Opinions contrast. Some claim God works miracles through his people today. Others say that God no longer gifts his people with miraculous abilities. What should not be overlooked is how definitions of the miraculous differ. Thus to accurately understand what is being denied or affirmed requires first understanding how someone defines the miraculous.
Once such an understanding exists, the question still remains: why do some reject miraculous gifts today? The first reason revolves around observing how the Spirit chose to distribute these gifts. The baptism with the Spirit appears to have served a special purpose, while a second manner of distribution is no longer possible. Let’s take a look.
As noted in a prior article, the baptism with the Spirit does not appear to have been an ongoing event. Rather it is recorded as occurring only twice, once upon the Jewish apostles on Pentecost and then later upon the Gentiles to indicate God’s acceptance of non-Jews. The evidence suggests this baptism was not even a common event during the early church. If this is the case, it would seem to be even less likely now.
As far as scripture reveals, God has chosen only one other means for distributing these gifts. This involved the laying on of hands, but not just anybody’s hands. Here is what Luke tells us, starting with Acts 6. The apostles laid their hands upon seven godly men to designate them to serve the Christian Hellenistic widows. Two of these were Stephen and Philip.
Luke immediately relates how Stephen “was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Similarly, after Philip arrived in Samaria Luke recounts how Philip taught about the Christ while the people beheld his miraculous signs (Acts 8:5-7).
Although Philip could perform miraculous signs he was impotent to empower converts to receive these abilities. Rather, Luke wrote the only benefit they received was being baptized in Jesus’ name. The Spirit had not fallen upon them (Acts 8:16). For this reason, two apostles, Peter and John, were sent to Samaria to lay their hands upon these new converts that they might receive the Spirit.
What did these converts receive? Was this merely the indwelling of the Spirit promised to those at baptism (Acts 2:38) or an empowering with miraculous gifts? Admittedly, we can bring many questions to scripture beyond its purview. Yet, several lines of evidence converge toward an answer.
- Luke wrote, “Now Simon, when he saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power too, so that everyone I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 8:18,19).
- Simon perceived something happening that informed him these new disciples were receiving the Spirit. If they were merely experiencing the Spirit’s indwelling, this would not be a matter of sight. However, if these disciples began to engage in activities like speaking in tongues, then it would be evident the Spirit had fallen upon them. So Simon also desired the power to enable the Spirit to fall upon disciples.
- It is unlikely that this falling of the Spirit refers to the indwelling because this would require the apostles to lay their hands upon every convert throughout history. Rather, Peter taught the gift of the Spirit would be given upon repentance and baptism to all – even those far off . This included the Samaritans.
- To perceive evidence that the disciples had received the Spirit would have comforted the Samaritans who were accustomed to being rejected by the Jews.
- Among the many gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, no mention is made of a gift enabling disciples to impart the Spirit to others.
- This idea that only the apostles could enable others to receive miraculous gifts explains Acts 19:1-6. Paul appears to have had the habit when encountering disciples to ask whether the Spirit had fallen upon them. If not, he would lay his hands on them that they might receive miraculous gifts.
- Paul’s confusion and question about the Ephesians’ baptism reveals Paul shared Luke’s understanding. Upon baptism a convert receives the gift of the Spirit. If these disciples did not know about the Spirt, what baptism had they received?
- After baptizing them in the name of Jesus, which would have given them the gift of the Spirit, Paul resumed his original intention. He laid his hands upon them and they spoke in foreign languages.
- Many Christians like those in Corinth and Timothy possessed gifts (1 Corinthians 1:4-7; 2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:14). Significantly they had been in the presence of an apostle.
Those who deny God works through miraculous gifts today do not seek to limit God’s power. Rather, they allow scripture to reveal how God has chosen to work. When the apostles died, receiving miraculous gifts would have ended. They view scripture’s message as being the rule, not the exception to the rule.