SPIRITUAL GIFTS: Are They With Us Today? (2)

Dusty Owens

Periodically, it becomes necessary to restudy a passage of scripture, such as 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, because of its distorted use by those who would support a false doctrine. This excerpt from the "love" chapter is interpreted by many to teach that miraculous gifts like those of the first century are still with us today, and will continue until Jesus Christ's second coming. This false doctrine has many evil implications and has been with us for a long, long time. It is sometimes referred to as "PENTECOSTALISM"!

Pentecostal doctrine heavily emphasizes the charismatic phenomena (spiritual gifts) of the first century, the baptism and bodily indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the possibility of miraculous divine healing in answer to prayer.

It is my personal observation that Pentecostals tend to put greater emphasis on the Holy Spirit than on Jesus Christ. By this I mean that subjects involving the Holy Spirit permeate their discussions, preaching, and writings to a greater degree than that of Christ. In fact, God and Christ are relegated to an inferior position, while the Holy Spirit is spotlighted front and center!

Pentecostals attempt to use 1 Cor. 13:8-13 in order to give their doctrine some semblance of scriptural proof. Ironically, their position becomes illogical. They feel that this passage offers the best place in which to establish their "duration" theory, which states that miraculous gifts were designed by God to be with us until the end of time.

The key phrase is found in verse 10: " ... when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away." We are told that the word translated "perfect" really means "perfection" and refers to the time when Jesus will return and all saints then will know and understand all things perfectly. Interpreting "perfect" as "a state of perfection" and placing it at the second coming of Christ, permits people to make the claim that miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit are being manifested now. Some would even say that it is absolutely necessary that God's people possess spiritual gifts until the end of time.

In 1 Cor. 12:4-11, Paul listed nine "charismata" (literally, "spirituals"), which were being distributed by the Holy Spirit to various people, as He willed. These gifts were supernatural powers and were to be used for the good of the whole group.

In the rest of chapter 12, Paul taught that it was necessary for these brethren to work together, like members of a human body. Evidently, the Corinthians did not understand the purpose and use of these gifts, and were squabbling over who had the more important gifts. Some may have become angry for being left out in the distribution of the gifts. This led Paul to say that all members of the body are important, and we cannot all be an "eye" or an "ear." He admonished them to "desire earnestly the greater gifts" (v. 31). These were faith, hope and love.

Paul stated that the gifts of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge would "cease" or "be done away" and that this would happen "when that which is perfect is come" (13:8-10). This raises the question we are seeking to answer: whether or not that "perfect" has already come. If it has, then spiritual gifts were done away at that time, and those claiming miraculous experiences today are involved with "the working of Satan with all POWER and SIGNS and LYING WONDERS." For this, "God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie ... " This leads to eternal destruction "because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thess. 2:8-12).

My position is that the "perfect" has come and the gifts are NOT with us today!

Please understand, when I talk about "gifts" here, I am not referring to "talents and abilities" that people are given through the natural birth process. I am talking about gifts that are miraculous. I define a miracle as the intervention of the Supernatural (God) into the realm of the natural (universe) in such a way that the laws of nature are set aside temporarily to effect the otherwise impossible.

The spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the early Christians listed in chapter 12, and discussed in chapters 13 and 14, were miraculous. They enabled the possessors to do superhuman things, such as obtain divine truths (knowledge), teach the truth without error, speak in languages previously not studied, heal the sick, and many other extraordinary feats.

Spiritual gifts were given as temporary equipment to bring about the full revelation of God's will, first orally, then in written form. They served the same purpose that scaffolding does for a building contractor. When the building is completed, the scaffolding is removed. When mankind was furnished a "perfect" (complete) revelation of God's will in matters of salvation through Christ, spiritual gifts ceased.

By "God's complete revelation," I am not referring to the 27 books we call the New Testament. The final acceptance of all these books did not happen until the early fourth century. However, by 100 A.D. enough had been written and circulated among the saints that God's will on matters of salvation, including how to live in a righteous and godly way, was completely revealed in these inspired writings. When this occurred, God saw fit to gradually diminish the use of spiritual gifts until finally they all were withdrawn. When did that happen? No one knows for sure what year this was finally accomplished, but apparently it happened shortly after the last apostle died. Probably, sometime in the early part of the second century.

Paul understood that these miraculous gifts were temporary in their use by God. He directed the saints to "desire earnestly the greater gifts, and moreover a more excellent way show I unto you." The greater gifts" were faith. hope and love, the "more excellent way" was LOVE. Every charismatic must answer this question: Why did Paul take their focus off the miraculous gifts and put it on these "greater gifts"? The only plausible answer is that Paul knew these miraculous gifts were temporary! They were to cease - to be done away - But, "love never ceases"!

