Category Archives: body of Christ

Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated: a humble response to Dean Gonzales

by Marv

What I liked best about The Cessation of Special Revelation: A Humble Argument for the Cessation of NT Prophecy and Tongues,  a blog series posted last year by Dr. Robert R. Gonzales, Jr., Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary is the refreshing way that it takes the “humble” part seriously.  Dean Gonzales comports himself as a gentleman throughout, without the faintest whiff of ad hominem.  He also approaches the subject as a scholar, concentrating his argument on how best to understand the relevant scriptural texts.  In this he takes on Wayne Grudem’s position on prophecy, as laid out in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. The fact that he chooses a worthy interlocutor such as Dr. Grudem is commendable.  As a whole Dean Gonzales takes an approach that ought to be widely emulated.

He is also clear.  He lays out his main thesis in a form of a syllogism, and backs it up with scriptural citation and logical discussion.  The syllogism reads as follows:

Major Premise: All pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation has been completed and has, therefore, ceased.
Minor Premise: NT prophecy and tongues are forms of pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation.
Conclusion: Therefore, tongues and prophecy have ceased.

Appreciative as I am of his approach, I am not, however, convinced by his argument.  It is a variation of a fairly conventional one, tying the term of charismata to that of the Canon.  In fact I have to object to his references to “scriptural-quality revelation.”  The Bible ascribes, I think, unique attributes to itself.  There is no other revelation, never has been, of equal “quality” to that of Scripture.

This is why the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, to which both Dean Gonzales and Reformed Baptist Seminary ascribe states that:

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

In multiple places Dean Gonzales makes reference to oral prophecy in the early New Testament church as “canonical.”  If this is so, I cannot see how to avoid the conclusion that not only the Holy Scripture, but also every genuine prophecy ever uttered would constitute the Canon.  The Confession, at least, would seem to limit canonicity to those prophecies that the Holy Spirit saw fit to inscripturate.

Similarly, the Bible warrants application of the term inspiration to the Scriptures, the written product of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Whether we are justified in using “inspired” for other manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7) is not readily obvious, to me at least, and his doing so tends to give Dr. Gonzales’ argument a certain circularity, assuming facts not in evidence.

Again, to the Confession, the Bible is the only “infallible” rule.  Contrary to the dean’s assertion or assumption and (perhaps) even Dr. Grudem’s understanding, even Old Testament oral prophecy was not “infallible” in the way that the Scriptures are.

If OT era prophecy were infallible, how could there be false prophecies?  I find it odd that verses such as Deut. 18:22 are often cited to suggest that OT era oral prophecy was inerrant or infallible, when it demonstrates precisely the opposite:

“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.”

We are never similarly warned to watch out for “false Scriptures.”  In both the OT and the NT era, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).  The Word of the Lord came to the prophet (Gen. 15:1, 1 Sam. 15:10, 2 Sam. 7:4).  In this last reference, Nathan received the Word of the Lord precisely because Nathan the prophet had spoken presumptuously to David earlier in the day (2 Sam. 7:3).  There is no great intertestamental shift involved that would allow for similarly presumptuous utterances in the NT era, such as the instructions to Paul not to go to Jerusalem, which he sees fit to ignore (Acts 21:4).

The OT prophet was responsible to report the Word of the Lord accurately, though he could fail to do so.  The Scriptures, on the other hand, by being theopneustos are guaranteedcertified to be the Word of the Lord.  They are thus of a quality above and beyond that of oral prophecy, in any era.  This is why Peter specifies “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20, emphasis mine).  The distinction of two levels of prophecy: “Scripture-quality” and otherwise, does not originate with Dr. Grudem, but is apostolic.

Now, one specific line of argument calls for special mention.  In his part seven he makes a point about the word “mystery” (μυστήριον), which at first blush gives an impression of decisiveness and may in fact be persuasive to many people.  Yet I’m afraid it does not hold up to scrutiny.

