“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. For to one is given …by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles…to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” 1 Cor.12:7-10. “…Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” 1 Cor.12:29-30.
This issue of pastoral Letter would turn attention on the so – called “sign gifts.” There are four identified sign gifts. They are those listed in the above Scriptures. They are the gifts of healings, the workings of miracles, different kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues. They are labeled sign gifts because of their spectacular nature. They are demonstrative and resultingly attract attention. They are also known as confirmatory gifts because they were used to confirm and convince the hearers of the authenticity of the gospel and its messengers.
GIFTS OF HEALINGS (Gr. Charismata iamaton)
At face value, this is the ability to heal illness, sickness, or disease. It is to be noted that both words in Greek are plural which suggests that more than physical healing is in view, and so may include emotional as well as psychological healings. Regarding this, a well-known scholar, Dr. D A. Carson notes, “This strongly suggests that there were different gifts of healings: not everyone was getting healed by one person, and perhaps certain persons with one of these gifts of healing could by the Lord’s grace heal certain diseases or heal a variety of diseases but only at certain times.” Dr Carson further notes, “There can be little doubt that Paul understands these healings to be as miraculous as those of the Lord Jesus himself.” This gift is the ability to effect instant cure or healing of a disease or sickness in a supernatural way. It is the ability to restore wholesomeness to any deformity or disability or any malfunctioning part of the body or mind. The healing resulting from the exercise of this gift usually follows the pattern of Jesus. I.e., the man with leprosy, Matt.8:1-4, the healing of Peter’s mother in-law and the multitude,14-16, the healing of two demon-possessed men of the Gadarenes,28-32, the healing at the pool of Bethesda, Jn.5:1-8 and many others. A common factor among these healings is the immediacy and the instancy with which they occurred. There was no waiting period. The same is true also with the apostles, Acts 3:1-8; 9:33-35; 14:8-10; 16:16-18; 28:7-9. Such healings are likely included in what Paul called the “signs of an apostle” 2 Cor.12:12 and alluded to by the author of Hebrews. Heb.2:3-4.
Evangelist Billy Graham adds this insight, “The gift of healing means that a person so gifted can do exactly (emphasis mine) what Jesus did; by that power which is his as a gift from the Holy Spirit he can make the sick well immediately and permanently: a broken arm is mended instantly, a cancer disappears, the process of pneumonia stops, and the lungs become well.” It is important, however, to distinguish between a healing resulting from the exercise of the gift and that from God’s miraculous intervention in answer to prayer. Apart from spiritual gifts, believers are urged to pray for the healing of the sick.Jas.5:14-15. Among the needs which believers are told pray for should include healing from diseases and sicknesses.Matt.7:7-8; Jn.14:14; 15:7. It is therefore necessary to categorically state that every instance of healing or miracle should not be attributed to the exercise of spiritual gift.
Dr Robert L Thomas explains, “An important emphasis in connection with this gift … is that divine healing through the gift of healing is not the only divine healing spoken of in the Bible. In fact, the gift as an authenticating mark upon a certain individual and his message in the first century A.D. is different from God’s commitment to heal the sick then and now (cf. James 5:15). It is the privilege, even the responsibility, of every Christian to pray for physical healing, even though no individual in this day possesses the gift of healing. The day of divine healing has not passed, though the day of divine healers has. Healing goes on, but miraculous confirmation of specific individuals as vehicles of divine revelation does not because of the completion of New Testament revelation.” On another reflection on praying for physical healing, Dr Thomas states that “It has nothing directly to do with the gift of healing. It brings glory to God, but it authenticates no divine messenger or message the way the gift does.” This clarification is important because of the conclusion often drawn by those of the Continuationist 1 persuasion.
To further help with this clarification, theologian, Dr. Charles C. Ryrie elucidates, “Distinction should be made between miracles and healings and gifts of miracles and healing. The spiritual gift is the God-given ability to perform miracles for the purpose of serving Him. However, a miracle or a healing may be done apart from the exercise of those gifts…Thus every miracle or every healing is not the result of that particular gift being exercised. 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 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.”
