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



Preliminary Proof: Counterargument 2

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



Counterargument No. 2 - The Maturity Mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 is Individual Maturity.

From 1 Corinthians 13, we know that the gifts were indeed supposed to pass away when as the Church reached maturity.

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.

The Greek word translated "perfect" in verse 10 is "teleios" (Strong's No. 5046) One of the definitions for "teleios" is "full grown, adult, of full age, mature." And in the context of verse 11, this is most likely the definition that Paul had in mind.

As stated in the original proof, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul asserts that the cessation will occur when maturity arrives. The original proof assumes that this maturity is a collective maturity of the Church as a whole. The basis of this counterargument is that this maturity of the Church that Paul is speaking of is not a simultaneous collective maturity of the Church as a whole but the personal maturity of individual believers at various points in their own lifetimes.

The point of this counterargument is to take aim on the claim that individual believers would retain the gifts for the duration of their lives until their deaths. The claim that individual believers would retain the gifts for the duration of their lives is essential to the original proof. For, so long as the gifts were retained for a lifetime, then the gifts would not pass away until the return of Christ if Christ returned within the lifetimes of that first generation. Paul and the Corinthians believed that Christ could indeed return within their lifetimes. They also understood that it was possible that Christ might not come in their lifetimes. So, any teaching regarding the cessation of the gifts would have to be compatible with the understanding that Christ could return in their lifetimes.

Therefore, assuming Paul understood what he was teaching, the only time, which Paul could have taught cessation would occur that would be compatible with both possibilities for the return of Christ was a cessation that occurred at the return. There was no room in their understanding, including Paul's understanding, for a cessation that occurred at any time prior to the return of Christ. Consequently, when Paul taught about cessation, he could not have taught it would occur at any other time other than Christ's return.

But, by saying that it is individual maturity that Paul has in view, particularly in 1 Corinthians 13, then it becomes possible to assert a biblical basis for the notion that individuals did NOT retain the gifts for their entire lives. If individuals did not retain the gifts for their entire lives, then the original proof would collapse. For, if Paul and the Corinthians understood that individuals with the gifts would stop operating in the gifts during their own lives as each individual became mature in the faith, then they would have had no problem perceiving that cessation would occur prior to the return of Christ. Thus, a cessation prior to the return becomes compatible with their current perception that Christ could return in their lifetimes and the dilemma with the grammatical-historical method would disappear.

But there are several problems with the counterargument that maturity in 1 Corinthians 13 is individual maturity rather than the collective maturity of the Church.

Even if Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 was meant to indicate that individual with the gifts would lose them when they became mature in the faith, this on its own would not necessitate that the gifts would pass away prior to the return of Christ. For, as long as there were immature believers in every generation, those immature believers would still have the gifts as passed on to them by Church leaders through the laying on of hands. The only way this theory of "individual maturity" can lead to an indication that the gifts would pass away prior to the return of Christ is if it is coupled with the secondary argument that the charismatic gifts could only come by the laying on of the apostles' hands. For, so long as the gifts could be conveyed by successive church leaders after the apostles died, assuming that Paul taught that individuals would cease operating in the gifts as those individuals became mature would in no way indicate that the gifts were supposed to stop prior to the return of Christ.

Therefore, if either of these two premises is false, then there is consequently no biblical basis for teaching that the gifts would cease prior to the return of Christ. And these 2 premises are incompatible with Christian history.

First, if only the apostles could distribute the gifts, then the number of those who had the gifts would necessarily dwindle to fewer and fewer in the years following the death of the last apostle. And if individuals did not retain the gifts for their entire lifetimes but ceased operating in the gifts as they became mature, then this decrease would occur even more rapidly. In fact, assuming that Christians could reach maturity within a very generous estimate of 10 to 20 years after their conversion, we should expect to see absolutely no Christians practicing the gifts more than 20 years after the death of the last apostle. That this is not the case is quite obvious, as we will now demonstrate.

Crucial to this specific point is when the gifts declined in the Church. If we find Christians practicing the gifts 30, 40, or even 50 or more after the death of the last apostle, particularly if we find this occurring in large numbers, then we know that the gifts did not cease with individual maturity. If instead of a small few with the gifts, we find an abundant number of persons with the gifts 30 to 50 years or more after the apostles died, then one of the 2 premises of this counterargument must be wrong. Either individuals were not ceasing to operate in the gifts when they became mature but were instead continuing to operate in the gifts for their entire lives, or the gifts were being distributed after the apostles' deaths by someone other than the apostles.