As he makes the point succinctly, I will simply quote him:

What I really want to call your attention to is the fact that according to 13:2 and 14:2 both prophecy and tongues reveal “mysteries.” The term “mysteries” is not referring to garbled nonsense. That term translates the same Greek word that Paul used in Ephesians 3 to speak of the canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets. And according to these passages in 1 Corinthians, these “mysteries” are “known” through the gift of prophecy (13:2) and they are “spoken” through the gift of tongues (14:2).

This argument fails in at least three ways:

1.  In bringing in Ephesians 3:3-9, Dean Gonzales commits a neat little fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer.”  The red flag that should tip us off to this is his phrase “the same Greek word that Paul used…to speak of…”  This is meant to imply that the Eph. 3 passage provides us the definition of the term μυστήριον, that is, that it refers to “canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets.”  But this semantic information is not carried by the single noun μυστήριον, but by an entire descriptive clause: “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” (v. 4).  This is not even a description of what a “mystery” in general is but specifically what Paul there calls “the mystery of Christ.”

The word “mystery” (μυστήριον) essentially denotes a “secret.”  The term was well known in the Greco-Roman world due to the plethora of “mystery religions” in which as part of the initiation, certain items of secret knowledge were imparted to the novice.  The practice has survived to this day in the arcana of societies such as the Freemasons, who possess a convoluted mythology which members are forbidden to reveal to outsiders.

Dean Gonzales simply overloads the word with extraneous meaning, as if he had reached into Eph. 3 with sticky fingers and pulled away half the context along with the noun.  Looking elsewhere, we come away with a more Ockham-friendly understanding that what μυστήριον conveys is the concept “secret” or something unknown or whose meaning is not easy to discern.

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)

“But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.” (Rev. 17:7)

In these two cases the “mystery” is the secret to what the visionary imagery symbolizes.  John saw some strange things, knew they meant something, but did not know what they meant, needed to have someone decipher them.

2.  This is what is happening in 1 Cor. 14:2.  Paul is pointing out that a message given in a tongue sounds strange to the hearers, who know it means something, but do not know what it means, and cannot know unless there is someone who can decipher them.

Paul gives us no excuse for not understanding this, because he restates his point multiple times. Verse 2 alone makes Paul’s meaning clear: the problem with one giving a message in tongues in the church assembly, the problem is “no one understands him.” Then he restates his point: “but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Dean Gonzales states that by “mystery” Paul is “not referring to garbled nonsense,” but the issue is not nonsense versus meaningfulness, but meaning that is hidden versus meaning that is known. That by “mystery” here Paul means a message with hidden meaning (due to being in a foreign language) is evident from the many ways he says it:

“…speaks not to men but to God” (2)

“no one understands” (2)

“speech that is not intelligible” (9)

“speaking into the air” (9)

“I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” (11)

“when he does not know what you are saying?” (16)

In short, the meaning of the word “mystery” in 1 Cor. 14:2 is made so abundantly clear within the context of the chapter itself, that giving preference to examples in remote context, theologically rich though they be, does not make exegetical sense.

3.  In 1 Cor. 13:2, Paul is talking about prophecy, not tongues, and so the concept of unintelligibility is not the issue.  Indeed, here he is making reference to “secrets” in the sense of deep, hidden, unrevealed knowledge.  This is clear because of his parallel of “all mysteries” and “all knowledge”:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…”

But does this verse justify Dean Gonzales assertion that “Paul portrays NT prophecy as a revelatory gift by which the one who possess the gift comes to understand ‘all mysteries’”?  That Dean Gonzales would make such a claim is rather surprising in view of the fact that he knows perfectly well that in verses 13:1-3 Paul is engaging in hyperbole.  He argues as much within this very discussion: “Paul’s reference to the “tongues … of angels” may simply be a form of hyperbole.”  Indeed, it is clearly hyperbole to suggest that any mortal human being would “understand all mysteries and all knowledge.”  This is a hypothetical gift of prophecy taken to the nth degree, not any reasonable expectation of what a given prophecy from a given church member would entail on a given Sunday.