Considering this, using the examples of Jesus and the apostles as a paradigm, there exists a valid ground for questioning the practice of modern-day faith healers and others in the Neo- Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement who maintain that gifts of healings are still in operation today. As has been attested by several biblical examples, the healings of Jesus and the apostles occurred with immediacy and instancy. But rarely, if ever, is such the case with modern faith-healers. One needs only to visit the so-called healing crusades to see for themselves. The long period spent praying and dramatizing, often anointing, pushing, and coaching the invalids and handicapped sick people to claim their healing “by faith”. And in some worst-case scenario, blaming the sick, some of whom often are unconscious or have cognitive impairment, for “lack of faith” when the advertised healing or miracle fail to manifest. Would one dare compare these acts which often turn out to be a laughingstock and disgraceful to the gospel with the instant and immediate healings performed by Jesus and the apostles?
As has been more elaborately presented in a previous Pastoral Letter 2, the sign gifts were specifically intended for the authentication of the of gospel and its messengers in the early days of the church. Still even during the early days of the church, believers were still given the injunction to pray for the sick. Jas.5:14. Also on several occasions, Paul, who himself seemed to possess the gift of healing was unable to heal both himself and others. 2 Cor. 12:7-10. In addition to this unnamed infirmity, he also suffered from a poor visual acuity. Gal.4:12-16. His prayers for healing for two of his companions were not answered. 1 Tim.5:23; 2 Tim.4:20, His prayers for Epaphroditus’ recovery seemed to have been gradual rather than immediate and instant. Phil.2:27. The conclusion, therefore, that for someone to maintain that the spiritual gift of healing and other sign gifts has ceased means that they are denying the word of God, or the power of God has no biblical basis. It is not the same as saying that miracles do not happen today or that God does not supernaturally intervene in human affairs in answer to believing prayers. 3
THE WORKING OF MIRACLES (Gr. Energemata dunameon)
Like the preceding, the words in Greek are in plural and the word for “miracles” is from the word dunamis from which dynamite is derived. It can be literally translated “workings of powers” Just as in healings, this suggests that different workings of miracles are in view. This obviously includes miracles of healings and more. The fact that Paul separates the two is a clear indication that despite the similarity, a clear distinction is intended. Dr. Carson gives this clarification, “Presumably all healings are demonstrations of miraculous powers, but not all miraculous powers are healings: they may include exorcisms, nature miracles, and other displays of divine energy.” In the New Testament, the word “miracles” is often referred to as signs (Gr. Semeion) Jn. 2:11 or “signs and wonders” Gr. Semeia kai Terata. Jn.4:48; Acts 5:12; 15:12. Also like the gift of healing, this gift should be naturally understood to be what Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 12:12. “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” (Emphasis added).
The same word dunamis is used to describe the healings and the miraculous deeds of Jesus. (Matt.11:20-21,23; 13:58; Mk.5:30; 6:2; Lu.5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 10:13; 19:37). Also, of the apostles. (Acts8:13; 19:11; 2 Cor.12:12; Gal.3:5; Heb.2:4.) The “gifts of miracles” has a broader scope than the “gifts of healings “in that there are several incidents of miracles that were not related to healing, i.e., the death of Ananias and Sapphira Acts 5:1-11. The raising of Dorcas, the blinding of Elymas, the sorcerer, the raising of Eutychus and the shaking off of a poisonous snake Acts 9:39-42; 13:8-11; 20:7-12; 28:1-6. The apostles seem to have made this distinction in their request, “By stretching out Your hand to heal and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” Acts4:30. Both the “gifts of miracles” and its cognate the “gifts of healings “as sign gifts are temporal gifts which have served their purposes. More discussion on the temporariness of the sign gifts will appear at the conclusion of this Letter.
INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES – GR. HERMENEIA GLOSSON
The interpretation of tongues is simply the ability to translate the words spoken in “tongues” to those not familiar with the “tongues” This is having in mind that “tongues” Gr. Glossa is a known language. Although this is a separate gift which is possessed by another other than the “tongues-speaker”, however, Paul seems to indicate that the “tongues-speaker” might also possess this gift.
1 Cor.14:13. Paul warned that unless an interpreter is present that speaking in tongues should not be exercised in the gathered assembly of the church.1 Cor.14:28. There is a great unsatisfied curiosity that with all the elaborate instruction about speaking in tongues and interpretation given by Paul, there does not exist one example of its true practice in any of the epistles.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF TONGUES – AN INTRODUCTION
Instead of an expository explanation like others, this segment would begin with an introduction of what will be a longer discussion on this gift. It is uncertain at this point how long the entire discussion will take. But an earnest attempt will be made to shed light on this gift that has since the first century been a subject of much debate and controversy. Speaking in tongues (Glossalalia) is arguably the most controversial of all the spiritual gifts. It was a problem in the first century and was the reason for the lengthy explanation in 1 Corinthians 14. It was both misused and abused in the Corinthian church, and perhaps its meaning was either misunderstood or misconstrued.1 Cor.14:2,4,6-9.
