For the next several weeks we are going to be looking at the subject of Preterism and Spiritual Gifts. Now you might ask how these are connected? I believe that only if we understand Preterism can we correctly understand Spiritual Gifts. Preterism is an eschatology; it is a theological view of the end times. But to understand preterism, we must have an understanding of hermeneutics, particularly the area of audience relevance.
In order to properly understand the spiritual gifts, we must know what time it is. We must understand that we are not living in what the Bible calls, "this age." "This age" ended over two thousand years ago. And when "this age" ended, so did spiritual gifts.
Let's look at what the Bible says about spiritual gifts. Look with me at what Paul wrote to the Ephesians.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Ephesians 4:7 ESV
We might not see it in just reading this verse, but the uniform interpretation is that Christ has given different spiritual gifts to different believers. But this verse does not say that. This understanding must be imported from the parallel passages of 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 into the immediate context of verse 11.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, Ephesians 4:11 ESV
These are gifts given to the first-century church to minister to the body. Let's return to verse 7.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Ephesians 4:7 ESV
"Grace was given"—the word "grace" in our text is from the Greek word charis, an abstract noun that can be very general in its meaning. But when an abstract noun has an article, as it does here, a particular aspect of the noun is being stressed. In this context, it is referring to an enablement given to each believer to empower him or her for ministry. It is very closely connected with charisma which is a grace gift. Paul uses these two terms side by side in 1 Corinthians 1:4 and 7 and in Romans 12.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; Romans 12:6 ESV
The Greek word here for "gifts" is charisma which means "gift of grace." And the word "grace" is from charis. So, we see that Paul uses charisma (grace gift) as a particular manifestation of Yahweh's enabling charis (grace).
I think we can conclude, then, that Ephesians 4:7 is talking about spiritual gifts. Paul is not referring to the grace that saves but rather to the grace that equips each believer for service and ministry.
What exactly is a spiritual gift? What would your definition of a spiritual gift be? I define a spiritual gift as "a God-given capacity through which the Holy Spirit supernaturally ministers to the body of Christ." I get this from what Paul says about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV
Manifestation is phanerosis and has the basic idea of "making known, clear, or evident." This is what a spiritual gift is; it is a manifestation of the spirit, It is not your normal, natural abilities; it is a supernatural function.
John MacArthur defines spiritual gifts as "God-given channels in the believer sovereignly designed for every Christian through which the Holy Spirit ministers to the building up of the church." S. Lewis Johnson wrote that "Spiritual gifts are divine abilities for Christian service."
I agree with these men on the definition of spiritual gifts. We must keep in mind that spiritual gifts are "supernatural"; they are "channels through which the Spirit ministers" and they are "divine abilities." In other words, they are not natural. They are supernatural because they are manifestations of the Spirit.
Some of us have athletic ability, some of us have the ability to paint and to draw, and others of us have the ability to lead and excel in various functions of life. Those abilities are given to people all over the world whether they are believers or not. Like the rain, they come upon the just and the unjust alike. But spiritual gifts were given only to Christians, and that was something they never had before they became Christians.
There are three sections of Scripture that instruct us about spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul notes examples of 13 gifts. In verses 8-10 alone, he mentions 9 of them.
For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV
Here Paul lists word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Then in verses 28-29 he lists an additional 4.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 ESV
The four additional gifts are apostles, teachers, helps, and administrating. Then in Romans 12 Paul lists 5 additional gifts.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8 ESV
The additional five gifts are service, exhorting, giving, ruling, and mercy. Then in Ephesians 4 we have two more gifts.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, Ephesians 4:11 ESV
Here Paul adds the evangelist and the pastor-teacher. "The shepherds and teachers"—these two words are linked by a single definite article. This suggests that either Paul has only one group of ministers in mind or at least an overlapping of functions.
Taking all these references to spiritual gifts, we get a grand total of 20 various gifts listed in Scripture, and the purpose of all of them is to build up the body of Christ.
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, Ephesians 4:12 ESV
The purpose of these gifted men was to equip the saints so that they would do the work of the ministry, use their spiritual gifts, and build up the body of Christ. What happens when the building up of the body of Christ is complete? The gifts end (see next verse).
Should we restrict the gifts to only those listed in Scripture? C. Peter Wagner opts for an open-ended approach. He wrote that "I do not doubt that there are even more than 27 of them. Some might want to add the gift of music and make it 28. Or craftsmanship and make it 29. I ran into another gift recently which might be called the 'gift of names.'"
Where does it end? Could Gary, Garrett, and I possibly have the gift of sarcasm? Or maybe my wife has the gift of baby holding. Where does it stop? I think it should stop where the Scriptures do—with 20. Let's keep our emphasis on the Word of God and not on the individual. The Word of God must be our sole court of appeal in dealing with experience.