Here then is the evidence.

First, from historical documentation, we can determine with relative certainty the approximate date of the last apostle's death.

"According to 2d-century authorities John died at an advanced age at Ephesus (c.A.D. 100). However, many scholars believe that John the apostle and John of Ephesus were two different persons." (Bartleby.com, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001. "John, Saint.")

"At the end of the 2nd century, Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, claims that John's tomb is at Ephesus, identifies him with the beloved disciple, and adds that he 'was a priest, wearing the sacerdotal plate, both martyr and teacher.' That John died in Ephesus is also stated by Irenaeus , bishop of Lyon c. AD 180, who says John wrote his Gospel and letters at Ephesus and Revelation at Patmos." (Britannica.com, "John the Apostle, Saint.")

From the two above sources, we can see that John's death is confirmed by both Irenaeus and Polycrates to have occurred around 100 AD. John would have been around 100 years old at the time. If the gifts could come only by the laying on of the apostles' hands, then no one would have been able to receive the gifts after John's death at around 100 AD.

From the testimony of early orthodox Christians, we know that there were orthodox Christians performing the gifts well into the mid to late second century, some 40 to perhaps 80 years or more after the death of John the Apostle. The following two excerpts are taken from the writings of Justin Martyr, who lived 110-165 AD, and Irenaeus, who lived 115-202 AD. Both authors are considered orthodox.

"For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us. And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, CHAP. LXXXII.)

"For this reason does the apostle declare, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect," (6) terming those persons "perfect" who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms "spiritual," they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit." (IRENAEUS AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK V.CHAP. VI.)

Now, clearly both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus testify that in their day Christians were still operating in the prophetic gifts, including speaking in tongues specifically. Given that Justin Martyr was born in 110 AD and was not likely to have begun writing until at least 20 to 25 years later, this would place Christians operating in the gifts some 35 years after the death of the last apostle. Given that Irenaeus was born in 115 AD and was not likely to have begun writing until at least 20 to 25 years later, this would place the Christians operating in the gifts some 40 years after the death of the last apostle.

Notice that Irenaeus used the pronoun "we" in the phrase, "we do also hear many brethren in the Church…speak all kinds of languages." By using the pronoun "we" Irenaeus is clearly placing himself among the hearers. He is not reporting something that he has heard about occurring in other far off places. Rather, he is reporting what he himself and others have heard in their very midst.

Notice also that Irenaeus states that there are "many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of tongues." Assuming that the apostle John laid hands on people right up until the time of his death and those individual whom he laid hands on were no less than 15 to 20 years old, then we would have an awful lot of Christians surviving persecution and remaining immature for 40 years after they received the gifts into what at that time would have been old age of 55-60 or more. This stretches common sense to the breaking point.

But perhaps those who hold to an opposing view will suggest that these quotes from Justin and Irenaeus are flukes. So let's continue with some more quotes from these two authors. First, we will take one more look at the quote from Justin Martyr that we cited above.

"For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us. And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, CHAP. LXXXII.)

In this passage, Justin Martyr is debating a Jew named Trypho. And, as can be seen from the excerpt above, he clearly states not only that the prophetical gifts remained even to that present time but also that the Church was "in no way deficient" in those gifts.

Notice how Justin's use of the phrases "For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time...so that in no respect are we deficient," seems to directly apply Paul's words to the Corinthians to the Christians' of Justins day. For in 1 Corinthians 1:6-7, Paul similarly writes, "So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The similarity is almost uncanny. So, here in Justin's words we find very ancient evidence that the early Church did, in fact, understand that Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1 applied inclusively to Christians of later generations and not exclusively to just those specific Corinthians who received the epistle. Under "Counterargument 4" we will see that Justin Martyr is not the only ancient, orthodox Christian writer to interpret 1 Corinthians 1 in this way. Asterius Urbanus did as well.

Furthermore, Justin is making this statement in the midst of an apology defending Christianity from the arguments of both the Jews and the heretical false teachers and false prophets of that day. His assertion that the Church of his time was "in no way deficient" is clearly meant that the gifts were evidence of God's message in the Church. For, the Jews no longer had the gifts. The gifts had been transferred to the Church. The statement "so that in no respect are we deficient" is meant as a contrast to the unbelieving Jews who were deficient because their nation no longer had these gifts, which were "formerly among" them but had since "been transferred to" the Church. So, then the ongoing practice of the gifts in the Church without deficiency is part of Justin's evidence in favor of Christianity over Judaism to Trypho, which was lacking such gifts. In the context of this argument, if the gifts were scarce or dwindling among Christians as well, this would hardly have made any evidence in support of Christianity over Judaism.

