Core Propositions The debate is not about what God is able to do, but about what He has indicated that He intends to do. Scripture alone is sufficient to answer this question, as it is for all matters of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 2:20-23). Miracles are not self-authenticating.
Who Could Do Miracles? The magicians of Egypt ((Ex. 7:10-12; 20-22; 8:6-7). False prophets (Deut. 13:1-3). Simon Magus (Acts. 8:9-11). The “man of sin” will (2 Thess. 2:8-10). In the Eschaton, many who have prophesied and done wonders in Jesus’ name will be eternally lost (Matt. 7:21-23).
Matthew 7:21-23 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Counterfeits in the Church Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. (1 Corinthians 13:3)
How Did (Will) They Do It? Demonic power is possible. There may be natural principles of which we are unaware. We don’t really know. We don’t have to know how they did it. It is enough for us to know how they didn’t. We can draw an conclusion about the evidential power of raw miracles.
What Can We Conclude? The fact that a person does a marvelous thing does not necessarily mean that God was behind the miracle, prophecy, or exorcism. This is true even of miracles done in Jesus’ name. Therefore, we cannot presume that any miraculous gift is in operation just because people appear to be exercising it.
What About Acts? Continuationists typically believe that all the practices of Acts, including miraculous gifts, are normative for the church age. Cessationists typically believe that the apostolic age in general, and the events of Acts in particular, were transitional in nature. Is this just special pleading, or is Acts really transitional?
The Pattern of the Gospels The worship of the gospels is still patterned on that of the Old Testament. The priests act as mediators between man and God. People are still observing temple sacrifices and other rituals. In the synagogues the Law is being taught as a rule of life. God is dealing with humanity through a single nation, Israel.
The Pattern of the Epistles The patterns of the Old Testament have been rendered inoperative. Apostles are preparing elders to teach the people of God. The center of religious life has shifted from temple and synagogue to the local church. The Spirit is now the believer’s rule of life. Israel has been set aside for the remainder of the age. God is now working through a new people, the church.
What About Acts? The purpose of the book of Acts is to explain how this transition occurs. At the beginning of the book, the situation is like that in the gospels. By the end of the book, the situation is like that in the epistles.
Gospels: Worship Is OT Pattern Israel Is Central Church Does Not Exist Epistles: Worship Is NT Pattern Church Is Central Israel Is Set Aside Acts
Introduction—Acts 1:6-8 The book opens with the disciples asking about the Kingdom. They are referring to Old Testament passages about the millennium. It was reasonable for them to expect that, with the resurrection of Jesus, the millennium was about to be established. This was the hope of Israel. Jesus’ reply, however, evades a direct answer. There is a shift in the book from Israel to the church. The purpose of the book is to detail that shift.
The Offer of the Kingdom Kingdom Offer Accepted Rejected Millennium Unknown The purpose of Acts is to fill in this “unknown”
Stage One: The Church Is a Subset of Israel (Acts 2:1-9:43) Israel Church
The Crucial Episode: Pentecost The Birthday of the Church The first Kingdom invitation to Israel The primacy of the apostles, especially Peter Initial acceptance by the populace The first occurrence of tongues
Possibilities at the Beginning of Acts The church will grow to include all of Israel, which will inherit the blessings promised to the nation The church will become the faithful remnant of Israel, inheriting the blessings promised to the nation The church and Israel will become distinct entities standing parallel to each other The church will become distinct from Israel and displace it
Stage Two: The Church and Israel Overlap (Acts 10:1-18:28) IsraelChurch This is a major departure in God’s program. It was unimaginable that God would do His work outside of Israel.