Spiritual gifts were not natural abilities or talents. Natural abilities and talents are shared by believer and unbeliever alike. An unbeliever can be a great musician, or have a good memory for names, or be an excellent teacher, but spiritual gifts came only as a result of salvation. Spiritual gifts were supernatural enablements given by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ministry.
There are basically three positions today in the Church on Spiritual gifts.
- All the gifts are for all believers today. This is the Pentecostal/Charismatic position.
- Some of the gifts have been removed (the miraculous ones) while the other gifts are for all believers today. This would be the Baptist and Reformed position.
- All of the gifts have been removed, therefore, there are no spiritual gifts today. This would be my position and the position of most Preterists.
The issue of whether or not all of the spiritual gifts are for today has caused much debate and strife in the body of Christ. There are biblically based groups who say that if you speak in tongues, then you are under demonic control and are not saved. On the other hand, there are groups who say that if you do not speak in tongues, then you are not saved.
Let's talk first about the Pentecostal/Charismatic position that all the gifts are still operative today. They say that if it happened in the New Testament, it should be happening in the church today. They believe this because they do not know what time it is. Are miracles the norm in Christianity?
One Pentecostal pastor wrote that "The responsibility of the Church to serve others did not end in A.D.70, nor did its responsibility to reach others. A Pentecostal Church ought to manifest the supernatural." Many years ago, when we were on vacation, we visited a church. The pastor said in his message that "The Bible is a book of miracles from beginning to end; therefore, we should expect miracles."
Are these pastors right? Should the Church today manifest the supernatural? Should we expect miracles? No! Miracles are not the norm; they are not indiscriminately strewn over every page of Scripture. But let me just say here that I would agree with that view if the supernatural that is manifested is love. I think that biblical love is supernatural.
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Luke 6:27 ESV
This is not natural; it is supernatural. And in this way the Church should manifest the supernatural.
A study of biblical history shows that there were basically only three periods when miracles occurred. There are large periods of history that are without recorded miracles. There are no miracles clustered around Abraham or David. John the baptizer did no miracle even though Yeshua said this of him:
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." Luke 7:28 ESV
We find miracles grouped in three great periods of history. The period of Moses and Joshua, the days of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Christ and the apostles. There are gaps of hundreds of years between these periods where we see no miracles.
The introduction of a new revelation brought the need of miracles to authenticate the message and the messengers. Miracles were God's testimony that those bringing in the new revelations were indeed His official representatives.
Moses introduced the Law to the newly formed nation of Israel. Miracles were given to introduce this era and to codify these new revelations. Elijah and Elisha were God's special prophets for a day of decadence in Israel's history. The worship of Baal had reached its peak. Elijah and Elisha stood for the revival of the prophetic era in an age of critical spiritual decline.
Miracles such as Mt. Carmel were given by God to draw Israel back to the institution of prophecy. In Christ, Yahweh became man. Obviously, proof was needed to substantiate that claim. The New Testament hangs on Christ and the apostles. Thus, in the life of Christ and the apostles, miracles heralded the new revelation.
This man came to Yeshua by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." John 3:2 ESV
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. John 14:11 ESV
By His miracles, Christ informed the disciples of who He was and of the power He possessed. Miracles through the apostles proclaimed that the Almighty God was at work in the Church.
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
Miracles are not the norm; they are the exception. This becomes clear as we study the biblical history.
Are the modern charismatic gifts the same as we see in the New Testament? I submit to you that there is a definite lack of similarity. For example, are lame men today, who never walked, healed so that they can jump up and walk and leap? Do missionaries blind their opponents as Paul did? Do preachers preach the word to foreign audiences who hear what they are saying in their own languages? No, preachers today use an interpreter.
Do church leaders discern hypocrisy and pronounce the immediate death of members? Do evangelists amaze an entire city with miracles as Philip did? Are there entire multitudes healed by merely being in the shadow of the healer? No! So, I think that the position that all gifts are functioning today is wrong. What happened in the early church is not happening today.
The Baptist or Reformed position holds that some of the gifts have passed away but some of them are still here. They make a distinction between what they call Permanent, edifying gifts and Temporary foundational and sign gifts. The Bible has no text to say there are temporary gifts and permanent gifts. But the Scriptures do indicate that at least certain gifts were temporary.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 1 Corinthians 13:8 ESV
The text clearly says that tongues would cease at some point in time. And there are several Scriptures that hint at the fact that the signs and wonders were temporary.
