Though I have already posted three articles around the topic of apostles today (part 1, part 2, part 3), I am writing this post in response to a comment/query from an acquaintance on another theological blog. It revolves around the question of God authenticating the message of true apostles in the first century through signs and wonders. The argument arises from the belief that, due to the fact that the New Testament was not written and completed, God authenticated the gospel message of the first apostles by granting them miraculous signs, wonders and healings. But when the finished canon of Scripture was completed with the New Testament being written, signs and wonders, healings and miracles, were no longer needed.
- 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
- Hebrews 2:3-4
- 2 Corinthians 12:12
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Paul states this in the first passage, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12:
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. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Those claiming that miracles, healings, signs and wonders had ceased with the death of the first apostles are referred to as cessationists. They use this passage in 1 Corinthians 13 to claim that the ‘perfect’ in these verses is the New Testament canon that would be completed by the end of the first century. Yet, though we believe that the New Testament canon is God’s Word, most realize that the ‘perfect’ of this passage is not speaking of the New Testament. The key is found in verse 12:
Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Though verse 10 states, ‘but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away,’ this is not speaking of the completion of the New Testament canon. Verse 12 shows that it is speaking of Christ’s return. Who will we see face to face? Christ. Paul goes on to say that he would know fully, even as he had been fully known. Known by whom? Christ. ‘When the perfect comes’ is in reference to the perfect One, Christ, returning for His Bride.
This passage is not a proof-text to show that signs and wonders ceased with the close of the New Testament canon. It is to show that we will no longer need such signs and gifts of the Spirit once Christ returns. We still have a lot to accomplish, and all of God’s gifts (apostles, prophets, healings, miracles, teaching, giving, leading, etc) are needed to advance God’s kingdom.
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.
Cessationists contend that ‘those who heard’ are the first apostles and God bore witness to their message by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and He did this through them alone. Yes, the gospel was witnessed to and authenticated by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit by those who personally heard (presumably the first apostles). Yet, we must also admit that the Holy Spirit used others in signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Spirit than only the first apostles.
We cannot forget about people like Stephen (Acts 6:8), Philip (Acts 8:4-7) and Ananias (Acts 9:17-18). And we must also remember that tongues and prophecy are gifts of the Spirit, and it does mention ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ in the Hebrews 2 passage above. We can see many others besides the first apostles that were used with gifts of the Spirit. There were the 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4), Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46), Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11), the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6) and the Corinthians believers (1 Corinthians 14).
While the first apostles were the ones who personally heard Christ, and they were definitely used in signs, wonders, miracles and Spirit-gifts, they were not the only ones. And we also must guard against developing an argument from this passage in Hebrew 2:3-4 that apostles no longer exist because signs and wonders no longer exist. For, as Jesus stated in John 14:12:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
Signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Spirit were not just for a select few in the first century. Christ said that ‘whoever believes in me’. That is the whole body of Christ. We need all of Christ’s gifts to accomplish the job.
2 Corinthians 12:12
The final passage cessationists use in support of the argument that apostles, as well as signs and wonders, no longer exist is found in 2 Corinthians 12:12:
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
Cessationists claim this verse is proof that signs and wonders were only performed through apostles. And, as with other passages, it is claimed that, because apostles no longer exist, signs and wonders no longer exist. But, what we must first do is distinguish between the use of the word ‘signs’ in this passage, for it is used in two different manners.
The first time the word signs is used does not refer to miraculous signs. Rather, it refers to ‘signs of a true apostle’. Paul uses this phrase to contrast his work as a true apostle with the selfish ways of the ‘super-apostles’ (see 2 Corinthians 12:11). Paul had just spent chapters 10-11 defending his apostleship by telling of all the things he has been through for the Corinthians. And this is the first use of the word ‘signs’. He came with the signs of a true apostle – having a servant heart for them, even willing to suffer for them. Paul, then, goes on to say that he was also used in signs, wonders and mighty works. The second use of the word is in reference to miraculous signs.
Therefore, this verse does not teach that signs, wonders and miraculous works are only limited to apostles. And as with the other Scriptures above, we cannot use this verse to build the case that signs and wonders no longer exist, and therefore, apostles no longer exist. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, the ‘true signs of an apostle’ are a servant heart for the people with whom they work. And miraculous signs are not only limited to apostles (first century or present century). They are available to all of those indwelt and empowered by the Spirit – the whole body of Christ.
We are in great need of all the gifts that God bestows to His Bride, all that we be fully equipped with the necessary tools in advancing God’s kingdom rule. And, let us not forget to couple all of these gifts with servant hearts and humility. But in the end we cannot disregard the gifts of God. Though it was in a slightly different context, I end with Paul’s words in Romans 11:29:
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Click here to read my article on the nature of apostolic gifting and some important aspects to consider in regards to this gift.