Questions abound today about its meaning or definition, i.e., are the “tongues” of 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 the same or different? How do they relate to the” tongues” of Acts 2,10 and 19? Are the “tongues “of 1 Corinthians 14 earthly human languages or angelic heavenly languages? Not only is “tongues” misunderstood; it has been a very divisive subject of all of the spiritual gifts. It is divisive even among the Pentecostals and Charismatics. Some Holiness Churches that antedate the Modern Pentecostal Movement reject “tongues” while sharing similar doctrinal views as Pentecostals. These include Wesleyan Methodists, Free Methodists, Holiness Pentecostal Church, The Nazarenes, Church, and Missionary Alliance and (Old line) Salvation Army. Some of these either reject or are skeptical about modern tongues-speaking. Some Pentecostals disallow “tongues”, whereas others insist on “tongues” as outward evidence of baptism of the Spirit.
“Tongues” is also divisive among the Evangelicals who believe that the “gifts of the Spirit” are manifested today and those who are known as Cessationists 3 who believe that certain gifts have ceased including “tongues” It caused one missionary who took the former position to lose some financial support. This debate has been faced by Conservative Churches like the Southern Baptist and ECWA. This controversy embroiled the Southern Baptist Church Mission Board at the turn of this century when some of their missionaries abroad claimed that they received the gift of “tongues”.
In the first century, it was a problem as to how, where, when to, and who should exercise this gift. Some people think that women were excluded from tongue-speaking in a public gathering of the church. 1 Cor.14:34-35.
A HISTORY OF DEBATES AND CONTROVERSIES
In the first century, especially in the Corinthian Church, some people seemed to have elevated “tongues “above other gifts just as some people do today. Are “tongues” a sign of spirituality, superiority, or maturity? 1 Corinthians 13 has the answer to this question. Some Christians would in a blink break fellowship with those who differ with them over the interpretation and the use of “tongues.” Can non-Pentecostals and Pentecostals cooperate in evangelism and soul-winning outreach? (Some think no.)
One of the early heresies in the early church was Montanism, begun by its founder, Montanus. In the middle of the second century, Montanus began to preach that the early apostolic power and gifts of the Holy Spirit must be restored back to the church, and among these, the gift of speaking in tongues. He, along with two of his female followers who went by the title prophetess, claimed to have a direct revelation from God. Not long after, Montanus himself claimed to be the Paraclete promised by Jesus in John 14:26. Montanism, although condemned by the early church, continued to flourish, and attract members. This movement has a seminal influence on the development of both the early and later Pentecostal Movement.
The Modern Pentecostal Movement was birthed in a little Bible School in Topeka, Kansas (Bethel College). Charles Parham, the founder, and the teacher urged his motley crew of students to seek the baptism of the Spirit with outward evidence of speaking with tongues as on the Day of Pentecost. On January 1, 1901, one of the students, Agnes Ozman, claimed to have been “baptized with the Spirit” and began to speak in tongues. The news soon spread like a wildfire all the way to Texas and from there to Azusa Street in Los Angeles, CA. through the instrumentality of William Seymour in 1906. The modern Pentecostal Movement has been born. Speaking in tongues generated a new controversy in 1960 when an episcopal priest, Dennis Bennett, claimed that he received a gift of “tongues.” This led to his dismissal from his church. After his dismissal, he was received by another liberal episcopal church which soon revived, and Bennett claimed it was by the gift of “tongues.” His story again began to spread and from it came the birth of the Modern Charismatic Movement. It was not long, and some members of the Catholic and other main line Churches began to claim to have received the gift. But what about “tongues” among non-Christians and in non- Christian religions such as Budhists, Sikhs, Mormons, and Aladura Movement? How about “coached tongues” in many Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches today. What saith the Scriptures? What does the Bible say about all these historic controversies about speaking in tongues (Glossalalia)? That will be the topic of the next and perhaps subsequent Pastoral Letters.
