A general investigation of many of the denominations today will reveal there is an element of Pentecostalism that has crept into their beliefs and practices. Most believe that God still breaks the laws of nature to perform miracles in their lives to some extent. Moreover, except for faithful members of the church (as well as a few others who claim affiliation with that church), virtually no religious person will deny the occurrence of the miraculous, or their definition of it, today. This is clearly due to the large extent of ignorance of the scripture that has gripped our country and the world in more recent years. In this article, we are going to give a brief look into what the scriptures teach on this subject. Do miracles still occur today? Let us see.
To give any justice to the study of this subject, one must go to the contexts which deal with the duration of the miraculous. When referring to context, it must be understood that there is an immediate context which consists of the passages directly before or after a certain verse or verses. However, there is also a remote context which is dealing with the same subject in other chapters and books of the Bible. This study will take both into consideration. There is no context more extensively covering the supernatural gifts and how long they would continue than that of 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. A study of this and the passages that relate to it (remote context) would give any honest student enough material to know whether the miraculous is accessible today or not. The denominations, therefore, are either ignorant of these passages or are blatantly dishonest, turning a blind eye to them. Either way, ignorance is no excuse, as individual responsibility is placed upon all (Matt. 15:14)1.
An important starting place for this study is 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, which states:
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
In this passage, we can see there are nine miraculous gifts mentioned that certain Christians possessed (cf. vv. 29-30). As can be noted by just a cursory reading, these nine miraculous gifts serve a twofold function—revealing God’s word, and an essence of protection in various ways. Further study, though, will show that the purpose of these gifts were to reveal and confirm God’s word (Mark 16:17-20; Heb. 2:3-4). Upon looking at our passage again we can conclude that the “word of wisdom,” the “word of knowledge,” “prophecy,” “tongues,” and the “interpretation of tongues” were all gifts pertaining to the revealing of the word of God. All the other gifts were used for the confirmation of that word.
Before we delve into the next leg of our study, we want to consider a certain figure of speech know as a synecdoche that is used in the context of our subject. “It is usually spoken of as a figure of speech by which we speak of the whole by a part, or a part by using a term denoting the whole” (Dungan, p. 300). An example of this figure is that we use it all the time. Notice in stating that “we use it all the time,” the whole (all the time) is used to denote part of the time or a lot of times—not literally meaning the figure is used in every sentence or phrase we ever speak. In our context, Paul uses the synecdoche, stating a part when he is actually referring to the whole.
A reading of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 reveals that Paul uses the synecdoche twice, naming part of the miracles when referring to the whole of them:
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. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
In verse 8, rather than go through the tedious process of listing all nine miraculous gifts again (as had already been done in 12:8-10), he names three (prophecy, tongues, and miraculous knowledge) and puts emphasis on their duration, indicating miracles have a time limit ending when the period of their purpose is fulfilled. Notice in the very next verse (v. 9), Paul uses the synecdoche a second time with mention of the gifts of knowledge (know) and prophecy. Why did he not mention tongues as in the previous verse? Actually, he did, by the use of the synecdoche. Moreover, the gifts he illustrates with are gifts that reveal the word of God (knowledge and prophecy). Again, verse 9 reads: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” The word of God was being revealed part by part. Verse 10 tells us that the revealing of God’s word part by part would be done away. When? “When that which is perfect is come.” The word translated “perfect” is defined as complete (Strong). Therefore, when the word of God was complete there would be no need of the miraculous revealing part by part. Neither would there be any need of miraculous confirmation since there was nothing more to reveal. However, does the Bible tell us when or if the word of God was completed? Let us dig further.
The answer to such a question can be found in a study of Ephesians 4:8, 11-13, and passages relating to it.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men… And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 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:
Verse 8 indicates that our immediate context is dealing with the miraculous gifts that God gave to men at the time. How do we know these were miraculous? As will be demonstrated later in this study, this passage in Ephesians 4 is parallel to the teaching Paul gave to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13, which we have already seen is clearly dealing with the miraculous. Verse 11 indicates the offices that would receive such gifts, which implies they would only be given to those who had the aptitude to lead or teach. Further information about what the gifts were for is given in verse 12. When we come to verse 13, the first word of this verse is “Till.” This indicates a timeframe for the gifts – a duration of how long the miraculous was to continue. “Till when?” is the question we should ask.
