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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

If Miracles Have Ceased--the Implications

Have miracles ceased?  They have if we are talking about the kind of miracles performed by Jesus, the apostles, and those possessed of spiritual gifts in New Testament times.  The purpose of those miracles was to confirm that the word spoken was from God.  Such confirmation was needed.  Put yourself in the shoes of those living back then.  Here one comes into your midst claiming to speak for God.  Is he delusional, a madman?  Is he a charlatan?  Why should I give him the time of day?

People speak of blind faith.  The kind of faith the Bible demands of men is not blind faith but faith built upon reason, based on the word of God, confirmed by miracles.  I believe not because I am naive and will believe anything and will buy bridges in deserts but rather because God said, "come now, and let us reason together." (Isa. 1:18 NKJV)  I have done that--reasoning based on the word of God confirmed by miracles.

Why was the tomb of Jesus empty on the third day?  Why could the Romans not find the body of Jesus?  Why did they not even look for it?  What profit was there to be had in preaching Jesus as did Peter and the other apostles if they knew they had stolen the body and hidden it?  Was there money in it?  Was there power?  Was there security in doing so or danger?  Why did those 12 men put their lives on the line to preach the gospel?  Faith built on reasoning with the truth, a truth confirmed by the greatest miracle of all--the resurrection of Christ, is not emotionalism.  The unbeliever cannot explain the empty tomb nor can they explain the lives of the apostles.

The word spoken, however, would have little effect upon men in a day and age when revelation was not yet completed, indeed was just beginning to be given, without miracles accompanying it.  The people living in places like Asia (modern-day Turkey), Greece, and other remote locations knew nothing of Jesus originally.  His life, his death, his resurrection was not broadcast over TV, all over the Internet, and was not in newspaper headlines.  We have to put ourselves back in their time to understand what their situation was.  When a man like Paul arrives in your village the question is who is this man?  What is he talking about? 

The Bible thus says that after Jesus gave the Great Commission in Mark 16:15-16 the eleven, that soon became the twelve, "went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs." (Mark 16:20 NKJV)  Paul spoke of the signs of an apostle.  He said in speaking to the Corinthians, "In nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds." (2 Cor. 12:11-12 NKJV)  In his first letter to them, the Corinthians, he says of his preaching that it was, "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (1 Cor. 2:4-5 NKJV)  "Power" is a reference to the miraculous.

The writer of the book of Hebrews speaks of the same sort of thing when in talking about the preaching of the gospel message by those who had heard Jesus says, "God also bearing witness (with them--the speakers--DS) both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will." (Heb. 2:4 NKJV)  So we clearly see the purpose behind miracles, signs, wonders, gifts of the Holy Spirit, the miraculous in general, when the word was being preached to people who knew it not.

The Bible also gives us a second reason or purpose for spiritual gifts in the New Testament church.  After a person became convinced of the truth of the gospel and obeyed it what then?  He cannot order a Bible or New Testament from Amazon or Abebooks or go to Wal-Mart and purchase one.  Not only that but the New Testament has not yet been given in its entirety.

The complete revelation of the New Testament, the Bible calls it the new covenant, occurred over the course of a few decades in the first century, not instantly in a year or two.  The books were in the process of being written and delivered.  How do the members of the church know how to live?  How do they know right from wrong?  The answer was spiritual gifts given by God for the purpose of instructing the church in righteous living. 

Paul says of these gifts, "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." (1 Cor. 12:7 NKJV)  He is talking about spiritual gifts.  Whatever your gift was (he gives a list of them in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, see also verse 28) it was to be used to profit everyone, not just yourself.  "Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel." (1 Cor. 14:12 NKJV)  Edification means to build up spiritually.  "Let all things be done for edification." (1 Cor. 14:26 NKJV)

Understanding the purpose behind miracles and spiritual gifts helps one greatly in understanding a passage written by Paul found right in the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14, a passage where he declares that there will be an end to spiritual gifts not when Christ comes again but before then.  I refer to 1 Cor. 13:8-13.

"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 we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.  When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.   And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:8-13 NKJV)

Let us note some things from this passage.  Paul says plainly that prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge (talking about miraculously given knowledge) will vanish.  The question then becomes when.  Can we find out?  Yes!

Something will abide after these spiritual gifts have ceased.  What will that be?  Faith, hope, and love.  What does that mean?  Well, for one thing it means that if hope still abides after spiritual gifts are gone the spiritual gifts will be gone before Jesus returns to earth.  We still "hope" after the gifts have vanished but why am I hoping if Christ has already returned and I am now in possession of that for which I had been hoping?  Once you have received that which you were hoping for you do not continue to hope for it--there is no need.  Do not let anyone tell you that spiritual gifts are going to last until Jesus returns.  This passage destroys that false doctrine.  One must understand that prophecy, tongues, and inspired knowledge as spiritual gifts were representative of all spiritual gifts in that all were to vanish, not just those three.