The Crucial Episode: Cornelius The first gentile converts Absence of Jewish ritual or identification Proclamation of the gospel Gospel received without any external action Clearly identified as Holy Spirit baptism, connected with Pentecost The second occurrence of speaking in tongues
Stage Three: The Church Divides from Israel (Acts 19:1-28:31) IsraelChurch
Stage Three: The Church Divides from Israel (Acts 19:1-28:31) Israel Church
The Crucial Episode: Ephesian Disciples Already saved, on OT terms Unaware of the shift in dispensations Accepted the message as announced by Paul Brought into NT Church on same terms as gentiles Third occurrence of speaking in tongues
What About Israel? Not permanently rejected (Rom. 9-11) Temporarily set aside, but with a future Not the people through whom God is working in this age No “separate track” (Messianic Judaism) Saved Jews and saved gentiles together constitute the Church (John 10; Eph. 2)
Conclusions About Acts Acts is about an enormous transition The apostles were the shepherds or overseers of the transition The crucial points in the transition occur in chapters 2, 10, 19 Each stage in the transition brings increasing judgment upon Israel. Note the occurrences of speaking in tongues
The Role of the Apostles We have seen how the book of Acts describes a major shift in God’s dealings with humanity. This is the largest shift in God’s plan since Moses received the Law at Mount Sinai. To understand how this affects our view of spiritual gifts, we need to concentrate on the office of apostle. The apostles are pivotal.
There is a difference between an apostle of a local church and the formal office of apostle.
Local Church Apostles Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. (2 Cor. 8:23) Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. (Php. 2:25)
The Office of Apostle Certain individuals were chosen by Jesus Christ and commissioned by Him to complete a task. These individuals hold apostleship as a divine office, by divine appointment, backed by divine authority. This is the sense in which we normally think of the Twelve Apostles.
Qualifications of an Apostle Ordinarily, an apostle had accompanied Christ throughout His earthly ministry (Acts 1:21-22). [Questions: What about Paul?] Paul saw himself as an exception to this rule. This is why some challenged his claim to be an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-9). At minimum, an apostle had to have seen the risen Jesus Christ. One of the major functions of an apostle was to give eyewitness testimony to the bodily resurrection of Christ. It is in this sense that Paul was able to be a “child untimely born” and the “last of all” in the series as a witness of the risen Lord (1 Cor. 9:1).
Continuation of Apostles? There is no record in Scripture or history of the apostles appointing successors, or of God giving any subsequent individuals ordination as apostles, or of God giving any other indication that successors were to be expected. The apostles and prophets together functioned as the foundation of the church. A foundation is laid only once during the early stages of construction (Eph. 2:19-20).
Apostleship and Divine Authentication We have seen the enormous nature of the change that was made between the gospels and the epistles. This was the most significant shift in God’s program since the Law was given at Sinai. Major shifts in God’s program require accredited spokesmen. Accreditation generally includes various signs, wonders, and miracles.
Apostleship and Divine Authentication The Apostles were the divinely- commissioned spokesmen who shepherded the change from Law to Grace, from Israel to Church. Their work required explicit divine authorization. Part of that authorization revolved around supernatural abilities and spiritual gifts.
2 Corinthians 12:11-13 11 I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. 12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. 13 For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.
Hebrews 2:3-4 3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
Please note that the signs, wonders, and gifts would be done in connection with apostolic ministry, but not necessarily by the apostles. Signs and wonders might be done by members of the apostolic entourage (Timothy, Titus), or by members of apostolic churches (Antioch, Ephesus). They would still serve as signs to authenticate apostolic ministry.
Those to whom the apostles ministered The Apostles Those to whom the apostles ministered Signs and Wonders done within the larger circle would serve to authenticate the ministry of the apostles, even if not done directly by the apostles.
An Important Distinction It is often suggested that the purpose of the signs was to confirm the message, the gospel. If so, we could expect signs and wonders whenever the message needed confirming. I am arguing that the signs and wonders confirmed the apostles as God’s original spokesmen who delivered the message. That being the case, once the spokesmen had been confirmed, no need would exist for the signs and wonders to be repeated.
After the apostles’ message and authority had been confirmed, the need for apostolic signs and wonders ceased. We should expect that the sign gifts and the performing of wonders should have ceased by the death of the last apostle at the beginning of the second century.
In Other Words... Miraculous gifts specifically authenticated the ministry of the apostles, whose function was transitional. Presumably, miraculous gifts would cease once the apostolic witness had been confirmed. Any continuation of miraculous gifts should be indicated by explicit, specific biblical revelation.
That explicit, specific revelation is exactly what is lacking. Without it, Christians have no authority to continue exercising miraculous gifts.