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Particulars of Christianity:
310 Pentecostalism,
the Charismatic
and Faith Movements



Preliminary Proof: When the Gifts Would Cease

Preliminary Proof: When the Gifts Would Cease
Preliminary Proof: Counterargument 1
Preliminary Proof: Counterargument 2
Preliminary Proof: Counterargument 3
Preliminary Proof: Counterargument 4
Preliminary Proof: Conclusions
Preliminary Proof: Additional Commentary

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4
| Section 5



Introduction to the Proof

Our previous survey sections established from the historical record that eventually the charismatic gifts did indeed decline and were eventually lost sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD. However, the question now arises concerning why the gifts were lost. Were they supposed to pass away? Did God intend them to pass away? Or were the gifts lost as a result of the Church's departure from sound doctrine even though God intended them to continue?

We should not pass over these points too quickly. A large portion of the debate regarding the cessation of the gifts deals not only with whether the gifts disappeared in the historical record, but also whether or not that disappearance was God's intention or something that God did not intend. And if God did not intend this disappearance but instead intended the gifts to continue, what was it that could have caused the gifts to disappear?

Additionally, the following proof is based upon the grammatical-historical method of Bible interpretation. One of the underlying premises of the grammatical-historical method is that passages of scripture must be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the original author and original audience. Consequently, for a doctrine to be correct, it must be compatible with the understanding of the original author or speaker. For, if a doctrine or interpretation of a passage is incompatible with the original understanding of the author who wrote it, then according to the grammatical-historical method such a doctrine or interpretation is incorrect. (There are some exceptions with regard to certain types of prophetic passages but since this is not a discussion of the grammatical-historical method, we will leave that aside for the purposes of this article.)

Now that the ground rules have been established, we can move on to the actual proof. The proof below is a demonstration that the charismatic gifts were supposed to remain until the return of Christ no matter how many generations passed. Following this initial proof is a series of counterarguments and the supplementary refutations of those various counterarguments. Included in the supplementary section is a more detailed explanation of why the gifts did historically disappear, as our previous survey sections demonstrate, when they were not meant to do so until the return of Christ.


The Proof

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 (5046) 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.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul describes the charismatic gifts that were given to the Church. And Paul clearly asserts that these gifts will pass away when the Church becomes mature. According to Paul, when the Church became mature, it would no longer need either the leadership or charismatic gifts.

Notice that in this passage, Paul uses the Greek word "teleios," which is translated as "perfect." Although there is more than one definition for teleios (Strong's No. 5046), in 1 Corinthians 13 teleios clearly means "full grown, adult, of full age, mature." This is evidenced by the fact that Paul speaks of the Church being "teleios" at a point when it is no longer child-like. So, we know that Paul is talking about the Church coming to maturity.

And we know that the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 were supposed to cease when the church became mature. This is quite clear in 1 Corinthians 13 because Paul writes in verse 10 that, "when that which is mature (teleios) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." And in verses 8-9, Paul specifically told us what it was that was done in part. It was the prophecying, the speaking in tongues, and the other charismatic gifts (although Paul does not list them exhaustively.) So, when "maturity" came, the charismatic gifts would cease according to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.

Now, according to the Grammatical Historical Method, scripture must be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the original author and the original audience. In that regard, we all know that Paul, the other apostles, and the first generation of Christians whom they discipled all believed and hoped that Jesus could return during their lifetimes (Matthew 24:42-44, Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:33, 35, Luke 12:37-40, Acts 1:6-7, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6, 1 Peter 4:7, Revelation 3:3). Although, they were not by any means dogmatic about this and also understood that he might return after their deaths as well.

So, from Paul's point of view when he wrote about cessation of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, there are two distinct possibilities concerning the return of Christ. First, Paul believed that Christ might return before the deaths of the apostles and those they had laid hands on. Second, Paul understood that Christ might return after the deaths of the apostles and those they laid their hands on. And, given that Paul's teaching regarding the gifts MUST be consistent with his own understanding, Paul's teaching regarding cessation would have to work for both of these two possibilities that existed in Paul's understanding.

Or, in other words, our interpretation of Paul's teaching regarding cessation cannot contradict Paul's understanding that Jesus could return before the deaths of the apostles and those they laid hands on nor can our interpretation of his teaching contradict Paul's understanding that Jesus might return after their deaths. A correct interpretation of Paul's teaching regarding cessation would have to be compatible with both of these two possibilities regarding Christ's return since both possibilities were part of Paul's understanding. Any interpretation of Paul's teaching regarding cessation that contradicts one of these possibilities would be incorrect since it would be incompatible with Paul's own understanding at that time.

Now, that last paragraph is somewhat controversial and I hope to explain it more momentarily.

But first, it is important to state that there is no scriptural basis for rejecting the notion that each individual who had received a gift would retain that gift for their entire lifetime until their death. (That is not to discount the possibility concerning whether or not people can become apostate from the faith and lose any gifts that they had. This is not relevant to the points currently under consideration so it is being left out of this dialog.) What is relevant is that the apostles would retain the gifts they possessed until their deaths. And those the apostles laid hands on would retain those gifts until their own deaths. This fact is backed up unequivocally by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus' joint testimony that "many" Christians still practiced the charismatic gifts including prophecy, tongues, healing, and others in their own day, some 50 years or more after the death of the last apostle. Clearly, Christians who had the gifts were not losing them during their lifetimes either when they became mature or otherwise. Instead, they were continuing to practice the gifts until their own deaths.

