Duration of Miracles

God provided miraculous gifts to men for two main reasons.  Let’s look at each one.

  1. Miraculous gifts were provided to men as a way to confirm that new revelations were from God.
    • So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.  (Acts 14:3 ESV)
    • The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.  (2 Corinthians 12:12 ESV)
    • how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
      (Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV)
  2. Miraculous gifts were provided to men to make God’s will known to mankind.  This was to reveal what we call the New Testament.
    • When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  (Matthew 10:19-20 ESV)
    • When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  (John 16:13 ESV)
    • how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.  (Ephesians 3:3-5 ESV)
    • For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:21 ESV)

The fact that God sent miraculous gifts to men is not disputed.  Up for debate is whether the gifts were to continue after they had served the purpose God sent them for or did God cause them to cease.  Many people believe that miracles and direct revelation still happen today.  Let’s look at scripture and see if we can form a determination based on scripture.

First, we must recognize that God wants us to use logical reasoning when reading the Bible.  Isaiah 1:18 says “Come now, and let us reason together”.  Acts 17:17 says that Paul reasoned with the Jews and Gentiles.  As we reason together, we must recognize that if we discover a logical contradiction then one of our premises must be wrong.  Now onto the evidence.

Let’s first consider whether the “modern miracles” have the same traits as the miracles that are found in the Bible.  To start let’s consider modern revelations then we will move into modern miracles.

Modern revelations have the same traits as false prophecy, not true prophecy.  The Bible warns about false prophets:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  (Matthew 7:15 ESV)

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.  (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ESV)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  (2 Peter 2:1 ESV)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  (1 John 4:1 ESV)

Therefore, we know that there could be false prophecy.

The teaching of truly inspired men always agreed with the scriptures.  In addition to that, their prophecy of future events always came true.  On the other hand, the teaching of false prophets often disagreed with scripture and predictions did not always come true:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.  (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV)

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.  (2 John 1:9-11 ESV)

By simply examining the revelations of modern prophets we find that invariably they disagree with scripture or, in the case of predictions, they never come true.  Here are a few examples:

  • Numerous predictions of Jesus’ return / the end of the world
  • Predictions of Mormonism
    • Jesus to return within 56 years of 1835
    • Temple would be built within a generation of 1832
    • Several Mormon “apostles” were to live to see Jesus return
    • The Civil War would be the “full end of all nations”
    • The “Book of Abraham” would be translated from a book of heathen Egyptian burial rites.
  • Prophecies of Jean Dixon
    • World War III in 1958
    • Russia to put first man on the moon
    • Lyndon Johnson would run for president in 1968
    • President Ford to resign and Rockefeller to replace him
    • Reagan would be 1976 GOP candidate
  • Faith healer Robert Tilton was sued by Beverly Crowley, because Tilton kept sending requests for donations to Mrs. Crowley’s husband and promising to heal him. One such letter said, “God spoke to me this morning specifically about you, Tom, and He’s going to heal you.” When the letter was written, Mrs. Crowley’s husband had been dead for five months! – via Greg Gwin, West Knoxville bulletin.
  • People who claim to be led by the spirit contradict each other – For example, Mormons, Catholics, Pentecostals, etc.  How can all be led by the Spirit when they contradict each other?  Which one is right?

None of these have the characteristics of true revelation.

Modern miracles, like modern revelations, also have the traits of false miracles, not true miracles.  The Bible also warns about false miracles:

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.  (Acts 8:9-13 ESV)

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV)

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.  (Matthew 24:24 ESV)

Every true miracle always had the following traits:

  • There was conclusive evidence that the miracle actually occurred
  • The event happened instantly (or in exactly the time period God specified)
  • There were never any failures when miracles were attempted (by Jesus or His apostles after they received Holy Spirit baptism)
  • The results always completely and perfectly accomplished the intended purpose
  • The event was impossible by natural law

Men who could truly perform miracles could be distinguished from false miracle workers by examining the work performed.  True miracle workers were willing to work miracles in the presence of false teachers.  Furthermore, their miracles always had the characteristics of true miracles.  False miracle workers were known because their miracles lacked the traits of true miracles.