CONCLUSION -THE PURPOSE FOR THE SIGN GIFTS
All the way back to the Old Testament, signs and miraculous incidents have been for the purpose of demonstration of the power of God or the authentication of His messengers and their message. Even God Himself performed miracles in Egypt to demonstrate His power to Pharaoh. Exo.3:19-20;9:16. He commissioned Moses to do the same. Exo.4. God being almighty could wield His power anytime, but He did not intend it to be a norm like the dividing of the Red sea, providing water from the rock or throwing down manna from heaven. Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice in order to show who the true God is. 1 Kgs.18:36-39. All these spectacular demonstrations of God’s power were for special purposes and temporal and not meant to be normative. In the New Testament, Jesus as Messiah had to authenticate his identity by the show of miracles. Jn.5:36. At a doubtful moment when John the Baptist sent his disciples to inquire about Jesus’ Messianic identity, Jesus pointed to His miracles. Matt.11:2-5. The raising of Lazarus was to bear a public testimony of His identity. Jn.11:42. So also, all His recorded and unrecorded miracles. Jn.20:30-31; Acts 2:22.
The same is true at the beginning of the Church Age. Christ equipped the church through the apostles with special gifts to demonstrate the power of the resurrected Christ and the gospel. Some of these gifts were intended to be temporal, others were to be permanent, such as pastors, teachers, evangelists, and all the service gifts 4. But the sign gifts were mainly for the authentication of the Gospel during the early history of the church.
Dr. Walvoord provides a very helpful insight regarding the confusion and misunderstanding about the sign gifts. Because of the lucidity of his explanation, his statement needs to be presented in its entirety:
Much of the objection to the position that the gift of miracles was confined to the apostolic age arises from the confusion of thought which identifies every miracle with the gift of miracles. The apostolic age is distinct because in it some men had the power to perform miracles at will in the name of Christ. It was not simply that a miracle was performed, but it was rather that men possessed a gift of performing miracles frequently. In the history of the church, there have been occasional miracles, and God has intervened in answer to faith and prayer and performed mighty works. To no one, apparently, since apostolic times, has power been given to heal all who are sick, to raise the dead, and in other ways display unusual power to perform miracles. As the gift of apostleship and the gift of prophecy have ceased, with it has ceased the need for the signs of the gift. A Christian can still appeal to God to do wonders, and God answers prayer. God can still heal and even raise the dead if He chooses, but these miracles are sovereign and individual, not committed to the will of men or bestowed as a spiritual gift. While, therefore, the gift of miracles is not a part of the present program of God, the power of God to perform miracles must be affirmed.
Dr Thomas totally in agreement with Walvoord adds:
The exclusive purpose of the gifts was to provide authentication for God’s spokesmen and their message…The gift provided a special means of attracting the attention of listeners, giving them a basis for trusting the message, and thereby expediting the spread of the gospel during the days of the church’s beginning. Once God’s inspired revelation to the church was complete, such confirmatory gifts had no further purpose to fill. The termination of the gift to the body of Christ does not rule out God’s providential purpose in accomplishing miracles since that time. Miracles have happened and continue to happen since the completion of the New Testament. Yet, God has not been pleased to use miracle workers the way He did while He was in the process of revealing new covenant truth. The age of miracles continue, but the age of miracle workers has ceased.
As is evident from the above credible attestations, the so-called cessation position does not deny the evidence of healings and miracles today. Therefore, any allegation or conclusion that to take the position that the sign gifts are temporal and no longer in operation today, means denying the Scriptures or the power of God is not only unjustifiable, butargumentum non sequitur.
There were several miracles that were contemporaneous with the apostolic age that were not because of the exercise of any gift, but an answer to prayers, i.e., the shaking of the place of prayer,
the opening of the jail for Peter, the midnight earthquake in the Philippian jail. Acts 4:30-31; 12:5-12; 16:25-28. Although the sign gifts are no longer in operation, the age of miracles has not ceased. God still performs stupendous miracles today in answer to prayer in accordance with His sovereign will.
1 Continuationists are those who maintain that all the gifts are operational today as in the apostolic times. This is a
common view of those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement. See 3/22 Pastoral Letter for fuller explanation.
2 See 3/22 Pastoral Letter
3 Cessationists are generally used for those who hold the position that some gifts including sign gifts are no longer in operation
today. A fuller explanation appears in 3/22 Pastoral Letter.
4 See 8/22 Pastoral Letter for a detailed discussion.
Author: Rev. Joseph Ezeigbo
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.