Note: This article continues a series of studies about miracles, tongues, Holy Spirit baptism, healings, and spiritual gifts. If you have not read the previous articles, then please click here to start at the beginning.
We began this study by observing that many of the miraculous works of God have clearly ceased and will not be repeated. We then studied the characteristics of gifts of direct revelation, miraculous signs, and tongues. Observing modern so-called gifts of the Spirit showed that they do not possess the characteristics of true miracles.
Now consider what spiritual gifts were for. What purpose did the Spirit intend for them to accomplish? And do modern so-called miraculous powers accomplish these purposes?
I. Gifts of Direct Revelation
A. The Purpose of Gifts of Prophecy Was to Make Known God's Will to Man.
Today we have the Bible to teach us God's will. But how did the people who wrote it know what to write? And how did people know God's will while the Bible was being written but was not yet complete? The purpose of direct revelation was to meet these needs.
Deuteronomy 18:18,19 - God predicted He would raise up another prophet like Moses. He would put His words in the prophet's mouth, so the prophet would speak what God commanded. The purpose of prophecy was to reveal God's will. (This was fulfilled in Jesus - Acts 3:22,23.)
Matthew 10:19,20 - The Spirit spoke directly through inspired men. (Note that this promise was directed to the twelve apostles - v5.)
John 16:13; 14:26 - The Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth. 15:27 shows that this too was addressed to the apostles (without Judas). [See 13:1,2 and 18:1ff with Matt. 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14; Acts 1:21,22.]
Ephesians 3:3-5 - The Spirit revealed to the apostles and prophets the mystery of the gospel which had previously been unknown. These men then wrote it down so others could know.
2 Peter 1:21 - Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of Scripture (v20).
So the purpose of the gifts of prophecy and direct revelation was to reveal the very will of God to inspired men. These men then taught the message by word of mouth to people in their own day. Then they wrote it down, so it could be preserved for future generations. This is how we got the Bible to guide us today.
B. The Purpose of These Gifts Has Been Accomplished.
The Holy Spirit did guide inspired men to know God's will, and they wrote it for us in the Bible (1 Corinthians 14:37; Ephesians 3:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; etc.) Now the Bible serves as our complete and perfect guide regarding God's will.
Notice how this revelation completely meets our needs for guidance:
1. It is complete.
John 16:13; 14:26 - The Spirit guided apostles into all truth. (Matthew 28:20)
Acts 20:20,27 - Paul declared the "whole counsel of God," keeping back nothing that was profitable.
2 Peter 1:3 - God's divine power granted to them all things that pertain to life and godliness.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - This inspired message from God was then written in the Scriptures. As a result, the Scriptures now provide us completely to all good works.
All truth for our age was delivered to inspired men in the first century and then recorded in the Scriptures. There is absolutely no new truth left to be delivered to men today.
Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11 - This is why no one may teach anything different from the gospel delivered in the first century. They received all truth. There is no more truth to be revealed. To teach as true things they did not receive is to imply that they did not receive all truth. (Matthew 15:1-14; Revelation 22:18,19).
2. It is understandable.
The teaching of Jesus and His apostles was directed to the multitudes of common people, not to an elite, specially educated clergy. Those to whom it was addressed were expected to understand it.
Mark 7:14 - Jesus addressed the multitude and said that every one of them should understand what He taught.
1 Corinthians 14:33 - God is not the author of confusion. But He is the author of the record written by inspired men (v37). It follows that the Bible is not the cause of confusion. It can be understood.
Ephesians 3:3-5 - Paul wrote so men who read can understand.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - The Scriptures are profitable to teach and instruct us in righteousness and provide us to all good works. There would be no profit if we could not understand.
Acts 17:11 - Those who do study the Bible diligently ("daily") with an open or ready mind can and will understand it sufficiently to distinguish truth from error.
3. It is eternal and indestructible.
2 Peter 1:12-15 - The Scriptures were written so people would have the message of inspired men even after those men were dead. It was intended for future generations.
1 Peter 1:22-25 - The word lives and abides forever. It is not like plants that spring up and then die.
2 John 2 - The truth will be with us forever.
John 12:48 - Jesus' words will be present even at the Judgment as the standard by which our destinies will be determined.