Dean Gonzales then is very seriously overstating the nature of oral prophecy in the New Testament church.  It may well be opening up secrets of a sort.  Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 14:24-25:

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

But these secrets are not theological or doctrinal truths, hidden in the recesses of God’s eternal plan, things which, once revealed, find their place in God’s Canon, as a “prophecy of Scripture,” alongside the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John.  They are individual details of a particular person’s life, revealed to that person, through the Holy Spirit for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3) or else to convict regarding “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This is what Jesus does in John 4:17 when he says to the Samaritan woman:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

To which she replies:

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Jesus’ words to her, while perfectly true, and divinely authoritative, were for her specifically, not for the Canon, even though a few of the details occur as recorded speech within a canonical gospel.  Jesus told her more, things which are not reported by John, since the woman says Jesus “told me all that I ever did.”  They are important for her, but not “canonical” for the people of God.

On another occasion when Jesus gave a prophecy, he revealed future secrets of Peter’s life, but when asked about John’s life, Jesus said “what is that to you?”

Yet these are acts by which Jesus, prophesying through the Holy Spirit, spoke faith-enhancing words to individuals, none of which constituted temporary stand-ins for Scripture, the Canon being as yet incomplete.  Even these were not in the same class as Scripture, not “canonical.”

This brings us to the main problem with Dean Gonzales’ conclusion that prophecy ceased as the Canon closed: it contradicts the express teaching of Jesus.  Jesus prophesied, and intending that His church also would prophesy, He sent the Holy Spirit:

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

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.” (John 14:11-12)

“Whoever believes in” Jesus, is considerably broader than just those living prior to the close of the Canon.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Canon.

And Jesus did just as He said, pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with the promise:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

The difference between OT era and NT era is not thus “canonical” versus “non-canonical”: there has always been this distinction.  It is not “infallible” versus “fallable,” since a prophet could always (though should never) speak presumptuously.  The significant difference, post Pentecost, is what we may call the “democratization” of prophecy.  In pouring the Spirit on “all flesh” so that even the most humble believer may prophesy, prophecy is no longer tied to the theocratic functioning of the nation of Israel.  While the prophet still has responsibility to speak the revelation accurately, there is, in the church, no death penalty for failure to do so.  In fact we are explicitly told “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  Our instruction is to “test everything” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

“Good,” the apostle calls it, to which we may “hold fast.” This is not something to be rejected, but among the good works which we are told to stir up (Heb. 10:24) not to douse (1 Thes. 5:19).

That is the importance of Cessationist arguments such as Dean Gonzales’, to which, I respond, I hope, with equal respect and gentleness, yet with conviction that it does not teach what the Lord and the apostles in fact taught regarding prophecy and tongues.  To teach that prophecy and tongues have ceased in the Body of Christ, if in fact they have not ceased, is to discourage our brothers and sisters from the good that Our Lord has intended them to do.  Therefore, any argument that they have ceased had better be significantly more decisive than the one we have been examining.

Whence Tongues?

By Marv

The vital and dynamic interconnection we believers share with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit (since Pentecost) is patterned after that between the Father and the incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit (John 14:11,20). This is by divine design. The works we are empowered to do through this union, from loving our brothers and sisters to effectual prayer—and including “spiritual gifts” are likewise the same works as the Father did through the Son (John 14:12), now distributed through the Body (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Is there not one exception? The gift of tongues evidently appears only after Jesus’ ascension, at the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Though we cannot say with certainty that Jesus never spoke in tongues, the textual evidence appears to suggest that tongues is new with the pouring out of the Spirit. This difference between Jesus’ ministry and the church’s ministry correlates with another difference. Jesus was “sent only to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). The Church is sent to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

Now Christ’s overall ministry has always been for the nations as well as to the Nation of Israel.

