Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away, For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 1 Cor.13:8-10.

Understanding The Spiritual Gifts. Part 1

But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.  1 Cor.14:3-4

Do not quench the Spirit.  1 Thess.5:19.

Do not despise prophecies. 1 Thess.5:20.

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 1 Cor.12:28.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Eph.4:11-12.

The part 1 of this series is an effort to shed some light on one of the most controversial doctrines of the Bible. Pneumatology, generally, is a doctrine on which Christians of sound faith and spiritual giants have disagreed through the centuries. This historical disagreement, however, should not constitute the reason for avoidance of intelligent inquiry and searching for understanding on the subject.  Because of these controversial tendencies, any effort to understand the truth about this doctrine should be approached with much caution, diligence, and humility. And nothing less than this approach is the manner of this presentation.

This letter, like Part 1, will provide only a bird’s-eye view discussion of the different gifts of the Holy Spirit as only would be allowed on a limited medium such as this.

Division of the GiftsThe gifts have been classified into three major categories in the following manner:

Ministry Gifts – Apostles, prophets, teacher-pastors, and evangelists.
Sign Gifts – Miracles, healings, tongues, word of knowledge and interpretation.
Service Gifts – Administration, leadership, helps, giving and encouragement. etc.

No believer possesses, nor is it the intention of the Holy Spirit that any believer possess all the gifts, as Paul has rhetorically argued. 1 Cor.12:29-30.

Modus Operandi-The Root Of The Misunderstanding
The misunderstanding about the gifts is mainly the question about the method of operation of the gifts beyond the first century of the history of the church. There are those who maintain that the gifts and offices are as operative in contemporary times as they were in the early church.  And there are others, who hold that certain gifts have permanently ceased or are no longer needed having fulfilled their purposes. The Pentecostals and Charismatics who hold the former position are known as Continuationists, and those who hold the latter view are generally classified as Cessationists. (This is a misnomer as there are divergent views among the group). In listing the gifts, Paul seems to have categorized the gifts in order of importance.

” And God has appointed these in the churchfirst apostlessecond prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues”. 1 Cor.12:28. The use of first ( Gr. proton) emphasizes importance or of primary importance. Cf. Rom.1:8; 1 Cor.15:3; 1 Tim.2:1. Paul ranks prophesying above speaking in tongues. 1 Cor.14:4-5. He also indicates that some gifts are foundational for the building of the church. Eph.2:19-20. Paul further states that some gifts have temporal duration. 1 Cor.13:8-10. With these intimations as a background, the examination of   the meaning of the various gifts will now begin.

Apostles – The Greek word, apostolos, translated apostle is used in different ways, and so have varying meanings. The common meaning of apostle is a messenger or missionary. It conveys the idea of one sent with a special commission or authority. In this general sense, every believer is a missionary because every Christian has been called to spread the Gospel. Jn. 17:18; 20:21. But the word apostle is also used in the Bible in a special or technical sense and in a non-technical sense. Of the more than 70 times that the word appears in the New Testament, the non-technical use appears only two times. 2 Cor.8:23; Phil.2:25. In these two passages, the reference is to the messengers of the churches.   It is therefore evident that the usage of the word in the New Testament is in reference to its special or technical sense. Hence it is in this technical sense that the meaning of the word apostle would be examined.

As has been shown, Paul ranks the gift or the office of the apostle as number one in order of importance.1 Cor.12:28. The apostles were foundational for the establishment of the church.Eph.2:20. They were the leaders who laid the foundation of the church. Acts.15:6-29. The New Testament gives an enumeration of credentials for an apostle:

  1. Those chosen by Christ Himself. Mt.10:1-4; Mk.3:13-14; Lu.6:13-14; Acts 9:15;26:16-18; Gal.1:1,15-16.
  2. A witness of the resurrected Christ. Acts.1:21-22; 15:13-21; 1 Cor.9:1; 15:7-9.
  3. Endowed with power of exorcism, to heal diseases and to raise the dead. Matt.10:1,5-8; Mk.3:13-14.
  4. Accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles. Acts. 3:1-8; 4:13-16,29-30; 5:12,15-16;9:32-35; 19:11-12; 20:9-10;2 Cor.12:12; Heb.2:3-4.