Psalm 119:152,160; Isaiah 40:8; 30:8 - These same promises were made regarding the Old Testament. The promises were fulfilled so completely that the message was preserved hundreds of years till Jesus' lifetime. It was so perfect then that He and His apostles repeatedly cited Scripture as Divine authority without ever once implying anything was missing or inaccurate.
These same promises have now been made regarding the entire written word, so we can be sure that God, by His power has likewise kept this promise. The record written by the inspired men will always exist and be available to guide honest people.
4. It is powerful.
Romans 1:16 - The revealed word has the strength to lead to eternal life all who believe and obey it. [1 Peter 1:22-25; Ephesians 6:10-18; Hebrews 4:12; John 20:30,31; Acts 20:32]
James 1:25 - God's word is perfect. It reveals the message of God which perfectly meets our need in every way.
The gifts of revelation were needed until the Bible was completed. Now that it has been completed, it serves as our complete and sufficient guide. No gifts of direct revelation are needed any longer. When people today seek or claim direct revelation, they show a lack of faith in the perfection of Scripture.
II. Gifts of Miraculous Confirmation (Signs)
A. The Primary Purpose of Miraculous Signs Was to Confirm that New Revelations Were from God.
As discussed earlier, Satan always gives lying counterfeits for whatever good thing God gives. Specifically, Satan has sent false prophets who claimed to have messages from God when they did not really.
When a man claimed to be inspired of God, how could listeners determine whether the message really was from God or was a counterfeit? This was the main purpose of miraculous signs (though other secondary benefits sometimes occurred, such as healing of the sick, etc.). If a man had power to accomplish supernatural acts, people would know God was working through him, so they should believe his message.
Evidence for the main purpose of miracles
Exodus 4:1-9,(29-31) - When Moses wanted evidence to convince the people that God had really sent Him, God empowered him with miraculous signs.
Deuteronomy 4:32-40 - God did great signs and wonders among the Israelites, so they would know He is the true God and would obey the commands given through Moses.
1 Kings 18:36-39 - Elijah called down fire from heaven (which the prophets of Baal could not do) so people would know to believe in the true God and that Elijah was acting by God's authority.
John 20:30,31; [5:36; Acts 2:22; Matthew 9:6] - Jesus' signs give people reason to believe that He is God's Son, so we can have life in His name.
Mark 16:20 - Jesus sent apostles to preach (v14,15), and as they did so, He worked with them, confirming the word by the signs He gave them (v17,18).
Acts 14:3 - As prophets taught, God bore witness to the word, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
2 Corinthians 12:11,12 - Signs, wonders, and miracles, were signs to confirm that one was an apostle.
Hebrews 2:3,4 - God bore witness to the message of salvation by signs, wonders, etc.
Some folks claim that miracles served primarily as acts of "compassion" to provide some benefit for people in need or trouble. We will see later that, while some miracles did have this effect, not all did. Some actually served to punish or harm evildoers. But the purpose of confirming the word was always accomplished.
Confirming new revelation was the primary purpose of miracles in that it was always a purpose and it was the determining purpose as to whether a miracle would or would not be done.
Tongue speaking served a dual purpose.
When the message was properly interpreted, it would instruct and edify by giving revelation from God (1 Corinthians 14:5,12-14,26-28; Acts 2:11).
When people knew the language, so they could tell it was accurately spoken though the speaker had never learned it, the tongue would serve as a sign to confirm the message was from God (Acts 2:4-11; 1 Corinthians 14:22).
Note that miracles were needed to confirm new revelation, not to reconfirm revelation from previous generations.
Luke 16:27-31 - The Old Testament had been adequately confirmed before the first century and did not need re-confirming. Further miracles to convince people would not help and would not be given.
John 20:30,31; Mark 16:15,20; Ephesians 3:3-5 - Jesus and apostles performed miracles to confirm Jesus as the Son of God and His gospel. This was a new covenant with new commands and truths not previously revealed.
