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Theories to Scripture (Part 1)
Happened to the Authentic Gifts?
Comparing Theories to Historic
Comparing Theories to Scripture
Comparing Theories to Scripture
What Happened to the Gifts:
Scriptural Indications (Part 1)
What Happened to the Gifts:
Scriptural Indications (Part 2)
Section 1 | Section
2 | Section 3 | Section
| Section 5
of the problems with the first 2 theories (regarding the death
of the Apostles and the close of the New Testament canon)
is that they are nowhere articulated in scripture. They have
to be inferred. And this is a sort of eiso-gesis, (as opposed
to exegisis). Eiso-gesis involves the reading of one's own
biases into the scripture along with other concepts that are
foreign to the scripture itself.
Likewise, there seems to be no articulation of these theories
in the early Christian writers. This is particularly relevant
because if the gifts were supposed to pass away, if the New
Testament predicted that they would soon pass away, then why
is there no discussion of that teaching among the early orthodox
Christians, particularly as that timeframe came into view?
Of course, the passages from which these theories are implied
are vaguely related at best. In fact, as we will see, to interpret
those passages to support these theories is completely inconsistent
with the plain statements in the context of the passages themselves
as well as other plain statements made elsewhere in the New
Testament. And the other 2 theories also run into conflict
with the plain teaching of the New Testament, which we will
Where we're going to start in our Biblical evaluation may
seem unrelated, but it will become apparent how relevant it
is very quickly.
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they
shall see God.
The verse above from Matthew 5 comes from the midst of Jesus'
famous Sermon on the Mount. Verse 8 is one of the statements
known as the Beatitudes. One of the sad realities concerning
the Beatitudes is the extent to which the people tend to quote
them as if they had no real, tangible meaning. It is as if
they were just greeting card salutations or clichZs
such as "A penny saved is a penny earned," "The early bird
gets the worm," or "Another year older another year wiser"
or something to that effect. It is as if there are just pleasant
thoughts intended to give comfort or hope but without an actual,
But notice how John the Apostle applies the Beatitude above.
1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath
bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God:
therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet
appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall
appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself,
even as he is pure.
Notice how John directly ties together our seeing Jesus upon
his return to the effort to purify ourselves in preparation
of that event. For John, this Beatitude was not just a pleasant
thought with comforting yet intangible spiritual meaning.
For John, this Beatitude was a teaching from Jesus about his
return and about the promise to be made like Jesus when we
see him upon his return.
It is this promise concerning our being made like him when
Jesus returns that holds relevance to our current discussion.
The reasons for this will be brought into focus momentarily.
But it is significant to note that John traced the beginnings
of this promise of becoming like Jesus all the way back to
this Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount. For John, this
was a notion that had its beginnings in the very earliest
portions of Jesus' earthly ministry.
But 1 John 3 is not the only place where we find the explanation
of this promise that we will be made like Jesus when we see
him at his return. Other places are equally explicit that
this promise was one of the most essential and prominent hopes
in the minds of the early Church.
Philippians 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven;
from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus
Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it
may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according
to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things
Notice here in Philippians 3 that Paul also speaks of our
"looking" for Jesus Christ, how one day while we're looking
we will actually see him return, and when that happens we
will be made like Jesus. Can there be any doubt that Paul
and John are talking about the same thing here? Of course
not. And notice the specific attention Paul places here on
the transformation of our bodies into a body that is identical
to the body of Jesus Christ. This is crucial. But we must
move on because Paul speaks of this elsewhere as well.
1 Corinthians 15:42 So also is the resurrection of
the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is
sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown
a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is
a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
Notice the comparison between the verses above and Paul's
statement in Philippians 3:21 where he spoke of our "vile
bodies" being transformed into the same "glorious body" as
Christ Jesus now has. Notice also that Paul says that in the
resurrection our natural bodies become spiritual bodies. But
1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, The first
man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a
quickening spirit. 46 Howbeit that was not first which is
spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which
is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the
second man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such
are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly,
such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we
have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the
image of the heavenly.