Purpose Of Spiritual Gifts

Advocates of this Pentecostal teaching ignore the purpose of spiritual gifts and other miraculous phenomena, much in the same way that people misunderstand the reason Jesus worked miracles during His ministry. They think that Jesus healed just because He felt sorry for the sick and afflicted. Certainly, Jesus had compassion for the people of His day and healed many of them, but His ultimate reason for performing signs and wonders was to prove His Deity and Power. His miracles proved that He was who He claimed to be, the Christ, the Son of God who came in the flesh, personifying His Father in heaven. He said, "These works testify of me, that I come from the Father" (John 5:36; 10:25, 38; 14:11; 20:30, 31).

The same faulty reasoning is applied to spiritual gifts. People think that we need them today because of all the sickness and suffering in the world. They say that we need these gifts to comfort the distressed and to succor the grieved. Have we forgotten that suffering, sorrow, pain, and even death were imposed upon fallen man by God Himself, and will remain man's lot until the end of the ages? No, miracles were not performed to alleviate the sufferings and misery even of God's people. The Holy Spirit gave us the Word of God to see us through these trying times. "wherefore comfort one another with these WORDS" (1 Thess. 4:18).

Then what was the purpose of the miraculous gifts? The answer is given to us by the writer of Hebrews:

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? which having at the first been SPOKEN through the Lord, WAS CONFIRMED unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by SIGNS and WONDERS, and by manifold POWERS, and by GIFTS of the HOLY SPIRIT, according to his own will (Heb. 2:3-4).

Notice the great theme of salvation was FIRST SPOKEN by the Lord and WAS CONFIRMED to us by "them that heard" (the apostles). The message of salvation was confirmed by God through signs, wonders, powers, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here is the stated purpose of miracles, to confirm (establish) what God's will is on all matters of salvation, Pentecostal teachers ignore this and put the emphasis on alleviating the suffering and misery of people. This is a distortion. Satan loves to distort truth and mislead people. Remember, he is the father of lies.

"Salvation" was expressed orally, "first spoken through the Lord." The implication is that it would appear in written form later. No child of God would deny that it now exists in written form as the complete revelation of God's will, would he? Some contend that the writer of Hebrews was talking about "salvation," and that this passage has nothing to do with the "word of God" being confirmed. This kind of reasoning is absurd! THE WORD OF GOD IS THE MESSAGE OF SALVATION IN CHRIST JESUS! It can be delivered orally, or can be gleaned from the pages of Holy Writ, and it can be understood. The Hebrews writer declares it to be established!

Notice again, that which was first spoken by our Lord "WAS CONFIRMED," past tense! This is a damaging blow to the advocates of present day spiritual gifts. "Confirmed" means "established". There was something "established"? What was "established"? The word "first spoken"! The word of salvation was already established with signs, etc., by the time the Hebrews writer penned this letter! Did you understand that statement? Every subsequent generation has had access to the established word of God, which offers salvation in Jesus Christ, IF HE NEVER CAME IN CONTACT WITH A SINGLE SPIRITUAL GIFT! What else would a person want today? Does he want to be saved from his sins and have the promise of eternal life? The answers are in the Bible. Does he desire to know God's will on all matters that pertain to godliness? It's in The Book! He can learn how to fill all his spiritual needs through studying the word of God. If the written word can equip a person with everything God expects him to know and to be, then what further need has he? Paul said, "All scripture inspired of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be COMPLETE (perfect, matured), FURNISHED COMPLETELY unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If we say that he still has other spiritual needs which are not addressed by the established word, we make the word of God incomplete and inadequate, and our argument then must be with Paul and God. Are you ready to declare that the Bible is insufficient and that we need spiritual gifts also, my brother or sister?

God witnessed the establishment of His word with signs, wonders, powers, and spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. All were miracles. Some miracles were signs because they drew attention to the messenger and the message. When a proclaimer of the gospel worked a miracle it was as if God had pinned a badge on him and said, "This is my spokesman - listen to him!" Some miracles were called wonders because they caused the audience to marvel and to wonder. Such were those on the day of Pentecost, who "were amazed and perplexed, saying one to another, 'What meaneth this'?" (Acts 2:12 Sometimes miracles were called powers, which drew attention to the source of the miracle, God. Gifts of the Holy Spirit focuses attention on the work of the Holy Spirit, which was to ultimately bring into being the complete revelation of God's will in written form.

Basic Assumption Of Pentecostal Teaching

Now, back to 1 Cor. 13:10. Promoters of present day miraculous gifts say, "that which is perfect" can only occur at the time of and/or after the second coming of Jesus Christ. However, in most cases they cannot agree whether the "perfect" is Jesus, or a "state of perfection." Many find themselves arguing that both interpretations represent Paul's "perfect" in verse 10. Some brethren have argued that Paul and the brethren and, therefore, all Christians only had partial knowledge but when Christ comes that knowledge will reach perfection. In other words, Paul's "perfect" is really a "state of perfection" which he, nor any one else, can attain until Jesus comes back to claim His own.