[John 5:36; Hebrews 2:2-4; Acts 14:3,7; 2 Cor. 12:11,21]
B. The Purpose of These Gifts Has Been Completely Accomplished.
Even for us today, the gospel message stands completely confirmed as being from God by means of the miracles of Jesus and His apostles and prophets in first century.
We possess eyewitness accounts of miracles to confirm the message to us.
John 8:17 - In the Bible the satisfactory testimony of several witnesses is sufficient to establish the truthfulness of an historical event. Compare this today to witnesses in a court trial or witnesses to a will or a wedding, etc. We have such testimony for the miracles of Jesus and His apostles. (Matthew 18:16; Deut. 19:15; 17:6; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19)
John 20:29-31 - We need not be personal eyewitnesses of the miracles to believe (like Thomas was). We are blessed if we believe on the basis of the written record of those who were eyewitnesses. This is adequate evidence to lead to faith in Christ and thereby to eternal life. What more is needed?
Other writers besides John have given eyewitness accounts of miracles: Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 2 Peter 1:12-18; cf. books of Matt, Mark, and Acts.
Old Testament prophecies also served as miraculous confirmation of New Testament events - John 5:39; Acts 2; etc.
Note that, when a prophet actually had miraculous powers, he never argued with people about whether or not he had them, nor did he rely on the testimony of others who had seen his miracles. If other people needed evidence, he just did more miracles. Even the enemies of the truth had to admit these men had this power.
The reason we today need eyewitness testimony is that these powers are no longer needed and have ceased. If people claim miracles exist today, they should convince us by performing them like apostles did. To offer us testimony is to admit the miracles have ceased!
Once a covenant or contract has been written and confirmed, it is binding and need not be re-confirmed throughout its existence.
Galatians 3:15 - This is true both of man-made covenants and of God's covenants.
* Suppose you sign a document such as a contract to buy a house. When it has been notarized (attested by witnesses), you don't need to sign it again every month or year. The original confirmation remains valid till the contract has been fulfilled.
* Suppose a man makes a "last will and testament" and has it confirmed by witnesses. Afterward, it need not be reconfirmed yearly to remain valid. It needs further confirmation only if he decides to change it.
* The U.S. Constitution was confirmed centuries ago. We don't need to vote on it every year for it to remain binding. However, if we change it, then the changes need to be ratified.
These examples illustrate God's covenant, law, and promises to us. Once they had been revealed and confirmed by miracles, they need not be re-confirmed to each later generation.
So the Old Testament was delivered and then confirmed by miracles.
Luke 16:27-31 - The law did not need first-century miracles to re-confirm it, but it stood valid on the basis of the written record. Having the written word was as good as having the living prophets themselves. Jesus and His apostles quoted it as valid authority.
Likewise, with the gospel, all truth was revealed and confirmed in the first century.
Since that time, as previously shown, there has been no new truth revealed from God. Further miracles would be needed today only if God changed His Testament and revealed new truth. But that must not and will not be done - Galatians 1:8,9. So there is no need today for miraculous confirmation. We believe on the basis of the written record.
C. People Who Claim Miracles Today Violate the Purpose of Miracles.
1. Some people claim miracles are still needed today to persuade people to believe in Christ or to confirm that their church or doctrine is true, etc.
We have seen that adequate confirmation was given and all truth was revealed in the first century.
Therefore, no new revelation can be given and no further confirmation is needed. Remember, miracles confirm new revelation (see above). Miracles are needed today only if God is giving new revelation. But we have already proved that He gave it all in the first century.
Groups with completely contradictory teachings claim to have miracles.
Mormons, Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics of all denominations, Christian Science, etc., all claim miracles and all offer equally impressive "testimonies."
Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11 - Clearly some of these groups must be teaching error. Is the Spirit confirming all these false and contradictory doctrines?
1 Corinthians 14:33; 1:10,13; John 17:20,21 - Clearly these groups are divided from one another, contributing to religious confusion. If the Spirit confirmed them all, wouldn't this make the Spirit the author of confusion and division?
In Bible examples, true prophets were distinguished from false prophets in that false prophets could not do works as great as those of inspired men. But there is no way to distinguish miracles of various modern groups. All make identical claims and give similar testimonies, but none can actually do the miracles like those in the Bible. Whose teaching is being confirmed? The conclusion must be that all are false teachers!
