The Bible’s View
Have Miraculous Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?
THE apostle Paul wrote: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge [attained by miraculous means], it will be done away with.” (1 Cor. 13:8) These words prove that eventually the then existing miraculous gifts of the holy spirit would pass away. But when would this be?
We might first consider the purpose of these miraculous gifts. For many centuries, the Israelites, or Jews, were God’s name people, and what was acceptable to God in matters of worship centered around the temple at Jerusalem. That arrangement for worship was of divine origin. Moses, the human instrumentality through whom it was revealed, could point to his having God’s backing. For example, when sent by Jehovah back to Egypt to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery, Moses was empowered to perform three miraculous signs. (Ex. 4:1-9) How, then, could a change from this centuries-old manner of worship be verified as being from God? It required stupendous miracles to prove that—with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the year 33 C.E.—a new way for rendering acceptable sacred service had opened up.
And, by miracles, the means of salvation revealed through Jesus Christ was authoritatively established as being of divine origin. The Bible tells us: “If the word spoken through angels [who were used in transmitting the Mosaic law] proved to be firm, and every transgression and disobedient act received a retribution in harmony with justice; how shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through our Lord and was verified for us by those who heard him, while God joined in bearing witness with signs as well as portents and various powerful works and with distributions of holy spirit according to his will?”—Heb. 2:2-4.
Were such miracles needed after Christ’s death? Yes, as long as the temple existed in Jerusalem and the requirements of the Mosaic law respecting worship could be carried out, there was a need for God to continue bearing witness that the old Jewish arrangement for sacred service had been replaced by the arrangement centering in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Most High, through Christ Jesus and by means of holy spirit, gave special powers to his apostles and others.
Today, however, miraculous gifts are not necessary to establish that a change has taken place as regards worship. Even if the temple still existed at Jerusalem, no Jew could prove that he is of the Aaronic line and qualified to officiate at the sanctuary. Hence, the temple services that the Mosaic law outlined could not be carried out. Why not? Because that law prohibited non-Aaronites from engaging in priestly functions. (Num. 3:10; 18:7) That is why certain men who returned from Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E. but who could not establish their descent from Aaron were debarred from serving as priests.—Ezra 2:61, 62.
So, with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 C.E., the arrangement for worship centering at the temple came to its end, never to be restored according to the specific requirements of the Mosaic law. Miracles are simply not needed to prove that true worship is now no longer dependent on a literal temple at Jerusalem and that the Most High wants to be approached through Jesus Christ “with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24; 14:6.
It is also noteworthy that the transmittal of the miraculous gifts of the spirit was accomplished in a way that indicated their temporary nature. The Scriptural indications are that the miraculous gifts were imparted either in the presence of the apostle Paul or that of one or more of the twelve apostles.—Acts 2:1, 4, 14; 10:44-46; 19:6.
A remarkable example of this involves the Samaritans, to whom Philip the evangelizer declared the “good news.” (Acts 8:4, 5) Philip was one of the seven men appointed by the apostles to oversee the distribution of food to needy widows. Viewed by the congregation at Jerusalem as a man “full of spirit and wisdom,” Philip was obviously a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. (Acts 6:1-6) He himself had been empowered by holy spirit to expel demons and to heal afflictions. (Acts 8:6, 7) Nevertheless, Philip could not impart the spirit with its miraculous gifts to others. It was necessary for the apostles Peter and John to come to Samaria to pray for these new disciples to “get holy spirit.”—Acts 8:14-17.
Of course, God’s spirit had already operated toward these Samaritans by means of Philip the evangelizer. What, then, did Peter and John accomplish? They prayed for the Samaritan disciples to have God’s spirit imparted to them. Special manifestations followed this. Seeing these manifestations, the former magician Simon offered money for the power to impart holy spirit as did the apostles. He said: “Give me also this authority, that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive holy spirit.”—Acts 8:18-24.
In view of the limitations in transmitting the gifts of the spirit, it logically follows that, with the death of the apostles and those who had been empowered through them to perform miracles, these gifts passed away, even as the apostle Paul said they would. Thereafter, however, true disciples of Jesus Christ could still be recognized. How? The Son of God provided the answer, saying: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) This love is a self-sacrificing love, including the willingness to die for one’s Christian brothers just as Christ voluntarily laid down his life for mankind.—John 13:34; 1 John 3:16.
So, when it comes to claims made today regarding the possession of miraculous gifts, it may well be asked: Do such claimants manifest self-sacrificing love? Do they have all the fruits of the spirit? (Gal. 5:22, 23) Or, do their actions reveal that, in conflicts and prejudices, they are no different from the world? (Gal. 5:19-21) Moreover, seeming performance of powerful works in Jesus’ name may actually be a deception carried on by a hypocrite. Jesus said: “Many will say to me . . . ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:22, 23.
What, then, does the combined evidence of Scripture and history reveal about the gifts of the spirit? The miraculous gifts ceased long ago. They fully accomplished their purpose in proving that the disciples of Christ made up the “Israel of God” and that they alone were engaging in divinely approved sacred service.—Gal. 6:16.