Miraculous Gifts (Part Five)
by Tom Edwards
Living Apostles and Prophets Have Ceased
An interesting comparison can be made between 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 and Ephesians 4:11-16. The latter context mentions various men whom Christ gave to help build up the church, such as apostles and prophets. They were to equip the saints for the work of service and edify the congregation "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ."
This has often been erroneously pictured as referring to heaven, but the context itself shows the contrary -- it concerns man's existence while on earth. Notice verse 14, "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming."
Most assuredly, this cannot be speaking about heaven, for in that beautiful city no false teachers will be found. Therefore, the phrase "until we all attain to the unity of the faith" must have reference to the faith once delivered (Jude 3), that is, the New Testament.
This is why Jesus gave apostles and prophets, so that God's word could be made known and His children would not be led astray by those who are teaching error.
Interestingly, even those who reached the unity of the faith still had some growing to do (vv. 15,16). The reason why we no longer have any apostles or prophets living today is because their work has been accomplished in the early church; and since the giving of miraculous gifts was part of the apostles' work, these have also ceased.
Manner in Which Gifts Were Bestowed
Another clear indicator as to why miraculous gifts are not for today is seen in how they were distributed -- through the laying on of the apostles' hands. Only they had the ability to lay hands on others and give them the Holy Spirit.
Bible expressions, such as "the gift of the Spirit," "baptized...in the Holy Spirit," and "be filled with the Spirit," do not all mean the same thing. In Acts 2:38,39, Peter cried out, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."
What is this "gift of the Holy Spirit?" Does it mean that they were "baptized in the Holy Spirit?" Does it mean that they would then have miraculous gifts? This promise of the Holy Spirit actually has reference to all the blessings which one can have in Christ Jesus -- justification, salvation, etc.
Peter had just proclaimed that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v. 21), which was a promise that the Holy Spirit had given to all who would obey. In view of other Bible passages, it is obvious that this did not mean that they would receive miraculous gifts or that they would be "baptized in the Spirit."
Notice Acts 8:12-19. In this passage, Philip went down to Samaria, preached the word of God and worked miracles. As a result, many people believed and were baptized. According to Acts 2:38, those who obeyed the gospel would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; therefore, the Samaritans also received this. But does this mean they could now speak in tongues or manifest other gifts of the Spirit? In verse 14, the church in Jerusalem, after hearing about the great conversion in Samaria, sent down Peter and John (who were both apostles). Why did they go down? Notice verse 15: "who came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." Though they had already received the "gift of the Holy Spirit" when they believed and were baptized, they did not receive the Holy Spirit until the apostles laid their hands on them. Let us also hear verses 17-19: "Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that THE SPIRIT WAS BESTOWED THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF THE APOSTLES' HANDS, he offered them money, saying `Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."'
Though there was probably a great multitude of those who had been converted, no mention is made of Philip helping out with the laying on of hands. It was only the two apostles, Peter and John, who were involved in this. Certainly, they could have used the help, but no one other than an apostle had the ability to impart the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.
Quite possibly, when Paul told the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you," he was making reference to this special ability God had given them. Undoubtedly, this sign was something that would distinguish them from any other gifted person, for many of the early Christians possessed the same gifts, such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc., but only the apostles could bestow the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.
In Acts 19:1-7, Paul met some men who did not know about the baptism of Jesus; they only knew of John's baptism, and his was to prepare the people for the Messiah who was to come. The Lord's baptism was not instituted until after His resurrection, though he made an allusion to it in John 3:5 by showing that a man must be born "of water and the Spirit" in order to be born again. The Lord's baptism is so one can be saved (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), walk in the "newness of life" (Rom. 6:3,4), have sins forgiven (Acts 22:16), be put into Christ (Gal. 3:26,27), so that one may be buried and raised with Him (Col. 2:12); and in all these passages it clearly reveals that baptism stands between the penitent believer and his salvation. Without being scripturally baptized, one remains in his sins, regardless of how religious he might be. Those whom Paul was speaking to, in learning of their need to submit to the Lord's baptism, were baptized in water (v. 5). Then Paul laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (v. 6). But we must keep in mind that they received the "gift of the Holy Spirit," according to Acts 2:38, even prior to the laying on of Paul's hands. Therefore, receiving the "gift of the Holy Spirit" and receiving the Holy Spirit is not referring to the same thing in these passages; and, also, since there are no more apostles living today, there can be no more gifts bestowed by them. May we hearken, however, to what they have left behind: the word of God.