Some admit their miracles are not greater than those of false teachers. But they say you can tell which miracles are true by comparing their teaching to Bible.
This is just backward from true miracles! In the Bible, miracles confirmed that the message was from God in an age when the Bible had not been written. Today the Bible has been written, and people use the message to confirm the miracle!
By appealing to the Bible to prove they are right, modern "miracle workers" are admitting that the Bible is an adequate guide. If so, then their revelations and miracles are useless.
Since modern "miracles" do not distinguish true teachers from false teachers, to claim that they "confirm the word" is to pervert the purpose of miracles.
2. Others claim that miracles are needed today to produce unity.
They say people in different groups will be drawn closer together because they all have "charismatic gifts."
Possession of spiritual gifts did not lead to unity in Corinth!
The Corinthian church had abundant gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14).
1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3,4; 11:18,19 - Yet it was one of the most divided churches in the Bible.
In fact, one of their divisions was over the use of miraculous gifts - 1 Corinthians 12-14!
Bible unity requires understanding and obedience to God's word.
Ephesians 4:3-6 - True "unity of the Spirit" is based on one faith and one body, just like there is one God and Father.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Galatians 1:6-9 - There must be no division, but all speak the same doctrine. We must teach the doctrine delivered by inspired men, not another doctrine.
John 17:17,20,21 - We are sanctified and made one by the truth, God's word.
The "unity" of the Charismatic movement is not Bible unity at all. People worship differently, teach different plans of salvation, have different forms of organization, etc. And all of them contradict the Bible on one or more of these points. If all of them had gifts of the Spirit, then the Spirit would not be producing "the unity of the Spirit," but would be confirming and justifying division!
In fact, one of the most divisive controversies of our day is the question of whether or not people today have miraculous powers!
The very fact some people claim to have these powers is one things that divides them from those who don't have the powers!
So despite their claims, different groups that claim to have miraculous powers, still remain greatly divided. Unity is based on studying and accepting God's word, not on claiming miracles, which don't even measure up to Bible miracles.
3. Others claim miracles are needed today because people still have needs and problems.
We are told that God gave miracles to help people with their problems because of His love and compassion (Matthew 14:14; 15:32; etc.). God still loves people and He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34,35), so He must still work miracles. So when people today have illness, financial debts, lack of job, family problems, etc., they are taught to "expect a miracle."
Even in the age when miracles were being worked, problems were not solved for all believers.
2 Timothy 4:20 - Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus.
Philippians 2:26,27 - Epaphroditus was sick nearly to death, and was so sick people far away heard about it.
1 Timothy 5:23 - Timothy often had stomach infirmities. Why didn't Paul do a miracle and heal him? Why recommend a natural remedy?
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 - Paul himself had a thorn in the flesh, which he even prayed to God to remove. God decided to leave it.
If compassion and love were the main reasons for doing miracles, why weren't these people all miraculously healed? Didn't God love these people? Was He a respecter of persons in these cases?
We have learned that the primary purpose of miracles was to meet a need greater than physical needs.
We have proved that the main purpose of miracles was to confirm God's word, so people would believe and be saved. This was more important that physical needs. No miracle was performed unless this greater need would be met.
* Many miracles solved no physical need at all.
Exodus 7:10-12 - Aaron's rod turned into a serpent and back again.
Numbers 17 - Later his rod produced blossoms and almonds.
Matthew 14:22-31 - Jesus and Peter walked on the water.
1 Kings 18:30-39 - Elijah calling down fire to consume a sacrifice.
What physical problem did these miracles solve? None! But they did serve to confirm that a man was a messenger from God.
* When it was clear they would not lead to faith, miracles were not performed, even though physical needs would have been met.
John 6:26-31,36 - Jesus refused to miraculously feed people when He realized they did not appreciate such events as proof of who He was.
Matthew 4:l-7 - Satan tempted Jesus to do miracles for His own physical benefit, but Jesus refused.
Matthew 13:58 - Jesus refused to do miracles in His own hometown, because He knew already that people would not believe. [Cf. 12:38-42]
Luke 4:23-27 - Jesus expressly cited Old Testament examples in which miracles were not done, though they would have produced physical benefits for people in need.