It is important to note that the signs, wonders, and miracles performed by the apostles were truly supernatural and instantaneous in contrast to the claims of modern faith-healers and Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. This of course is not denying that similar miraculous healings and incidents periodically occur today, but certainly not in the manner or fashion of the apostolic period. God answers prayers of His children today whether or not they are designated as apostles or prophets. Even in the apostolic days, believers were still enjoined to pray for healing and other needs including medical treatment Jas.5:13-16; 1 Tim.5:23.  Consequently, it does not mean that every answer to prayer for healing or any miracle is a result of exercising any of the spiritual gifts. There is a clear distinction between the ordinary answer to prayer and the signs, wonders and miracles that God wrought to authenticate the early disciples and the Gospel.

As stated in the preceding Pastoral Letter, one of the purposes for the spiritual gifts, especially the sign gifts is for the authentication of the Gospel. ” Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.”2 Cor.12:12. ” How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and , and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His will?”. Heb.2″3-4.

Are There Apostles Today?
The claim of apostleship today by some in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement lacks biblical support because no so-called ” apostle” meets the biblical criteria as outlined above. Even the claim of “miracles” by some of their “apostles “falls far short of being comparable to the ones recorded for the apostles of the Lord. The authenticating miracles, signs and wonders performed by the apostles, such as raising the dead, healing the lame and diseases, detecting of falsehood, casting out demons, rebuking of false prophets and similar incidents were instantaneous and hardly repeated today. Acts 3:1-10; 5:1-11,12-16;8:5-13,18-24;9:32-41;13:6-12;14:8-13;19:11-12,17-20;20:9-12;28:3-9. These listed instances are typical cases of exercising of the gift of apostleship and authenticating of the gospel. There is no doubt that there are instances today where similar healings or manifestation of God’s power may happen, but they are extremely rare and not normative as with the apostles. And such occurrence is by no means an evidence of the manifestation of the sign gifts.

Another evidence that belies the claim of modern day “apostles” is that their teachings or writings lack inspirational authority like those of the apostles of our Lord. Many modern day “apostles” readily admit that some of their teachings and writings contain errors and have had to periodically change their positions.

Such is not the case with the apostles of our Lord whose teachings and writings are inspired and constitute part of the Scriptures. 2 Tim.3:16-1; 1 Pet.5:1-4; 2 Pet.1:20-21; Jude 1:3. Paul exercised his apostolic authority by stating personal opinion on some matters on which no specific divine instruction is given.Rom.7:1-3;1 Cor.7:1-7,8-9,12-24. Note, in particular, these statements, ” But to the rest I, not the Lord, say.”  “ And so, I ordain in all the churches” ” Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord: yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress that it is good for the man to remain as he is.” 1 Cor.7:12,17,25-26. The whole instruction to the Unmarried which appears in 1 Cor. 7:25-40 is entirely Pauline. He asserts his apostolic authority for doing so in these words, ” according to my judgment – and I think I also have the Spirit of the Lord.” v.40. Besides being ridiculous, it would be nothing short of a blasphemy for any so-called “apostle” or anyone to make such a claim today. The foregoing evidence is sufficient to conclude that the gift of apostleship ceased with the foundation of the church and the completion of the canon of the Scripture. Eph.2:20. Although there are some old-line Pentecostal denominations and African Indigenous Church movements who designate their high ranking leaders as apostles, neither those so designated nor the self-appointed “apostles” of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement meet any of the criteria of the apostles of our Lord.

