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

Comparing Theories to Scripture (Part 1)

What Happened to the Authentic Gifts?
Comparing Theories to Historic Documentation
Comparing Theories to Scripture (Part 1)
Comparing Theories to Scripture (Part 2)
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 4
| Section 5

One 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 now demonstrate.

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, concrete fulfillment.

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 unto himself.

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 Paul continues.

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 3:20-21.

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 Lord returns.

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 anyway.

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 "mature") arrives.

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 the scripture.

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 Christ.

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 doctrine.

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).