We can also list here again the examples above of sick people who were not healed.
Again, did God not love these people? Do these cases prove God is a respecter of persons? If not, then he can refuse to do miracles today without lacking love or being a respecter of persons.
* In fact, some miracles even caused physical problems. Some were actually a punishment for sin.
Numbers 16:28-35; 2 Kings 1:9-12; Acts 5:1-11 - Sometimes people were struck dead.
Acts 9:8,9; 13:6-12 - Some people were struck blind.
Exodus 7-12 - God miraculously brought the ten plagues on Egypt.
Were these acts of compassion to relieve peoples' physical problems? Clearly not, but all did serve the purpose of confirming the message of an inspired man.
God still does meet His children's needs, according to natural law.
Examples of the difference between miracles and answers to prayer through natural law:
* A blessing from God through natural law would be praying for daily bread (Matt. 6:11) then getting a job and working for it (Eph. 4:28). But a miracle would be: (1) using a boy's lunch to feed thousands of people and having more food left over than you started with (Matt. 14:13-21), or (2) manna coming directly from heaven (Ex. 16:14-16), or (3) turning water to wine (John 2:1ff).
* Natural law would be a man and his wife conceiving a child by natural procreation (Gen. 4:1,2). If they prayed for a child, that would be is a blessing from God (Psa. 127 & 128) in answer to prayer. A miracle would be making a woman from a man's rib (Gen. 2:21,22), or causing someone to be conceived in the womb of a virgin (Matt. 1:18-25).
* Likewise, if we pray for good health (3 John 2), we may heal by natural body processes, perhaps aided by medical treatment, diet, exercise, etc. This would be a blessing from God in answer to prayer through natural law. Miraculous healings, however, are those we have described, which clearly did not occur according to natural law.
The fact God does not do miracles today does not prove He lacks love or compassion nor that He is a respecter of persons. He still helps His children in answer to prayer (Matthew 6:33; James 1:17). But He answers through natural processes, not by miracles.
When we pray, sometimes God gives what we asked for, and sometimes He does not, just like some people were healed by miracles and others were not. This is because sin in is the world, and all must suffer as a consequence. (References saying God is no respecter of persons are talking about salvation, not physical blessings. Otherwise, God would have to physically bless all His people exactly the same. See Matt. 5:45.)
When the primary need is caring for His children's physical problems, God can meet that need by natural processes. Miracles were used only when the primary need was to confirm the word (though physical blessings often occurred as a secondary benefit). The determining factor in whether or not a miracle would be done was whether or not the word needed to be confirmed.
But the word today has been completely confirmed, so miracles are not needed at all. To claim miracles just to meet physical needs is to pervert the purpose of miracles.
4. Some want spiritual gifts to prove they are pleasing to God.
People may or may not consciously realize that this is why they emphasize miraculous powers, but if they have experienced "miracles," esp. tongue-speaking, they are convinced this is a sign they are acceptable to God. They want some visible evidence God is pleased with them. When they are shown by the Bible to be in error on some point (even on the conditions of salvation), they often respond that they must be right with God else how could they have received these miraculous powers?
"Miracles" convince other people that they are spiritually mature, because they have something other people don't have. For others it satisfies some emotional need. It just gives them "a good feeling" about their relationship with God.
However, spiritual gifts have never been a sign of spiritual acceptability or maturity.
The Bible contains examples of people for or through whom real miracles occurred, yet they were not acceptable or mature spiritually.
Surely not everyone who received a miracle in his life was pleasing to God. As described earlier, many did not even have faith.
Num. 22:28-33 -- God spoke through Balaam's donkey. Was the donkey in God's fellowship? Was it spiritually mature? Later God spoke through Balaam, though he was displeasing to God. (Cf. Num. 24:1; 31:8,16; 2 Peter 2:15,16; Rev. 2:14; 1 Sam. 19:18-24; John 11:49-53).
The Corinthian church had abundant gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14). Yet it was one of the most displeasing and immature churches in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12-14; cf. chap. 1-4,5,11, etc.).