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49:6)

There are foreshadowings of this ultimate purpose in the gospels. Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) on the occasion of Greeks coming to see Him (vv. 20-21). Yet this phase of ministry does not engage in earnest until the baton is passed, as it were, to the Church as Christ’s Body, after Christ’s bodily departure from the earth.

That the form of this added charisma, tongues, should correspond so clearly to the expansion of Christ’s mission from the Nation to the nations is more than suggestive that in itself it carries a meaning. It is called a “sign” after all; it signifies something. That the impartation of human languages evokes the confusion of tongues at Babel is also hard to miss. I think this is perfectly deliberate, and I want to explain how I think this works.

If we compare Babel with Pentecost as to their relative places in the outworking of God’s plan of redemption, we find each one at a corresponding and in some ways inverse pivot point. The first eleven chapters of Genesis, far from being a mere string of Hebrew folktales, threaded like so many beads at the beginning of the Torah, lay the groundwork for the rest of the Bible. These chapters communicate two major elements, without which nothing in the remainder of the Scriptures would make much sense. The first is the introduction of the problem, sin, human rebellion to the Creator. The second is the first steps undertaken by the Creator to effect redemption.

We see in Genesis 1 God’s method of creating by dividing. The Babel account is not so much a “curse” as a hindrance to man’s collective ability, in order to restrain his descent into utter ungodliness. It is redemptive, or an element in the redemptive plan. It is a divide and conquer plan. By confusing the languages of men, He creates nations. Once He has divided mankind into nations, He proceeds to create a Nation for Himself. That Nation, in turn, will one day serve to bring redemption to the nations.

Beginning with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12) God builds a people, and with the exodus and the giving of the Law, He constitutes them a nation, His Nation. This is all ultimately for the nations (Gen. 18:18), but for a period of time the nations—the Gentiles—are segregated from the Nation by the Law. Understand that our word “Gentiles” is simply a rendering of the Hebrew word for “nations” (goyim).

It hardly needs pointing out that a major ongoing theme throughout the Old Testament is the separation of Israel from the Gentiles. This theme of separation begins with Abraham, just after the account of Babel and continues on through the Gospels up to the inauguration of the Church’s mission to the “all nations.” Then there is a shift, a radical change in orientation.

I picture this as a 90 degree shift. If the various nations are likened to parallel lines, such as in the grain of wood, then OT Israel operated on a national orientation, along the grain. The Church, by contrast, is like a line cutting across the grain, in trans-national orientation, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9).

The book of Acts narrates the beginnings of this shift in orientation. It is one of the main themes of the book, which begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. In chapter one Jesus sets the tone: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (v. 8). In chapter two, they do receive power, just as Jesus said they would, and they proceed, in fits and starts to fulfill Christ’s mandate to be a “light to the nations.”

It can be no mere coincidence that the moment of this shift is signaled by a phenomenon that features the praises of God being voiced in that languages of the nations (Acts 2:5-6). Babel produced the inability to speak in one tongue, Pentecost produced the ability to speak in many tongues. Babel was the starting point of the national orientation, in which God would plant His Nation. Pentecost was the end point of that orientation, and signaled the transition to a trans-national orientation, in which Israel was one nation among many (Eph. 2:11-17).

This phenomenon of Spirit-empowered utterance was new, in that it appeared in trans-linguistic form, but Spirit-empowered utterance was nothing new, as a perceptible evidence of the Spirit coming on a person for service had been seen in the past:

When he [Saul] turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. (1 Sam 10:9-10)

Were the disciples at Pentecost also among the prophets? Peter stood up on that day and directly declared this to be so (Acts 2:17-18). Though the phenomenon was “tongues” on this occasion, it was a manifestation of the prophetic promise of the New Covenant. Some two decades later (in Paul’s first letter to Corinth), we see that it was not a one-shot phenomenon, but remained and became part of the regular practice of the church (1 Cor. 14:26), attested to by Paul’s own use (v. 18), though it was not without controversy, apparently (v. 39).

