Q. People in our fundamental circles believe that the so-called sign gifts in the early New Testament church, such as speaking in tongues, ceased and are not for today. On what do we base this view?
A. Several key areas of study define our position. First, we study the purposes of the sign gifts. When these purposes ended, the need for the sign gifts ended as well. They had significance for both the New Testament church and for Israel. The sign gifts enabled the new believers of the early church to discern who were the apostles and who were not (2 Corinthians 11:13). Apostles had to be eyewitnesses of Christ and His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4–8). These men provided the leadership for the New Testament believers until the canon of Scripture was completed. The sign gifts performed by God through the apostles confirmed who these men were, because these gifts were miraculous (Acts 4:29–31). When the Scriptures were complete, believers had the authority of Scripture to guide them, and apostleship was no longer needed. In 1 Corinthians 13:9–11, the apostle Paul pointed out to the believers in Corinth that the apostles knew and prophesied in part (were still receiving truth by direct revelation of God), but when “that which is perfect” was come (the last portions of the Scriptures were added), then there would be no more need for the partial revelations that they had been receiving. Verse 11 shows that the sign gifts were given in the infancy of the church (“childish things”), and were no longer needed when the full revelation of God was available (the completed canon of Scripture).
The purpose of the sign gifts was quite different to the Jews. The Jews required a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22), and when Christ began His ministry to them, He came with signs and wonders (Acts 2:22). But they rejected their Messiah (John 1:11). Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 14:21 and 22 that in the sign gifts, the sign to Israel was that of upcoming judgment, as he quoted a prophecy from Isaiah about Israel (Isaiah 28:11, 12). When did this judgment occur? The destruction of Jerusalem took place in AD 70, followed by a mass national dispersion. Thus the need for warning through sign gifts to Israel would cease (Acts 28:25–28). The gospel was going to be delivered through Gentiles during the dispensation of the church, and individual Jews who would be saved during the Church Age would be saved directly or indirectly through Gentile witness.
Second, we study the apostle Paul’s letters, from his first to his last chronologically (the date of writing). He wrote the first six of them during the period of the book of Acts, when these apostolic sign gifts were still in use. These letters hint of the gifts still being in operation (see Galatians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:20; 1 Corinthians 12—14; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Romans 12:6). But the epistles Paul wrote after the time of the book of Acts do not mention speaking in tongues or the gift of healing. By that time Paul was in prison. In his Prison and Pastoral Epistles he didn’t mention sign gifts. A couple of interesting passages are Philippians 2:25–30, 1 Timothy 5:23, and 2 Timothy 4:20, where Paul apparently no longer had the gift of healing, for example.
Third, we study today’s scene. People of various beliefs, from evangelical charismatics to cults, claim these sign gifts exist today, but there is no secure evidence of genuineness. The Bible says that on the Day of Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared upon the apostles’ heads and a sound like a mighty wind came into the room (Acts 2:1, 2). These supernatural evidences are not present now. Further, the speaking in tongues of Acts 2 involved actual languages that were heard by people from various regions who spoke them. So-called speaking in tongues today is lacking in similarity, with gibberish (ecstatic speech) the rule, and Paul’s rules regulating speaking in tongues while it was still in practice are generally ignored, such as women being required to keep silent.
Healings in the New Testament apostolic period were verifiable and complete, including those who were healed from birth, unlike staged miracles supposedly performed today, where failed attempts at healings are blamed on the sick person (not enough faith) rather than on the “healer.” People were raised from the dead, unlike today when no verifiable similarities take place.
The charismatic movement has claimed new waves of God, but the many centuries of history when these waves did not appear would disprove their claims. It is unscriptural to believe that the sign gifts were/are permanent when there is no evidence of it. The Bible says instead that we are to concentrate on growing spiritually, on allowing the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in our lives, and on walking by faith.
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