Next in importance in the list of the spiritual gifts is the office of the prophet.  1 Cor.12:28. The importance of this gift is highlighted by the many references to it in the New Testament. Rom.12:6; 1 Cor.12:10; 14:1-40; Eph.4:11. Also the naming of individuals who were described by the title. Lu.2:36; Acts.11:27-28; 13:1;15:32; 21:9-11. Paul himself likely possessed this gift judging by the way that he received divine guidance. Acts 16:6-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-21;27:21-26. The church at Corinth had some individuals who possessed this gift.1 Cor.14:29-32.

The Greek word Prophetes (prophet) is used of someone who has insight into divine will and possesses the ability of divine utterance. And Prophetuo (prophecy) has the double meaning of predictive prophecy(Fore-telling) and declarative prophecy( Forth-telling) Declarative, meaning proclaiming or preaching the word of God. This appears to be sense in which Paul applies the meaning in 1 Cor.14:3-5.” But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all speak with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless he indeed interprets, that the church may receive edification.   In this context, 1 Corinthians 14 elevates preaching (declarative prophecy) to a level not found anywhere in the New Testament. Prophecy, hence, is a reference to forth-telling not fore-telling.

Predictive prophecy is no longer the norm of divine communication since the Incarnation of Christ and the completion of the New Testament canon. Heb.1:1-2. God spoke through the prophets during period of progressive revelation, but now speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. 2 Tim.3:16-17. This is known as the Sufficiency of the Scriptures.

Characteristics Of A True Prophet 
In the Old Testament, God gave to Moses some features with which to identify true and false prophets.Deut.13:1-5;18:20-22. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 indicates that even if the prediction of a prophet comes true, but he is leading the people to other gods, that is a false prophet. Neither Jesus nor Paul endorsed the accurate identification given by a demoniac or the young woman who practiced divination. Mk.5:1-13; Acts.16:16-18. ” To the law and to the testimony, if they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isa.8:20. The invariable characteristic of a true prophet is that his prophecy comes directly from God and comes to pass without fail all the time. Deut.18:20-22.

Dr. John Walvoord lists three elements which are essential to the gift of prophecy:

  1. The prophet must have received his message from God in the form of some special revelation.
  2. The prophet must have divine guidance in the declaration of this revelation corresponding to inspiration of the written Word.
  3. The message delivered by the prophet must bear with it the authority of God.

None of the modern day “prophets” can claim such infallibility stipulated by the Scriptures or the supernatural revelation described by the above elements. Some of the modern day “prophets” admit that some of their “prophecies” have been erroneous and often disagree with the predictions of their peers. In defending their flaws and failures, Mike Bickle, one of the modern day “prophets” is quoted as saying that “prophetic ministry in the United States is still immature in its expression and that even the most well- known prophets miss the mark sometimes.” Obviously, he is not referring to the God-appointed biblical prophets, but to those of the Neo-Charismatic movement to which he belongs. Another leader in the modern prophetic movement, Cindy Jacobs, laments,” the same excesses that have plagued the prophecy movement have affected other gifts.”   As is therefore evident from the above remarks, one is left but with a justified conclusion that the modern day “prophets” do not meet the criteria set forth in the Scriptures.

Understanding Cessationism
A major debate and disagreement about the spiritual gifts exist between the Continuationists and the Cessationists.  Continuationists as earlier explained, are mainly Pentecostals/Charismatics. They maintain that all the gifts of the Spirit are operative today as in the apostolic age. But the Cessationists are mainly non-Pentecostals/Charismatics. The hold that certain gifts, especially sign gifts, have ceased to function because the need for them no longer exists.  I have earlier indicated above that the term Cessationism is a misnomer for the following reasons:

  1. The term is often used pejoratively to include all the spiritual gifts.
  2. Divergent views and opinions exist among the Cessationists.
  3. Cessationism does not deny that miracles, healings, and supernatural incidents still occur today.