Tongues functions in some sense as a “sign,” to unbelievers, Paul states (1 Cor. 14:22). I don’t think it is quite justified to specify as some do, to unbelieving Jews, but as we have seen, the form itself of the gift is a a declaration that the Spirit has been given also to the Gentiles (Acts 10:45-46), and would thus serve as part of what provokes Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).

To say it is a “sign” is not to invoke the whole “temporary “sign-gift” construct. The sign-ness of tongues does not appear to express the totality of its usefulness. With it God is praised, with it the Church may be built up. We do not have much Scriptural narrative demonstrating an evangelistic use, but it would be surprising if this were not in the picture, and contemporary anecdotal evidence suggests it is. It is not just “an attestation to the validity of new revelation” or some such concept. At any rate, is a “sign for unbelievers” likely to be without use, as long as there are plenty of unbelievers to go around?

John 14:12 and Company

By Marv

In this post I wish to make a simple point about John 14:12, a verse we have referred to often as foundational to our understanding of “spiritual gifts.”  I want to focus on the phrase “whoever believes in me,” as this is key to understanding what Jesus was teaching here, as well as what John intended to convey in his gospel. 

That phrase is far from unique, and in fact it fits into a major theme in that gospel.  The exact same phrase, and variations of that phrase occur throughout the book, and an examination of these clearly demonstrate that what Jesus says here about doing the same works as He is applicable to all believers, not merely the eleven in the room with Him that evening, not merely the apostles and close associates, not merely Christians of the first century, not merely those living before the close of the Canon.

The verse is neither obscure nor insignificant, and even bears the attention-grabbing prefix: “Truly, truly, I say to you.”

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.  (John 14:12)

These works Jesus refers to include much, much more than “spiritual gifts”: prophecy, healing, and such, but these are certainly included.  The works, Jesus states, back up His words and are with them a basis for faith (John 14:11).  Thus confirmation of the message of salvation is not relegated to any purported category of “sign gifts,” but to His works in general, works that, according to our Lord, will be done by “whoever believes” in Him.

Let’s look at that phrase.  In the Greek it is an articular infinitive:

ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme) “the (one) believing in me”

Variations include:

A.  πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (pas ho pisteuōn eis eme)  “all the (one) believing in me”

B.  ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (ho pisteuōn en auto) “the (one) believing in him”

C.  πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto) “all the (one) believing in him”

D.  ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν (ho pisteuōn eis ton huion) “the (one) believing in the son”

E.  ὁ πιστεύων  (ho pisteuōn) “the (one) believing”

   

There are many other related expressions in this theme, but I list those with identical or near identical wording. 

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him [πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto)] may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto)] should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Whoever believes in him [ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (ho pisteuōn en auto)] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

Whoever believes in the Son [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν (ho pisteuōn eis ton huion)] has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)] shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [ὁ πιστεύων  (ho pisteuōn)] has eternal life. (John 6:47)

Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26)

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:44-46)

It is sometimes said that even if we are not told that spiritual gifts will cease during the church age, we are not told they will continue either.  It looks to me as if that is exactly what our Lord tells us in John 14:12.

Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts

This is a guest post by T.C. Robinson, blogger at New Leaven and he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and a Master’s degree with an emphasis in New Testament Greek

Spiritual gifts are those special capacities imparted to believers by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and the good of the Body of Christ (1 Pet. 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:7).

In verse one, Paul uses the term πνευματικῶν, which may be translated either “spiritual people” or “spiritual gifts.”  But the consensus in light of the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 fits better with “spiritual gifts.”

But from verses 4-11, Paul uses another word, χαρίσματα, “grace gifts.”  For example, our English world charisma or charismatic is derived from this Greek word.

However, these Corinthian believers were calling attention to themselves in their use of the gifts—like many today—and Paul had to take both in a corrective and prescriptive approach, as reflected in chapters 12-14.