Here in verses 48-49 Paul states that as we have born the
image of the earthly man Adam, so we will also bear the image
of Jesus Christ. Since this follows directly after Paul's
previous statements concerning the transformation of our natural
bodies into spiritual bodies, we can conclude that Paul is
still talking about the transformation of our natural bodies
into bodies the same as the spiritual body of Christ Jesus.
So, now we know that Paul is talking about the same thing
in 1 Corinthians 15 as he is Philippians 3:20-21 and as John
is in 1 John 3:1-3. And from the fact that Paul speaks about
this twice and John also wrote about it, we can start to see
the importance and prevalence this promise of transformation
held in the minds of the early Christians.
1 Corinthians 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that
flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;
neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I
shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall
all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of
an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall
be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption,
and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this
corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal
shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass
the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
Now these closing verses of chapter 15 are even more conclusive.
Here Paul explains that mere flesh and blood bodies cannot
inherit the coming kingdom of God. Instead, according to Paul,
what are required are the immortal bodies that Paul has previously
described in the preceding verses. But when does Paul say
that we will get these immortal bodies that are like those
of the heavenly man Jesus Christ? At the last trumpet. But
when is that?
1 Thessalonians 4:15 For this we say unto you by the
word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto
the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are
asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven
with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and
with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise
first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall
be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the
Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Just as John in 1 John 3:1-3 was talking about seeing the
Lord when he returns, here in 1 Thessalonians 4 we see Paul
talking about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, just
as in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to "a mystery" that "We
shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," Paul here
also refers to those who are dead in Christ and those who
remain alive on earth until his return. So again, we know
that Paul is talking about the same thing here. But what else
is interesting is that Paul specifically states that this
return of the Lord will occur at a trump blast. Therefore,
in 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul speaks of our being changed
at the sound of a trumpet into glorious spiritual bodies like
the one Christ Jesus has, we know that Paul is placing that
transformation at the return of the Lord just as John does
in 1 John 3:1-3 and just as Paul himself does in Philippians
But notice also that Paul closes this passage with the phrase
"comfort one another with these words." This again tells us
how important this understanding was in the minds of the early
church. It also tells us how important it was to the apostles,
such as Paul and John, to continually emphasize this concept
of our transformation at Christ's return.
Keep in mind that in four separate passages we have seen both
Paul and John reminding Christians of the promises that when
Jesus Christ returns we will receive bodies that are like
Jesus Christ's glorified, spiritual body. Now, let's read
the critical passage often used to assert that the gifts were
supposed to pass away either at the death of the last apostle
around 100 AD, the close of the New Testament canon around
95 AD, or the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Keep in
mind also that the following passage occurs just 2 chapters
before 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter in which Paul speaks of
our receiving bodies like the Lord's glorified body when the
1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether
there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues,
they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish
away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which
is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child,
I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as
a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face
to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even
as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity,
these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
There are several clues that tell us Paul is once again talking
about the very same hope and promise of transformation in
this passage. First, we must acknowledge the fact that Paul
does teach the gifts are supposed to pass away at some point
in human history. The question is simply this, "Is that point
in our past or is that point in our future?" Now, we have
already spent extensive pages discussing how the modern Charismatic
gifts fail the tests of authenticity and, therefore, that
the authentic charismatic gifts cannot be considered to be
in operation today. However, the question is whether or not
the gifts were supposed to pass away or whether or not they
were supposed to continue and yet were somehow lost over time
The "knowledge" in verse 8 is doubtlessly the "word of knowledge"
mentioned by Paul among the charismatic gifts in 1 Corinthians
12:8, just one passage earlier. In verse 8, Paul openly declares
the gifts, including tongues, prophecy, and words of knowledge
would one day cease. From the historical record and the testimony
of Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, we know that this cessation
had not occurred by the mid to late second century AD.
But, when does Paul say that these things will pass away?