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.  But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.  (Acts 8:5-13 ESV)

When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.  (Acts 13:6-12 ESV)

So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.  Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.  And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.  (1 Kings 18:20-40 ESV)

And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.  (Exodus 8:17-19 ESV)

Upon examination all modern miracles and modern miracle workers are found to lack some or all traits of true miracles.  In practice modern miracle workers will usually refuse to perform “miracles” in the presence of those who don’t believe they can do them or those they claim are “false teachers.”  Instead, they rely on “testimonies” of those they have “healed.”  This simply proves they are false because men with the power of true miracles did not refuse to perform them.  We constantly hear about people who claim they can do or have received miracles today.  If miraculous gifts exist today, there should be many examples that have the traits of true Bible miracles.  But all we ever see are frauds.  Therefore, we must conclude that the gifts have ceased, and all who claim to possess the gifts are false.

Moving away from what we can determine by the traits of real miracles as opposed to false miracles, let’s now consider the argument that spiritual gifts are no longer needed because their purpose has been fulfilled.

We considered the purpose for gifts earlier.  Let’s discuss each in turn.

First, we know that some gifts were given for the purpose of delivering God’s will to man.  This work was completed while the apostles were still alive.  The apostles received all truth that God gave in order for man to be saved and to know how to please God.  They then recorded that message in the Scriptures.  God then promised to preserve that message throughout all time.  We now have the completely revealed word of God in the Scriptures:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

We need no further revelation today.  The purpose of direct revelation has been fulfilled.

Secondly, we know that some gifts were given for the purpose of confirming the revelations that God gave.  The gifts may have served other purposes as well, but the primary purpose was to confirm that the miracle worker spoke by the authority of God.  This primary purpose also determined whether the miracle even occurred or not.  When miracles were not needed to accomplish this purpose, they did not happen.

Consider:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:29-31 ESV)

This tells us that the miracles were written down so that we would believe that Jesus is the son of God.  The Bible records eyewitness testimony of the miracles that confirm the message to be from God.  We do not need those miracles today.  We have adequate evidence in the written word.  Since the apostles completed writing the word for us to use, we no longer need miracles to prove that the word is true.

Throughout the Bible, whenever a work of God completed its purpose, it ceased:

  • Creation of the world – Genesis chaps 1,2 (note 2:1,2 ).
  • Universal flood – Genesis chaps. 6-9 (note 9:8-17).
  • Sacrifice of a son – Genesis chap. 22.
  • Animal sacrifices – Hebrews 10:1-18
  • Circumcision – 1 Corinthians 7:18-20; Galatians 5:2-8; etc.
  • Virgin birth – Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35
  • Earthly life and death of Jesus – Hebrews 9:26,28; 10:10; 7:26,27; etc.
  • Resurrection of Jesus – Romans 1:4

God performed these works once and then ceased them once their purpose had been accomplished.  Can you think of any work that God continued to perform once it had completed its purpose and was no longer needed?  The clear pattern is that God ceases to do works, including miraculous works, when their purpose has been accomplished. All miracles have now accomplished their purpose, so the pattern of God’s past works should convince us that He stopped them all.

Next, let’s consider that there is no means by which people can receive these gifts today.  In the scripture, people received spiritual gifts by two methods; Holy Spirit baptism and laying on of apostles’ hands.  Let’s begin with Holy Spirit baptism.

Holy Spirit baptism was never required or promised to all people.  The purpose of Holy Spirit baptism was to give people miraculous gifts.  But, as mentioned before, these gifts have served their purpose it follows that Holy Spirit baptism to grant those gifts is also not needed today.  Furthermore, Ephesians 4:3-6 says there is one baptism.  We know that water baptism is still practiced today even by those who believe in ongoing Holy Spirit baptism.  So, while there were multiple baptisms in the past, by the time Ephesians was written, all had ceased except for one.  Since water baptism has continued for all ages, we know that Holy Spirit baptism must have ceased before Ephesians was written.  We also see in scripture that Holy Spirit baptism happened only twice.  Once for the Jews and once for the Gentiles.  God gave it to each group to prove miraculously that His word and salvation were open to all people.

People could also receive miraculous gifts by having the apostles lay hands on them.  By reading through scripture, we see that only apostles could impart gifts this way.  Even if someone received gifts from the apostles they could not pass them on.  Whether by Holy Spirit baptism or by laying on of apostles’ hands, there is no evidence that anyone ever received miraculous gifts after the resurrection of Jesus except by the direct involvement of an apostle.  We no longer have apostles today because no one meets the requirements to be an apostle:

  • No one works the true signs of apostles.
  • No one is directly guided by the Spirit as apostles were.
  • No one is a personal eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.
  • No one has been called directly by Jesus to serve as an apostle.