What Then Is Cessationism?
Cessationism is pointedly referring to the ministry gifts of apostles and prophets which were foundational. Eph.2:20. It also includes the sign gifts- miracles, healings, tongues, word of knowledge and interpretation. The gifts which were for authenticating of the gospel. Acts.19:11-12; 2 Cor.12:12; Heb.2:3-4. When Cessationism disputes that the sign gifts are no longer in operation today, it is not saying that miracles, healings, and supernatural events do not happen.   They happen, but not because of exercising any of the associated gifts.

Dr. Charles Ryrie provides this helpful explanation.
Distinction should be made between miracles and healings and the gift of miracles and healing. The spiritual gift is the God-given ability to perform miracles and healings for the purpose of serving Him. However, a miracle or healing may be done apart from the exercise of those gifts…Consequently, then it does not follow that if one considers the gift of miracles and healings temporary, he also is saying that God does not perform miracles or heal today. He is simply saying that the gifts (emphasis mine) are no longer given because the particular purpose for which they were originally given (i.e., to authenticate the oral message) has ceased to exist.

Even during the days of the apostles, when it was not necessary, believers were instead urged to pray for miracles and healings, including the use of medicine, rather than the exercise of spiritual gifts. Jas.5:13-15; 1 Tim.5:23. Similarly, is the prayer of the apostles,Acts.4:24-31, and specifically asking ” grant to Your servants that with boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” It was purely a prayer for miracles and for the supernatural to happen apart from the exercise of any spiritual gift. Even Paul who seemed to possess and had exercised the gift of healing, did not deem it necessary to exercise it towards himself, 2 Cor.12:7-10, or to his sick companions-Epaphroditus, Phil.2:25; Timothy, 1. Tim.5;23; and Trophimus, whom he left sick at Miletus, 2 Tim.4:20.

Other than the gifts of apostleship, prophecy and the sign gifts mentioned above, Cessationism recognizes the ministry gifts of teacher-pastor and evangelist as well as the service gifts to be operational in the church today.

While there may exist those who claim Cessationist position by denying the occurrence of miracles and supernatural healings today, such a marginalized position and unbelief does not represent the Cessationist viewpoint.  A brief summary of the position of Cessationism can be stated as follows:

  1. Both the offices and gifts of apostle and prophet have ceased because they are foundational and therefore temporal.Eph.2:20.
  2. The sign gifts also have ceased because they were temporal for authenticating the early disciples and the gospel message. Acts.3:1-9; 5:12;13:8-12;14:8-11; 19:11-12; 2 Cor.12:12; Heb.2:3-4.
  3. All the other ministry and service gifts are still operational in the church today. Rom.12:6-8; Eph.4:11-14;1 Pet.4:10-11
  4. The Scripture clearly states the temporal duration of certain gifts and therefore alluding to Cessationism.1. Cor.13:8-10.
  5. Although some Cessationists base their position on 1. Cor.13:8-10, a Sovereign God may on occasion, at His will, revive any of these gifts. But this is not normative.
  6. Miracles, healings and other supernatural events occur today, but not because of exercising any of the sign gifts.

This tedious discussion again highlights the controversial nature of the subject of the Spiritual gifts and Pneumatology in general. The earnest approach to this kind of inquiry is to subdue all preconceived notions and let the Scripture speak for itself. This principle has been applied in this presentation, and it has been the guideline of this Pastoral Letter forum.

The discussion of the other gifts will continue in the subsequent letters in this series.

Rev. Joseph EzeigboAuthor:
Rev Joseph Ezeigbo studied at Grace Collage and Grace Theological Seminary, both in Winona Lake, IN, where he obtained his undergraduate and graduate degrees respectively. He also did some Postgraduate studies at Liberty University and Liberty Theological Seminary, Lynchburg, VA. He is the coordinator, African Missionary Outreach. Rev Ezeigbo is the currently Vice Chairman and Prayer and Renewal Facilitator ECWA USA. He has also served as Secretary and Chairman of ECWA USA DCC. Rev Ezeigbo is an advocate for prayer for the Muslim World and International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a Bible teacher for ECWA MD and Researcher – Church History and Theology.



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