The first answer comes in verse 9, where Paul says that these
gifts will pass away "when the perfect comes." The last definition
for the Greek word translated as "perfect" is "full grown,
adult, of full age, mature." This Greek word is "teleios"
(Strong's No. 5046) and it is used to refer to mature adulthood
in such passages as 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 14:20,
Ephesians 4:13, and Hebrews 5:14. And it is this point that
Paul further elaborates in verse 11, when he states, "When
I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child,
I thought as a child." So, we know that Paul has in mind the
concept of a person reaching maturity when he uses this word
perfect in verse 10.
However, Paul is not talking about his own personal reaching
maturity, as if to say he no longer practiced the gifts, because
he goes on in chapter 14 to declare that he still speaks in
tongues (which we will demonstrate a little later on.) Instead,
he is using his own human physical growth from childhood to
adulthood as a metaphor for the spiritual maturing process
for the Church as a whole.
It is from this term "perfect" that some have derived our
fourth theory that the gifts were supposed to pass away when
the church became established and mature. (This also has ties
to some of the other theories we examined as well.) And, in
that general sense, it is true. But the question is, "when
does the Church become mature?" Did it become mature sometime
in our past, particularly in the first few centuries AD or
perhaps as late as the fourth or fifth century AD? Or will
the Church become mature at some future point in time? We
will discuss these questions in greater detail below.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to see what
the rest of the context of chapter 13 tells us. The first
thing we notice is that Paul tells us that we "know in part"
and this "knowing in part" will cease when the perfect (or
1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and
we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect
is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Then, in verse 12, Paul again picks up this theme concerning
"knowing in part."
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass,
darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Here in verse 12, we can see that Paul states that our "knowing
in part" will pass away at the time when we see "face to face."
So, according to Paul, the end of the "knowing in part" coincides
with 2 events, 1) when we become mature and 2)
when we see face to face. This tells us that the becoming
mature and the seeing face to face also must coincide. And
that is critical.
Now we know that according to Paul, becoming mature occurs
when we see face to face, we simply have to look for this
idea of seeing "face to face" elsewhere in scripture. And
we've already seen it in 1 John 3:1-3 where John similarly
states, "when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we
shall see him as he is."
So far, it appears as though in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is
talking about the church reaching maturity when we see Jesus
face to face upon his return. Later we will see that this
theory is explicitly and clearly asserted in the ancient Christian
writings of Asterius Urbanus in the second century AD in his
refutation of the Montanists. But, let's continue.
In Ephesians 4, Paul also talks about gifts and the maturing
of the Church.
Ephesians 4:8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended
up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto
men...11 And he gave some, apostles; and some,
prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come
in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son
of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature
of the fulness of Christ:
Notice the phrase "perfect man" in verse 13. We should note
that the word "perfecting" in verse 12 is not the same Greek
word for "perfect" that we saw in 1 Corinthians 13:10. However,
the word "perfect" in the phrase "perfect man" in verse 13
is the same word. It's the Greek word "teleios" (Strong's
No. 5046.) So, we know that Paul is talking about the same
concept, the maturing of the Church.
But, there is one significant thing that differs somewhat
from 1 Corinthians 13. In 1 Corinthians 13, the gifts Paul
was talking about where the prophetic gifts (or charismatic
gifts), whereas in Ephesians 4 Paul is talking about the gift
of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
This is another set of gifts. Because this set deals with
leadership roles we might call it the "leadership gifts" as
opposed to the charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12.
Yet we see that Paul specifically and clearly states that
the Church is given these leadership gifts "Till we all come...unto
a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness
of Christ." So, it appears that both the prophetic gifts of
1 Corinthians 12-14 and the gifts mentioned here in Ephesians
4 will all last until and cease at the same point in time,
namely when the Church reaches maturity.
So far, it may appear that theory number 4 is picking up some
steam and support. However, these passages actually disprove
that theory. Because a comparison of Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians
13 reveals that the gift of pastors, teachers, and evangelists
would last until the maturing of the Church, if we assume
the maturing of the Church took place some time in the past,
then we should no longer have pastors, teachers, or evangelists.