Therefore, both the context of the argument and the specific phrase "in no respect are we deficient" demonstrate that the gifts could not have been scarce or dwindling in Justin's day. At the very least, it is clear that Justin perceived and testified to the ongoing and ample occurrences of the charismatic gifts. And if the gifts were not dwindling by the time Justin Martyr lived (110-165 AD) and wrote, then there must have been more Christians who had the gifts besides just a few elderly yet somehow still immature believers.

And Irenaeus has more to say affirming the prevalence rather than scarcity of the gifts in his day.

4. If, however, they maintain that the Lord, too, performed such works simply in appearance, we shall refer them to the prophetical writings, and prove from these both that all things were thus(4) predicted regarding Him, and did take place undoubtedly, and that He is the only Son of God. Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained(5) among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward(6) from them Ion account of such miraculous interpositions]. For as she has received freely(7) from God, freely also does she minister [to others]. 5. Nor does she perform anything by means of angelic invocations,(8) or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work(9) miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error. If, therefore, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ even now confers benefits [upon men], and cures thoroughly and effectively all who anywhere believe on Him, but not that of Simon, or Menander, or Carpocrates, or of any other man whatever, it is manifest that. when He was made man, He held fellowship with His own creation, and(10) did all things truly through the power of God, according to the will of the Father of all, as the prophets had foretold. (IRENAEUS, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK II, CHAP. XXXII.--FURTHER EXPOSURE OF THE WICKED AND BLASPHEMOUS DOCTRINES OF THE HERETICS.)

There are so many points worth commenting on in this passage from Irenaeus. First, he articulates that disciples of Jesus Christ perform miracles including casting out demons, healing the sick, prophesying, and even raising the dead. Notice that Irenaeus even uses the word "still" in the phrase "others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them." By this Irenaeus clearly indicates that these gifts were still going on in his day, which was some 40 years or more after the last apostle died and would have been able to lay hands on anyone to confer the gifts.

Those who believe that Paul was speaking about individual maturity in 1 Corinthians 13 rather than the maturity of the Church as a whole, would have us believe that it was these immature believers who had failed to grow in the 40 years or more since they'd received the gifts from the apostles that were raising the dead and casting out demons and healing the sick and prophesying while the mature believers stood by impotent and unable to do any of these things. The mature believers could only marvel at the immature believers and point to the immature believers when unbelievers asked them for a defense of the faith. Notice that this is clearly Irenaeus' intent. For, he contrasts the disciples of Christ Jesus who perform miracles in his name with the fact that the name of the heretics Simon, Menander, and Carpocrates do not bring about miracles by their disciples. Thus, Irenaeus is clearly using the ongoing ability of the Church to perform miracles and operate in spiritual gifts as proof that it is the Church and not the heretics who have the true teaching of God.

Lastly, notice how Irenaeus asserts the plentiful occurrence of these ongoing gifts rather than their dwindling number. Irenaeus writes, "It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God…which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles…For as she has received freely(7) from God, freely also does she minister [to others]…she has been accustomed to work(9) miracles for the advantage of mankind." Such phrasing on face value demonstrates that Irenaeus is not discussing a mere few old relics who had managed to survive and remain in immaturity after receiving the laying on of the apostles' hands over four decades ago. Instead it is clear that Irenaeus is using the abundance of the gifts in the Church as part of his defense of Christianity and his proof of orthodox Christians over heretics. And we will return to this point a little later on in our study.

So, according to both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, there continued to be "many" believers who still had the gifts in there day, some 40 years or more after the death of the last Apostle. To suggest, in this time of persecution and lower life expectancy that "many" Christians were surviving to the age of 55-60 or more in an immature state again stretches common sense to the breaking point. Instead, we must assume one of 2 things was occurring. Either Christians were receiving the gifts AFTER the death of John, the last apostle, around 100 AD. Or, Christians were not ceasing to operate in the gifts when they became mature but continuing to retain the gifts for their entire lives.

No doubt that when forced to choose between these 2 premises, those who oppose the proof above will choose to keep the premise that only the apostles could distribute the gifts. And if they do so, then they lose the ability to claim individual maturity is in view in 1 Corinthians 13, since that would be incompatible with history so long as only the apostles could distribute the gifts.