Paul begins this section with these verses:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 12:1-3)

Notice how Paul quickly switches to χάρισμαcharisma, from πνευματικόςpneumatikos.  The reason: the Corinthians were bringing attention to themselves with the use of πνευματικός–we are “spiritual people” because we have all these “spiritual gifts” (v.1).

Paul is not impressed.

In fact, to show his disapproval, Paul uses χάρισμα to call attention to the source of the gifts – they are “grace gifts” (v. 4).

In the end, according to Paul, the real evidence of the Spirit in us is not “the gifts” he bestows but the love that blossoms – hence, 1 Corinthians 13.

The Spirit of Jesus and the Works of Jesus

by Scott

I believe that one of the most essential things to grasp in regards to our understanding of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

What do I mean?

Well, for many, especially specific groups that might be identified as sects or cults, they only recognise the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father. And, because of this, they de-personalise Him simply recognising that He is a kind of extension of God the Father, His power-force at work in the earth.

Such theology might remain in tact if we only had the Old Testament on which to build our theology. But one important pneumatological aspect the New Testament shows us is that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. I believe this has bearings on two major theological areas: 1) the personal nature of the Holy Spirit and 2) the divine nature of Jesus.

The Spirit is no longer simply identified as the Spirit of the the Father, but also of Christ. And I believe this comes against the notion that He is simply a force (though there are points to consider with regards to the Spirit’s personality). And this also indicates what kind of nature Christ has, the divine nature just like the Father, since the Holy Spirit is His Spirit as well.

But where does Scripture identify the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus?

And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:7)

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:19)

And it is important to also look at Jesus’ discourse on the Spirit in the whole of John 14-16. Though the Father would be sending the Spirit (i.e. John 14:26) we also see that Jesus taught that He would, likewise, be the sender of the Spirit from the Father:

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

There is a differentiation from the Father, though not a complete disconnect, and a distinct connection of the Spirit with the Son. This is crucial within the Trinitarian framework.

But why such an emphasis on Jesus’ sending of the Spirit and the Spirit being identified as the Spirit of Jesus? Because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, would continue the exact same work that Jesus initiated upon His arrival. This is why Jesus could say: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:18). And Luke could start out his second volume, Acts, with these words: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.

The Spirit Himself, who was both the Spirit of the Father and Son, would be sent to continue the work that Jesus was sent to originally do. But whereas the work of the Son was limited in His incarnation, the Spirit would now indwell and empower the entire company of God’s people to accomplish the same ministry and works of Jesus. Going back to John:

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. (John 14:12)

Now, I am aware of what I might term as the ‘selective group’ argument and the ‘time limit’ argument. What do I mean by these two terms?

Well, the ‘selective group’ argument states that these words of John 14:12 were only expected of the original twelve. But I’m not sure that is a very defendable position and we could simply start by pointing out that the verse utilises these words: whoever believes in me. But, maybe for some, it’s not as simple as that. So let’s move on.

Here is where the fallacy lies for some with regards to John 14:12. When we think of the ‘works of Jesus’ from this passage, at least for many, they jump to think specifically of healings and miracles. Of course, this passage does teach that those who believe will do greater works. But I don’t believe this is a qualitative statement, but rather a quantitative statement, since you can’t get much greater than the Son of God Himself in all His varied works.

Thus, some make that ‘jump’ that identifies the ‘works of Jesus’, at least in the context of John, as healings and miracles. Now, the works of Jesus do include healings and miracles, but they also include proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, mercy on the poor in spirit, compassion for the hurting, washing feet of our sisters and brothers, loving our enemies, words of knowledge, lovingly touching the outcasts, and so much more.

So, here is the point. There really is no ‘selective group’ in regards to the varied works of Jesus. We have got to stop identifying this statement as only referring to the ‘sign gifts’ or whatever we want to term them. This statement is much broader than that. It goes across the board with the works of Jesus.