That which "is perfect" in the passage is the final total revealed will of Christ--the completed revelation of Christ--the New Testament in its totality of inspired teaching.  Again, revelation was not all given in a single day or a single year.  It was a matter of a gradual revealing of the truth over a few decades in the first century until all was given that was to be given.  Perhaps reading 1 Cor. 13:10 will help you see this when read from another translation, "But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." (1 Cor. 13:10 ESV)  Spiritual gifts were the partial, completed revelation was the "perfect."   

One has to bear in mind that the word "perfect" often means "complete" in New Testament usage and this passage is an example of it.  The International Standard Version of the Bible translates 1 Cor. 13:10, "But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will be done away with." (ISV)  The New Living Translation has it as follows, "But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless." (NLT)  Full understanding came when full revelation was complete.   

Another passage teaching the same thing is Eph. 4:11-15, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ." (NKJV)

Note that apostles and prophets were to be only for a time--note the word "till" in verse 13.  When would the "till" arrive?  We can figure that out.  We have enough information to do that.  Note that when that time arrives we will no longer be children tossed about by every wind of doctrine.  This tells us that when the "till" comes ("we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood" - Eph. 4:13 ESV) that false doctrine will still be taught but we will no longer be carried about by it.  This means we are talking about a time prior to the return of Christ for upon his return false doctrine becomes a thing of the past.  So again we prove that miracles, spiritual gifts, etc., are not to last until the return of Christ.  They are gone before his return.  So again do not let anyone tell you that miracles and spiritual gifts are to last until Christ's return.

But one might object to this argument on the grounds that if this be true then it would also eliminate evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  Yes, it would--those miraculously qualified to do the work by being the recipient of a spiritual gift.  One needs to bear in mind, however, that with the completed revelation of Christ to man one no longer needed spiritual gifts to qualify or enable him for that work. 

Also, beware lest you be led astray thinking that since what is called Christendom today is divided that "the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" never arrived.  Yes, that has been lost today but that does not mean they never had it say back in 120 A.D. (just using that date as an example).  Believe it or not there was a time when things were not like they are today.

The unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and how to obtain to mature spiritual manhood in Christ are found in the pages of the completed New Testament.  Outside the New Testament you can know nothing of or about Christ or of the faith aside from some Old Testament prophetic utterances.  If you are carried about by false doctrine you need not be.  That is what you have a New Testament for--so you will not be led into false doctrine and can know the truth if you really want to know it. 

What are the implications of miracles having ceased?  Let me say to start that the implications are so great that some religious bodies will never accept it as fact for the simple reason it would destroy them as a religious body.  If a religious group's very existence is dependent on the continuation of miracles that is an exceedingly strong incentive to fight for them and argue for them and not accept New Testament teaching on the subject.

Remember the purpose of miracles was to confirm the word.  If you still want the world to believe you are a source of revealed authoritative teaching and preaching, teaching that cannot be found in the pages of the New Testament (emphasis here), received directly from God, then you must have miracles to confirm the word.  You cannot have the Catholic Church without miracles can you?  If they want to hand down law and claim God's authority for it then they have to have God performing miracles among them.  No choice about it.

The Catholic Church claims authority and teaches many doctrines that cannot be found in the pages of the New Testament (I think they will agree with me on this).  Why should any man believe them?  There is only one reason--miracles.  They must make the claim of miracles being performed among them and do their best to get people to believe they are genuine.  They will never accept that miracles have ceased.  If you are Catholic logic requires that you believe in modern-day miracles.  The miracles confirm that God is among them approving of them and their teaching.  They must have miracles to maintain their authority.  They will have their miracles with no New Testament passages bothering them.

One must remember the Catholic Church believes authority resides with them and not solely with the New Testament.  They are not willing to accept the New Testament alone as the final authority in religion.  This is not news to anyone familiar with the Catholic Church.

Pentecostal groups have a different motivation.  As far as I know they have not tried to get humanity to think that God hands down law today through them, law not found in the New Testament, but they have misunderstood the New Testament.  Their existence does depend on the continuation of miracles and spiritual gifts.  All know this who know anything about them.  If miracles have ceased they are left high and dry, out in the cold, and have taught false doctrine.  They must fight against what has been taught in this article.  If miracles have ceased, as I have been teaching, then where does that leave Pentecostalism?

One must remember that doctrine does not exist in a vacuum.  Every doctrine has implications.  As we all from time to time examine our beliefs we would do well to see where our thinking leads.  We must accept the implications for we really have no choice unless we are to throw all logic and reason out the window.     

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