Yet, those who often maintain that the prophetic gifts passed
away at some past point in time when the Church became mature,
still maintain that the gifts of pastors, teachers, and evangelists
continue right up until the present.
But this is inconsistent. Both sets of gifts were to last
until the Church reaches maturity. So if that occurred in
the past, we should not have either set of gifts. And if the
Church continues to have one set of gifts, then the point
of maturity has not yet been reached and, therefore, we cannot
say that the other set of gifts was supposed to pass away.
This forces us to the conclusion that unless we want to assert
that the gifts of pastors, teachers, and evangelists are obsolete,
we must recognize that the point of maturity for the Church
still lies ahead. Therefore, the prophetic gifts (charismatic
gifts) should not have passed away and there is no Biblical
basis to suggest that they should have. In fact, since Paul
described the passing of the charismatic gifts as occurring
at the maturing of the Church, such a theory actually contradicts
But, this is not just a catch-22. We don't just have to speculate
when this maturity would occur. Ephesians 4 itself defines
for us exactly when the Church would be counted as "mature."
We left off with Ephesians 4:13. We will not pick up where
we left off with verse 14.
Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the
faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect
man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and
fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by
the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie
in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love,
may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even
Here in verse 14, Paul tells us that the Church's maturity
(when we will "henceforth be no more children") is marked
by our no longer being "tossed to and fro, and carried about
with every wind of doctrine." And as verse 13 similarly tells
us, this will occur when "we all come in the unity...of the
knowledge of the Son of God."
Now, of course the Church started off with sound, uniform
doctrine under the guidance and training of the Apostles.
However, as the New Testament and particularly the epistles
demonstrate, false doctrine immediately began to contend for
the minds and hearts of the early Christians. So, according
to Paul, the Church was not yet mature in his day despite
the presence of the apostles, for the Church was still contending
with false doctrine and Christians were still being confused
by such false doctrine as well.
This doesn't mean that apostolic doctrine was in error or
that apostolic doctrine was immature. Rather, apostolic doctrine
was perfect and mature and they handed that perfect and mature
doctrine onto the early Church. So, the problem wasn't that
the apostles' teaching was in need of amending or maturing.
Rather, the opposite was true. Christians were being pulled
away by other doctrine from the perfect doctrine of the apostles
and that pull to other doctrines is what demonstrated the
Church's immaturity despite the perfect maturity of the apostle's
This means, despite the presence of the apostles to maintain
the sound doctrine of Christ, the Church was not yet mature
in the days of the apostles. Even the Church of the apostles'
day was being pulled about by false doctrine. Perhaps some
might suggest that the apostles were able to bring an end
to this shifting doctrine before they died. But, of course,
history records that this is not true. The apostles continued
in their struggle to fight off Gnosticism and other heresies
throughout their lives. And Christian doctrine continued to
evolve and change away from the apostles' doctrine in the
centuries following the deaths of the apostles. So we cannot
conclude that the Church had reached maturity by the time
the apostles died. If anything, the tendency of Christians
to be led away by non-apostolic teaching actually increased
after the deaths of the apostles, rather than being put to
an end by the time that they died.
Now, perhaps the Church reached maturity and ceased being
blown about by false doctrine sometime between those early
centuries and the present. But, we know that this is not the
case. From a modern perspective, there are more sects and
denominations within the Church now than ever. Far from being
united, the modern Church is more divided along doctrinal
lines than ever before. And, as we have said, from a historic
point of view, we know that the Church wasn't reaching maturity
as it left the second century and entered the third, fourth,
and fifth century AD. Those centuries marked ever-increasing
movement away from the teaching of the apostles and ever-increasing
movement into the teachings of the Gnostics. It was just this
type of doctrinal drift that Paul said would end when the
Church reached maturity. Apparently, Paul may have known this
was coming and would continue for some time. But at any rate,
this fragmentation of the Church by a variety of competing
doctrines postpones the maturity Paul talked about in Ephesians
4 until some time yet in our future when this fragmentation
of doctrine will cease.