If we accept that line of reasoning, we have to conclude that Paul and the other apostles did not have complete understanding or knowledge when they preached the gospel, revealed the mysteries of Christ, and taught Christians how to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ! Surely none of our readers can honestly believe that conclusion.

Paul's "Perfect"

The Greek word that appears in our English translations as "perfect", or complete", is "teleios". In our text, Paul used "to teleion" which is the neuter gender, not the masculine. Therefore, Paul could not have reference to Jesus Christ or he would have used to teleios". Paul's "perfect" is an "it". That is why you read in most translations, "When THAT which is perfect is come", not, "when HE who is perfect is come." The argument that Paul's "perfect" is "Christ, as perfection", and therefore, spiritual gifts will be with us until the end of time, IS FALLACIOUS!

The Greek work, teleios, is used 19 times in the New Testament and NEVER pertains to something at or after the second coming of Christ!

Modern miracle claimers make a big-to-do about Paul's examples expressing "partial knowledge". They claim that gifts will be necessary until "perfect knowledge " is possible. They are really saying that Paul, all the apostles, prophets, and saints could not reach "teleios" (perfection), in this lifetime. We must all wait until Christ comes again. Their arguments crumble in the face of divine revelation. Read the next paragraph carefully.

Jesus charged His disciples to be teleios (perfect), even as the Farther is teleios (perfect) Matt. 12:48). Paul said to prove what is that teleios (perfect) will of God" (Rom. 12:2). We "prove" the teleios will of God by becoming teleios. We are to speak wisdom among them that are teleios (full grown) (1 Cor. 2:6). Paul said " ... as many as are teleios (full grown), be thus minded" (Phil. 3: 15). Epaphras worked and prayed "that we may present every man teleios (perfect) in Christ" (Col. 4:12). James encouraged brethren to work patience "that ye may be teleios (perfect) in all the will of God" (Jas. 1:4). "Solid food is for teleios (full grown) man" (Heb. 5: 14). And, there are other verses.

What is the point? To make room for their "miracles" today, charismatics say that it is impossible to reach teleios until Christ returns. They use 1 Cor. 13:8-13. In contrast to this erroneous concept, in every place that teleios is used by Jesus and the apostles, they admonished and encouraged disciples to be teleios, now! To be teleios, the disciples had to have access to the teleios revelation of God's will. Would Jesus and the apostles demand of them something they could not attain in their lifetime? It is ridiculous to reason so. James said they had the "teleios (perfect) law of liberty" (Jas. 1:25). In the Biblical use of the word, teleios, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit intended Christians to become "perfect", "full grown", and "mature". Spiritual gifts and other miraculous powers furnished by God aided the early Christians to accomplish this until the teleios (complete), revealed will of God became widespread in written form!

Paul's "In Part"

Paul put "in part" in contrast to "perfect" (I prefer the word "complete"). If we know what the "part" is, we know what the "perfect" is that Paul had in mind. Paul said, "We know in part and we prophesy in part." "Know" and "prophesy" what? It is evident that Paul had reference to God's will in matters pertaining to salvation through Jesus Christ! Certainly, he was not talking about general knowledge concerning history or geography, or what the current political and economic climates were. He was talking about how these brethren could "know" and "prophesy" God's will and grow from carnality to spiritual maturity.

Permit me to amplify what I think Paul said: "Now, we all should work together, sharing in the body, each doing his part in order that we all come to understand God's will on matters pertaining to salvation; BUT UNDERSTAND, that when the complete revelation of God's will is written to furnish you with everything that pertains to eternal life and godliness, that which we do in part will have outlived its usefulness and shall be done away."

Summary

We have presented evidence that strongly supports the proposition that miraculous gifts were to be used temporarily, that is, until the complete revelation of God's will in all matters of salvation were made known. Further, we have shown sufficiently that the doctrine of Pentecostalism, which has as one of its tenets the on-going use of the miraculous spiritual gifts until the end of time, is fallacious.

It is false because (1) it ignores the scriptural purpose for all miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit; (2) it attaches a special meaning to the word "teleios" that is completely foreign to its many appearances in the New Testament; (3) it implies that the Holy Spirit did not complete His assigned work; (4) it teaches that Paul and the other apostles were lacking in knowledge and understanding concerning the will of God ("they only knew partially"): (5) it denies that children of God can become "perfect" in this life; and finally, {6) it claims that all miracles are being worked today, although no one has seen the dead raised and withered limbs restored instantaneously! (More To Follow) (For additional arguments on the "perfect" please refer to this writer's "Spiritual Gifts (1)", Examiner. Vol. 6. No. 2).