his mind a completed Scripture when referring to "perfect" is highly unlikely. Many of those who reject the sign gifts realize that this argument does not carry much weight.
Pauls reference to the cessation of prophecies, knowledge, and miracles is not meant to indicate the temporary nature of these gifts during the early period of the church age. There will be no need for them only when Christ returns. Before He comes back, the gifts are necessary.
God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.
Those who heard the Lord were the apostles. How was someone to know whether or not the message of the apostles was to be trusted? By "signs and wonders." This verse says that God had (past tense) born witness to His Word by means of the sign gifts. When this letter was written to the Hebrews, the signs had already died out.
If the sign gifts were given to confirm apostolic authority, then why did non-apostles have the sign gifts?
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8).
And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did (Acts 8:6).
Furthermore, why were the sign gifts given at the church of Corinth, where no apostle lived? This verse says that the signs had been performed among the unbelievers. It does not say that they ceased or that they were limited to the first generation of believers.
Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone
This verse is said by some to mean that the gifts, manifested through the apostles and prophets, were foundational to the church. Once the foundation had been built, however, there was no need to build upon this foundation. In addition, some argue that once the job was finished, there was no further need for the offices of apostle and prophet.
There are many assumptions that one must make to come to this conclusion, but none are supported by Scripture. It must be assumed that the apostles and prophets had only a temporary purpose, and this purpose was the confirmation of Gods Word. It also must be assumed that the gifts functioned with them and no one else. Both of these arguments lack support.
For I testify to everyone who hears the word of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book.
Once the Bible was completed, there is no more need for the sign gifts, because nothing needs to be added to Scripture.
If this were taken literally, then the only book of the Bible that could be believed is the Book of Revelation! The verse cited says not to add or take away from the prophecies of this book - Revelation. Thus, it would have to be the only book you could believe. To make this refer to the entire Bible is highly speculative. Furthermore sign gifts do not add to Scripture. They merely apply, interpret, witness and confirm Scripture.
Lack Of Mention In New Testament Letters
Another argument for the cessation of the sign gifts concerns their lack of mention. The letter to the Corinthian church is the only place sign gifts are mentioned. The list of spiritual gifts in the letter to the Romans (Romans 12:3-8
) and the letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:11-13
) does mention the sign gifts. If they were permanent gifts, then the other letters would have mentioned them.
This is an argument from silence. The Scripture nowhere makes a distinction between the sign gifts and the other gifts. If the sign gifts as tongues were to soon cease, why did the Apostle Paul write to the Corinthians: "Do not forbid to speak with tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:39
Therefore, the New Testament does not give evidence that the sign gifts have ceased.