But the premise that only the apostles could distribute the gifts is also disproved by the historical testimony. Justin Martyr himself directly testifies to the fact that the gifts continued to be distributed AFTER the death of the apostles. Remember, of course, that Justin Martyr was born in 110 AD, 10 years after the death of the last apostle. That means Justin wrote the following at least 30-35 years after the death of the last apostle.

Therefore, just as God did not inflict His anger on account of those seven thousand men, even so He has now neither yet inflicted judgment, nor does inflict it, knowing that daily some [of you] are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God." To this Trypho said to me, "I wish you knew that you are beside yourself, talking these sentiments." And I said to him, "Listen, O friend,(6) for I am not mad or beside myself; but it was prophesied that, after the ascent of Christ to heaven, He would deliver(7) us from error and give us gifts. The words are these: 'He ascended up on high; He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to men.'(8) Accordingly, we who have received gifts from Christ, who has ascended up on high, prove from the words of prophecy that you, 'the wise in yourselves, and the men of understanding in your own eyes,'(9) are foolish, and honour God and His Christ by lip only. (JUSTIN MARTYR, THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN, CHAP. XXXIX.--THE JEWS HATE THE CHRISTIANS WHO BELIEVE THIS. HOW GREAT THE DISTINCTION IS BETWEEN BOTH!)

In this passage, Justin is still presenting his case for Christianity to Trypho, an unbelieving Jew. Notice that Justin specifically says that in his day Jews were converting to Christianity and receiving gifts. And what gifts does he mention? Notice that prophecy (foreknowledge) and healing are both mentioned. These are charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Now, there is no need to think that Justin is giving an exhaustive list of all the gifts converts were receiving in his day. Nevertheless, the important point here is how in the world were new converts in Justin's day receiving charismatic gifts such as prophecy and healing when the apostles were dead? The apostles could not have laid hands on them. And that means that these new converts must have received the charismatic gifts in some way other than the laying on of the apostles hands. Most likely, the laying on of hands to pass on gifts had passed to the church elders who, in turn laid hands on these new Jewish converts to pass on to them the gifts.

This unequivocally testifies to the ongoing practice of distributing charismatic gifts such as prophecy and healing after the deaths of the apostles. This means that the charismatic gifts did NOT come only through the apostles' hands. To say otherwise is to deny the reliability of Justin Martyr as an eyewitness to the Church of his own day. It is one thing to disagree with Justin' scriptural interpretation of some passage, but to disagree with his record of what went on in the Church of his day is to call him a liar. And, to say that new converts were not receiving the charismatic gifts in the middle of the second century is also to suggest that Justin was fudging on his defense of Christianity to Trypho in order to persuade Trypho under false evidence.

This results in a dilemma in which one must accept at least on one of the following: 1) Justin Martyr and Irenaeus are unreliable eyewitnesses of the Church in their own day and modern theologians are better eyewitnesses some 18 centuries removed from the fact. 2) Individuals who possessed the Charismatic gifts did not cease to use those gifts when they reached maturity and so Paul was not talking about individual maturity in 1 Corinthians 13. 3) The charismatic gifts did not exclusively come through the laying on of the apostles' hands but continued to be passed on and distributed after the apostles died.

One cannot simultaneously hold that the gifts passed away for individuals AND that the gifts only came from the apostles' hands WITHOUT committing the glaring fallacy of assuming modern scholars are better witnesses and judges of the Church in the second century than eyewitness orthodox scholars such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus who were there at the time. It is one thing to disagree with Justin' scriptural interpretation of some passage, but to disagree with his record of what went on in the Church of his day is to call him a liar or a deceptive debater at the least. But why in the world should we discredit the testimony of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus who were eyewitnesses just to save a novel doctrinal view of the modern era? While Justin Martyr may have been mistaken in his interpretation of some passages of scripture, to assert that modern Christians are better observers of what was going on in the orthodox Church of Justin's day than he himself was is patently absurd.

We will cover one more problem for the notion that individuals didn't retain the gifts until their deaths when we discuss Counterargument No. 3. For more on the primacy of early Christians over modern revisionism and the foundation of non-evolving orthodoxy, please visit our article entitled, "The Foundation of Our Theology."

In conclusion, we can see that this counterargument is patently false because both of its premises are disproved by historical evidence. Christians were not losing the gifts as they matured individually. And the gifts were not only distributed by the apostles but continued to be distributed after the apostles died. As such, the proof still stands. The fact that the gifts continued to be distributed after the apostles died should end this debate entirely by proving the gifts were supposed to continue all the way until the return of Christ no matter how many generations passed. Nevertheless, we will continue and dispel the remaining counterarguments against the proof.