We should pay very close attention to the answer as Paul gives it in this verse, verse 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:” Three sections of this are very important to answering the question. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith.” Notice Paul is not discussing unity of brethren here, but unity of the faith. “The faith” is the system of faith which constitutes God’s New Testament law for man—the very word of God. Jude stated the faith had been once for all delivered (Jude 3, ASV). Therefore, by the time Jude was written, (one of the last books of the Bible), the faith had been completed, unified and no longer given part by part.
Paul also indicates in Ephesians 4:13 that the miraculous would continue “till we all come in the unity of… the knowledge of the Son of God.” Peter’s last book tells us that at the time he wrote (2 Pet. 1:3) God’s “divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him” (Jesus our Lord, v. 2). All things regarding the knowledge of Christ had been given at the time Peter wrote this—also one of the last books of the Bible.
Back in Ephesians 4:13 again, Paul also states miracles would remain “till we all come… unto a perfect man.” Remember, the word translated “perfect” is defined as “complete.” In the last book that Paul wrote, he stated, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God… that the man of God may be perfect” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Although the word translated “perfect” in this passage is a different Koine Greek word than that in the previous verses cited, the meaning of the word is the same—complete. Therefore, the man equipped with the scriptures is complete. The study, then of Ephesians 4:8, 11-13 tells us that the miraculous would continue till man was equipped with the scriptures, the word of God, and the related verses teach us that man was fully equipped with that word at the completion of the Bible in the first century.
Comparing the context of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 with that of Ephesians 4:8-14, one can see the parallel teaching Paul is giving to both the Corinthians and the Ephesians. This is especially evident when he begins likening the church to a child. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, he states: “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.” Paul, here, is likening the miraculous gifts to “childish things” which would be “put away” as he became a man. Similarly, after naming the things that would happen to indicate the cessation of miracles in Ephesians 4:13, he goes on to encourage that the church would no longer be as children: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (v. 14). Therefore, the Bible teaches that miracles were for the infant church, before the written word was completed. Upon completion of that word—the Bible—the church would be in a mature state in which the miraculous would no longer be needed.
Though the foregoing completely and utterly solidifies the fact that miracles had a duration, and their time ceased in the first century with the completion of the written word, another factor is brought to view that shows the impossibility of anyone performing miracles today. The Bible teaches there was only one way that anyone other than an apostle could possess the miraculous. Looking at Acts 2:43, it is seen that only the apostles are mentioned as performing “many wonders and signs.” Not until we reach Acts 6:8 do we see someone other than an apostle having such an ability. What was different in this situation that allowed Stephen to do miracles? Two verses earlier we see the apostles had laid their hands on him (Acts 6:6). Is that the point at which others received gifts of the Holy Ghost? Let us look further. The next time we see miracles performed is by Philip in Acts 8:5-7. However, he was among those with Stephen (Acts 6:5) who had the apostles hands laid on them. Is this a coincidence? Hardly. The context of Acts 8 shows us that it is through the laying on of the apostles hands the gifts were given (Acts 8:18-19). Further, this is a solid pattern found throughout the New Testament (Acts 19:5-6; 2 Tim. 1:6, et al.) Therefore, when the last apostle died, there was no avenue through which miracles could be given to others anyways. This fact lines up perfectly with the cessation of miracles upon completion of the written word.
What is the danger of believing miracles exist today? When some begin believing things contrary to what the Bible teaches, it causes division in the church. To believe unscriptural practices and doctrines, therefore, is damnable to the soul. Many passages warn us of false teachers, and the reason is due to the end result of being lost for eternity. Let us stay informed on these matters, and let us equip ourselves with the knowledge of the Bible that we keep the church pure. Does the Bible teach Pentecostalism or charismatism? Not on your life!
All scripture quotations and citations are from the King James Version (KJV) unless otherwise indicated.
(American Standard Version, ASV, 1901)
(Dungan, D. R., Hermeneutics, Gospel Light Publishing Company)
(Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996)