Some people regard the previously cited evidence as sufficient reason for concluding God no longer endows his people with miraculous gifts today. Scriptural statements regarding the purpose of these gifts further buttress this viewpoint.
In Acts Luke recounted how the gospel encountered both receptive and hostile audiences in Iconium. Recreating the basic contours of that scenario is not difficult. In fact, during the early days of the church a similar scene played out in many locations.
Christianity was arriving in cities where Greco-Roman culture and religion predominated and Jewish enclaves had taken root. Some would accept the gospel’s validity if it could be demonstrated the Jewish scriptures had anticipated it. However, for others legitimacy would require more. One perspective regarded long religious traditions as being credible. What could Christianity offer with its new message that through Christ’s death and resurrection God was forgiving people and creating a new community for himself? Why should anyone believe this seemingly preposterous tale?
To return to the scene at Iconium, Paul and Barnabas “stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands” (Acts 14:3). This ability to accompany the gospel’s presentation with wonders contributed to enabling others to perceive the gospel’s legitimacy.
Did everyone believe when confronted with the miraculous? No more than those who witnessed Jesus’ signs and wonders. However, some had eyes to see. They recognized God was at work validating his message (Acts 14:4).
Thus, God enabled his people to perform wonders to confirm the message (Hebrews 2:3). The author of Hebrews agreed, “God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:4).
Do other verses echo this same sentiment? Yes.
“These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; …they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. ….They went out and proclaimed everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:17,18,20).
This text has fallen on hard times. Some of the oldest manuscripts do not include it. At worst these verses represent what the early church believed and thus appended to the Gospel of Mark. In this case these verses grant us insight into an early Christian conviction regarding the function of signs. On the other hand, at best these verses record Jesus’ actual words which were either original to the Gospel of Mark or which someone attached later.
Either way, these verses corroborate what we already learned in Acts and Hebrews. Miraculous signs served to conform the message. Furthermore, Mark 16:17-20 transports us back to what the ancient church taught.
So what would happen when seeds of confirmation were implanted everywhere pushing the new community toward a critical momentum? What further need for confirmation would exist when the gospel could no longer be discounted as a strange new tale of a few people?
This function of confirming the message suggests wonders served a temporary purpose. Upon widespread confirmation the signs would cease to be necessary. It is interesting to note how a temporary method for distributing the Spirit falling upon disciples goes hand in hand with a temporary purpose for signs and wonders.
Paul put it bluntly. Gifts are temporary. Let’s take a look.