How do we know that an apostle was required to impart the gifts?  Acts 8 gives us the evidence of that.  Notice in Acts 6 that Philip was one of the 7 men chosen to serve tables.  In Acts 6:6, we see that the apostles prayed for those 7 men and then laid hands on them and imparted gifts.  We know that Philip could perform miracles because Acts 8:6 says that Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them performing miracles “which he did.”  Acts 8:12 tells us that they believed Philip “concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” and “they were baptized, both men and women.”  But notice what Acts 8:14 – 17 says:

“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”  (Acts 8:14 – 17 ESV)

If Philip who could perform miracles through the Holy Spirit had the ability to pass that gift on then why didn’t he do it?  He was already in Samaria and had preached to them and performed miracles.  They believed and were baptized, so they were saved believers.  But, scripture clearly says even though they were saved believers that the spirit had fallen on none of them.  Not until apostles came and laid hands on them were those gifts imparted.  This clearly demonstrates that apostolic participation was required for gifts to be imparted.

Since an apostle was needed to impart the gifts and there are no apostles today, there is no way for people to receive gifts today.

The Bible teaches that miracles would cease when their purpose was fulfilled.  This is shown in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14.

Chapter 12 lists the gifts and their purposes at the time the gift existed.  But then verse 31 contrasts those gifts to a “more excellent way.”

Chapter 13 then shows that the “more excellent way” is love.  Love is greater than the spiritual gifts because it would endure forever whereas the gifts would pass way.

Chapter 14 gives rules regarding the proper use of the gifts for the temporary period of time when they continued to exist.

Chapter 13:8-10 tells us when and why gifts would cease:

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  (1 Corinthians 13:8-10 ESV)

Verse 9 and 10 tells us that the gifts were in part.  They were imperfect.  Verse 10 then contrasts “that which is perfect” against “that which is in part.”  It says when that which is perfect has come then that which in part will be done away with.  “That which is perfect” completes and perfects what is in part or incomplete about spiritual gifts.

The next question is to determine in what way spiritual gifts were “in part.”  At the time Paul wrote this, the gifts had only partly accomplished their purpose…after all, Paul hadn’t completed writing it all down yet.  Seeing that the scripture contrasts “that which is perfect (complete)” against “that which is in part”, we must conclude “that which is perfect” must refer to the complete revelation of all truth. After the revelation had been delivered in full, miraculous gifts would have served their purpose and would no longer be needed.

Some people think that “that which is perfect” refers to Jesus’ second coming.  However, the 3 spiritual gifts listed (prophecy, tongues, and knowledge – v8) are also contrasted to 3 abiding qualities: faith, hope, and love (v13).  The spiritual gifts are temporary – they cease “when that which is perfect” is come (v10). But faith, hope, and love are abiding compared to the gifts. Hence, they do not cease “when that which is perfect is come.”

But this cannot refer to Jesus’ second coming, for when Jesus returns faith and hope will cease:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  (Romans 8:24 ESV)

for we walk by faith, not by sight.  (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

To say spiritual gifts will last till Jesus returns would be to say that the gifts are as enduring as faith and hope; but this is just the opposite of what the passage says.

James 1:25 describes the word as the “perfect law of liberty.”  Jude 3 says that the gospel was delivered “once.“  Hebrews 9:26,28; 10:10; 7:26,27; 1 Peter 3:18 use the same greek word, “once” to describe Jesus’ death in contrast to animal sacrifices.  Old Testament sacrifices did not completely remove sins, so they continued to be offered. But Jesus’ death was perfect and sufficient to completely remove all sin for all men of all ages, so it happened only “once”. It did not need to be repeated, so it never will be repeated. To say we need more sacrifice would be to deny the perfection of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Spiritual gifts remained as long as God’s perfect word had not been perfectly revealed.  But the perfect word was perfectly delivered to men in the first century. It does not need to be revealed again, so it won’t be again. It follows that the spiritual gifts by which it was delivered have ceased. To say we still need spiritual gifts would be to deny the perfection of the Scripture.

All that Jesus did was perfect. He gave us a perfect sacrifice for sin and He gave us the perfect word to tell us how to have our sins forgiven (Hebrews 1:1,2; James 1:25). The word needs no improvement just as the death of Jesus needs no improvement.  Therefore, neither will be repeated.

Anyone who seeks miraculous gifts today is saying (even without realizing it) that the complete and perfect revelation of God’s will in the form of the Bible is not enough to satisfy their faith.  When one is satisfied with the scriptures they require no other revelation.

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One thought on “Duration of Miracles

  1. Kim McCord says:

    Again, I am biased. I must say that this is an excellent break down of scripture. These are topics that are often confusing and steeped in tradition.

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