So, we cannot conclude that the Church reached maturity somewhere
before the fourth or fifth century AD and we cannot conclude
that it has reached maturity at any time since then. Therefore,
both sets of gifts should continue. The charismatic gifts
were not supposed to pass away.
However, there is one final, definitive proof concerning the timeframe spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. This investigation has focused on verse 12, which states, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face." And we have interpreted the phrase "face to face" in reference to literally seeing Christ face to face on the day of his return as taught in passages like 1 John 3:1-3. An attempt can be made to obscure this clarity by pointing to the metaphorical reference to seeing "through a glass" earlier in the verse. This potential counterargument centers on the notion that "seeing in a glass" is metaphorical, consequently, we should not interpret "seeing face to face" as a literal reference to actually seeing Christ at his return. Instead of being understood literally, "face to face" should be understood as metaphorical also, perhaps even as a figurative reference to fully understanding Christ's teaching, such as when the canon of scripture was complete or the apostles finished their ministry among the early church.
But a closer examination reveals that Paul is actually quoting Numbers 12:5-6.
Numbers 12:5 And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth. 6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision (04759), and will speak unto him in a dream. 7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. 8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
Notice that the Hebrew word for "vision" in verse 6 is "mar'ah" (Strong's No. 04759). Although commonly translated into the English word "vision," its meaning is either "vision" or "mirror, lookingglass." Here God is declaring that he will speak to prophets as though through a looking glass. There can be no doubt that Paul is providing a direct translation of this Old Testament verse in 1 Corinthians 13, when he speaks of those who prophesy in verse 9, saying, "we know in part, and we prophesy in part" and proceeds in verse 12 to say, "For now we see through a glass."
In fact, Dr. Benjamin Sommer, professor of Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, confirms this interpretation of Numbers 12:6 in his book The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. Picking up on an endnote from his introductory chapter, Dr. Sommer states the following.
"7. Elsewhere the same collection of material (the Penteteuch's E source) tells us that Moses in contrast to other prophets, gazes directly at God's precise form (Numbers 12.8); other prophets see God only as though in a mirror (Numbers 12:6). Here, one should recall that ancient mirrors were made of burnished bronze and gave a small, blurry, and reddish reflection." - p. 175, Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, copyright 2009
Notice that Dr. Sommer points out how Numbers 12:6 is comparing Moses' experience with God to that of other prophets. Dr. Sommer translates Numbers 12:6 to say that other prophets saw God "as in a mirror," which conveys their vision of God was indirect or obscured in contrast what for Moses (at least on occasion) was a very direct encounter with God. It is interesting to note Sommer's explanation that ancient mirrors were made of burnished bronze and, consequently, reflections gave off a reddish, blurry reflection. Revelation 1:15 and 2:18 both describe Jesus as appearing to the Apostle John at least partially appearing as burning brass, which is remarkably comparable to the blurry, reddish appearance of a reflection in an ancient mirror.
However, the main point here is simply this. Numbers 12:6 is clearly talking about Moses' literally being in God's presence and seeing God face to face in a way that was not true for other prophets, even as Dr. Sommer notes. Consequently, there can be no doubt whatsoever that by referencing Numbers 12:6 in the context of prophecy and in regard to the timeframe of the cessation of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul clearly intends to invoke the idea of literally seeing God face to face. While God may have still concealed his full glory from Moses on most occasions (compare Exodus 33:9 with Exodus 33:18-23), this idea of seeing God face to face certainly conveyed God literally visiting the earth and a man literally being in God's immediate presence. Therefore, there can be no doubt that 1 Corinthians 13 is referring to Christ literally visiting the earth and being seen face to face at the end of this age even in contrast to prophetic visions of God that where occurring in the apostolic era (and the Old Testament).