But, if we want to reduce this statement to such specific acts of healings, miracles, signs, wonders, etc, then we have to recognise that quite a few others were used in just these such things beyond the twelve. Such examples are:

  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11)
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Corinthians believers (1 Corinthians 12:8-10; ch.14)
  • The Galatian beleivers (Galatians 3:5)

And by no means is that a complete list, nor if we listed every single biblical instance of these following Christ’s ascension does that mean that we have then identified every such act. Even Jesus did a lot more than was recorded in Scripture (John 20:30-31). I expect the same was true of His followers.

But one final note connecting back to the original passage quoted from John 14:12. Read the rest of John 14-16, since that is the fuller context. For those who want to argue that Jesus was only speaking to the twelve, notice how many times the language is much larger than the twelve, referring to the whole company of believers to come. Do we not see even these words below as relevant to us today?

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:13-17)

Now I am quite fine to identify that Jesus was initially speaking to the twelve. But did Jesus expect all of these words to stop there? Can we really invest in the belief that this was for twelve and the twelve alone?

Ah, but what about the ‘time limit’ argument. Many will easily recognise that others in the ‘New Testament times’ were being used in such gifts of the Spirit. But sometime at the turn of the second century, possibly following John, the apostle’s, death, some of these Spirit-gifts came to an end. They had exhausted their purpose, at least their purpose for being normative in the life of the church.

But again, this thinking is very reductionistic. Why would we expect some portion of Jesus’ ministry to continue, say two-thirds or three-fourths or even 95%, but not all of it? Oh, I know the many arguments from varying passages and theological perspectives. And I guess I cannot address every twist and turn of the cessationist perspective here in this short post. But do we really expect any part of Jesus’ ministry to have ended? Or do we really expect any part of Jesus’ ministry to have become ‘non-normative’? Mercy and teaching and gentleness are for the regular life of the body. Prophecy and healings and words of wisdom are not. Huh?

Remember, Luke started off his volume two by saying his volume one recorded all that Jesus began to do (Acts 1:1). So Acts kicks off with an expectation for things to continue and you have a church launching out into the works, all the works, of Jesus. They stepped out with mercy, compassion, serving, prayer, praise, teaching, evangelism, prophecy, healings, miracles, and even something Jesus probably never participated in, tongues and interpretation.

Remember, the Spirit who is activating these very works, again, all of these works, is the very Spirit of Jesus. You could expect nothing less, absolutely nothing less than the exact things Jesus walked in. Why? Because this is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It’s really as simple as that.

Jesus comes doing the things of the Father (John 5:19). He even announces that if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9). And so the Spirit comes initiating in Christ’s people the exact same things that Jesus started out with. And so the church, empowered by the Spirit, should be able to state, ‘We only do the things that Jesus did. If you have seen us, you have seen Jesus.’ If only that were our testimony more regularly.

And this is across the board. Not just with the fruits of the Spirit, but also with gifts of the Spirit. Not just with ‘signs and wonders’, but also with serving and washing feet.

The Father and Son sent the Spirit for a purpose. To help empower the entire body of Christ to accomplish the entire work of Christ across the entire planet. At times, it will involve laying our hands on the sick and seeing them restored. I remember a friend of mine who laid his hands on another young man’s hands that were filled with warts. He asked in Jesus’ name for the hands to be cleared, and when he removed his hands following the prayer, there was not a trace of warts. It softened that young man’s heart. But at times, it will involve serving a bowl of hot soup to a hurting and homeless refugee with a word of kindness. Both communicate the heart of Jesus. Both are wrapped up in the works of Jesus.

So let us look to see the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself empower us to serve with the works of Jesus, however that may look today and tomorrow. We have a mission to accomplish and we will not complete it effectively apart from the Spirit’s work. We will not walk in the works of Jesus, in all their varied aspects, without the Spirit of Jesus Himself.