Now, we again emphasize that in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul clearly teaches that the gifts will cease when the Church becomes mature. The question arises of whether or not that maturity will be reached at the return of Christ or at some other time prior to Christ's return. On this point, the grammatical historical method demands that, as Paul taught it, the Church would reach maturity at the return of Christ and at no time sooner. Here's why.

Consider again that it was Paul's understanding that Christ could very well return BEFORE the deaths of the apostles and those they had laid hands on. Since this was Paul's understanding when he wrote about cessation, his teaching that the gifts would cease at maturity would have to be compatible with this understanding. If his teaching regarding cessation is not compatible with this understanding, then Paul's teaching was either inconsistent with his own understanding or the Holy Spirit was teaching through Paul something that Paul himself did not understand.

But the premise that the Holy Spirit taught something through Paul that he himself did not understand would undermine the entire grammatical historical approach to scripture. If such a premise were true, we could no longer expect to be able to interpret scripture in light of the author's understanding.

Now, let's assume for the sake of argument (a reductio ad absurdum argument) that Paul understood maturity would be reached, not at the return of Christ, but at some other point in time prior to the return of Christ. Let's say that the Church reached maturity during the lifetime of the apostles before the apostles died. If Christ came back before the deaths of the apostles or those that they had laid hands on, then the gifts would not cease at maturity. Every believer with a gift would retain that gift until their own death even if maturity had already occurred for the Church. And furthermore, if Christ returned before their deaths, then the gifts would continue until the return of Christ at which point they would cease at Christ's return and their cessation would have nothing to do with the maturity of the Church. This would contradict Paul's teaching that the gifts would cease when the Church became mature. So, we can see that assuming the Church would reach maturity before the return of Christ poses some possible problems with Paul's understanding that Christ could return in their lifetimes and his assertion that the gifts would cease at maturity.

Nevertheless, Paul clearly taught that the gifts would cease when the Church reached maturity. So, the only way that the gifts could cease when the Church reached maturity IF Christ returned before their deaths was if maturity in Paul's view occurred AT the return of Christ and NOT BEFORE. In that way, the gifts would cease at maturity even if Christ returned during the lifetime of the apostles and those they laid hands on. If maturity is defined as any other point in time prior to the return of Christ, then the gifts would not cease at maturity (IF Christ returned during the lifetime of the apostles and those they laid hands on). Instead, if maturity is defined as any other point in time prior to the return of Christ AND Christ came back in the lifetimes of the apostles (and those they laid hands on), then the gifts would continue after maturity all the way to Christ's return. And, as a result, Paul's teaching that the gifts would cease when the Church became mature would be an inaccurate teaching since the gifts would continue after maturity all the way to the return of Christ. In such a scenario, the cessation of the gifts, would not result from the church becoming mature (as Paul clearly teaches in 1 Corinthians 13), but instead would be the result of Jesus' return.

Since, Paul's teaching regarding cessation must be compatible with his own understanding at the time he wrote that teaching, Paul's understanding of when the Church would become mature would have to be compatible with both the possibility that Christ would return before the death of the apostles (and those they laid hands on) as well as the possibility that Christ might return after their deaths.

Paul's understanding of when maturity would occur and its relationship to the cessation of the gifts must work with Paul's understanding of both possibilities that Christ could return before their deaths or after. In the case where maturity is defined as a point prior to Christ's return AND Jesus returns in their lifetimes, then the gifts would not cease at maturity. They would continue AFTER the church had reached maturity all the way to the return and would cease because of the return and not because of the maturation of the church. Therefore, the view that maturity would occur prior to Christ's return is not compatible with Paul's understanding that Christ could return before their deaths. The only interpretation of how Paul viewed maturity that works for both possibilities regarding Christ's return is the interpretation that maturity would occur AT the return of Christ and NOT BEFORE. For, if Paul saw maturity as occurring at the return of Christ, then the gifts would pass away at maturity no matter if Christ returned before or after the death of the apostles and those they laid hands on. To conclude otherwise is to force a separation between the maturity of the Church and the cessation of the gifts that would contradict both Paul's understanding and his teaching on this matter.

This demonstrates that the theory that maturity would occur at any point prior to the return of Christ would not work with Paul's understanding that Christ could return before the death of the apostles and those they laid hands on. And if the theory that maturity would occur prior to the return of Christ is incompatible with Paul's understanding that Christ could return before their deaths, then this theory must be rejected because the grammatical historical method demands that any correct interpretation of a passage of scripture must make sense in accordance with the understanding of the original author and audience. If this is the case then we must adopt the alternate position that Paul taught that both the maturing of the Church and the cessation of gifts would occur AT the return of Christ and NOT BEFORE. This is the only interpretation of Paul's teaching regarding cessation that is compatible with his own understanding that Jesus Christ could return before the apostles or that first generation of Christians died. Therefore, it is the only interpretation regarding cessation that is compatible with the grammatical historical method.