In fact, the way they used their spiritual gifts was one of the main areas in which they displeased God and demonstrated immaturity (1 Cor 12-14). Many of them were rebuked for using their gifts as the basis of an ego trip, just like many today view them.
As previously described, people of all different faiths claim to have miracles and give similar testimonies.
Yet in doctrine and practice they contradict one another and even contradict the Bible (such as on the requirements of salvation as per Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; etc.).
Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11 - Again, clearly some of these groups must be teaching error. Is the Spirit confirming the salvation of members of all these false and contradictory groups?
1 Corinthians 14:33; 1:10,13; John 17:20,21 - Clearly these groups are divided from one another, contributing to religious confusion. If the Spirit confirmed the salvation of them all, wouldn't this make the Spirit the author of confusion and division?
Not all saved people had gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:29,30 - Some did not speak in tongues, some had illnesses that were not healed, etc. (see above).
If miracles were a sign of God's favor, why did He not give the sign to all saved people? This would make God a respecter of persons in an area of salvation!
The true way to know whether or not we are acceptable to God is by comparing our lives to Bible teaching.
1 John 2:3-6 - We know whether or not we know God, not by whether or not we have miracles in our lives, but by whether or not we are obeying God's commands (revealed in His word - 1 Corinthians 14:37).
Matthew 7:21-28 - Like people today, these people claimed that their miraculous powers proved they were pleasing to God. But Jesus said he never knew them, because they worked iniquity. Those who enter the kingdom will be those who do the will of the Father.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 - The Scriptures make us wise to salvation, instruct us in righteousness, and provide us to all good works. [Acts 17:11]
Galatians 1:6-9 - We know whether or not the doctrine we are being taught is true by whether or not it agrees with the gospel taught by inspired men, which is recorded in the Scriptures. [1 John 4:1-6]
2 Corinthians 5:7; Romans 10:17 - We walk by faith, not by sight. Faith comes by hearing God's word, not by receiving miraculous powers. If we desire some personal experience to give a sense of assurance, then we are failing to trust God's word. We are walking by sight, instead of by faith in God's word.
John 20:29-31 - When Thomas demanded personal evidence of a miracle, Jesus responded that, in the future, this would not be the way people would develop faith. God's blessing today - real faith and real spiritual maturity - come by faith based on the written word, not on personally seeing signs!
To view miracles as a sign of God's favor again constitutes a perversion of the purpose of spiritual gifts.
5. Some view miraculous powers as a source of financial profit.
Most "faith healers" frequently beg for money and take up collections - usually before the healing begins. The doctrine of "seed faith" and similar tactics imply that one must give a gift before he can expect a miracle, and even that the greater the gift, the greater the miracle. Many faith healers have become fabulously wealthy as a result.
When did Jesus or His apostles or any Bible prophets ever ask for a contribution from those they healed or take up a collection at a healing service?
2 Peter 2:3,15 - God warned about covetous false teachers who exploit those they taught. Like Balaam they love the hire of wrong doing.
2 Kings 5:14-16,20-27 - Having miraculously healed Naaman of leprosy, Elisha refused to accept a gift from him. When Elisha's servant used the healing to take a gift, the servant was struck with leprosy.
Acts 3:6 - Peter said he had no silver or gold (nor did he ask for any). Yet he healed a man who had never walked.
Acts 8:18-21 - Peter was offered money in exchange for the power to give miraculous gifts. He not only refused the money, but he rebuked the man who offered it, saying his heart was not right.
Matthew 8:20 - Jesus did great miracles, but never asked for money from those He healed, nor did He become wealthy as a result.
It is a shame that many "faith healers" have become fabulously wealthy by taking money from people who can least afford to give it, including those whose diseases have already driven them into poverty. Men who do this leave the impression that God's material blessings are for sale. Such is a gross perversion of the purpose of spiritual gifts.
A lack of appreciation for the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures is the heart and core of the desire for modern-day miracles. When one understands that the Bible gives a complete and perfect revelation and confirmation of God's will, then one will see that modern miracles are not needed. People desire to have miracles only when they fail to understand the purpose of miracles and so lose faith in the adequacy of the Bible.