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
In Hebrews 2:3, the main verb is past tense and the participle ("was attested") is relative in time to the main verb. The signs, wonders, and miracles are referred to as being in the past—at the time of the writing. All this was past at the time Hebrews was written.
The voice of history confirms the temporary nature of the signs. If the miraculous signs of the New Testament age had continued in the Church, one would expect an unbroken line of occurrences from apostolic times to present. The miraculous signs of the "last days" ceased when the last days ceased. Chrysostom, a 4th century theologian, testified that the miraculous gifts ceased so long before his time that no one was certain of their characteristics.
Those who separate the gifts between temporary and permanent break it down something like this: They separate the temporary gifts into two categories. One deals with Foundational gifts which would be apostles and prophets, the word of wisdom and knowledge, and discerning of spirits. The other contains the sign gifts which would be miracles, healing, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
What they call the permanent edifying gifts are broken down into Gifted men; evangelist, and Pastor-teacher as well as the Gifts of teacher, faith, helps, governments, mercy, ministry, exhortation, giving, ruling. They would say that these 11 permanent edifying gifts are available today for all believers.
But are these gifts still given to believers? Most believers would say yes. But think about this: If spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, then when the Spirit manifests Himself in teaching, that teaching would always be true, accurate teaching and would never change. Does that make sense? Yahweh never changes, so the Spirit's teaching would never alter. If I had the gift of teaching, would I teach dispensationalism and then later teach Preterism? Would I teach Arminianism and later Calvinism? If teaching is a manifestation of the Spirit, the person with the gift would never change what they taught. And those in the first century never did change what they taught.
The third position and the one that I hold is that all the gifts ended in A.D. 70. Let me attempt to support my position. If we are going to correctly understand the New Testament, we must understand "The Transition Period." But I would say that most Christians have never heard of the Transition Period and have no clue as to what it is.
The Transition Period began on Pentecost in A.D. 30 with the birth of the Church, and it ended at the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70 and the end of the Old Covenant Age. During the Transition Period, the Church grew from infancy to maturity. Yahweh worked in the growing Church through miraculous gifts and spoke to His prophets to bring His Church to maturity. A spiritual house was being built in which Yahweh would dwell.
This was a time of change and growth; it was a time of transformation from the Old to the New. The old things of Judaism, the Old Covenant, faded out very slowly, and the New Covenant gradually phased in. It was a changing of the ages. All through the New Testament we see these two ages in contrast as "this age" and the "age to come."
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 ESV
The Complete Jewish Bible says,
One can say something against the Son of Man and be forgiven; but whoever keeps on speaking against the Ruach HaKodesh will never be forgiven, neither in the `olam hazeh nor in the `olam haba. Matthew 12:32 CJB
Jewish theology maintains that time was divided into two great periods—the Mosaic Age (olam hazeh) and the Messianic Age (olam haba). The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "olam haba," which means "the world to come."
The word "come" at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello which means "about to be." We could translate this as "the age about to come" (in the first century). The writers of the New Testament, therefore, saw the "olam haba" as very near.
The understanding of these two ages regarding when one ended and the other began is fundamental to interpreting the Bible. The ages did not change overnight; there was a Transition Period of forty years. During those forty years, the "this age" was fading away and "the age to come" was developing.
The New Testament writers lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers, the "age to come" was future but very near. The "this age" was about to end.
I said earlier that there were three periods of miracles. The first one was with Moses and Joshua and it lasted how long? Forty years! Yahweh supernaturally provided for the children of Israel during The Exodus period.
you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. Nehemiah 9:19-21 ESV
For forty years, then, the miracles continued, and Yahweh supernaturally provided for their every need. When did the miraculous provision of The Exodus period end?
And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. Joshua 5:12 ESV
When The Exodus period ended so did the manna. At the end of the forty years, the miraculous ended. This exodus period was a type! And the same was true for the anti-type—the second exodus period.
The type is the picture, the anti-type is the reality. A type is a real, exalted happening in history which was divinely ordained by the omniscient God to be a prophetic picture of the good things which He purposed to bring to fruition in Yeshua.
Israel went from type to anti-type by means of a second exodus. At the transfiguration Luke wrote:
who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:31 ESV
The word for "departure" is the Greek word exodos. There was another exodus that Yeshua was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. This was another forty-year journey, not a physical one, but a spiritual one. This second exodus was spoken of in the prophets.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. Isaiah 11:10-11 ESV
Isaiah 11:1-12 predicts the coming of Messiah's rule and the reuniting of the 12 tribes. This was to be accomplished by a second exodus.
When did this second exodus begin? To answer that we need to know when the first exodus began. It began at Passover! You'll remember that the first Passover was observed when Israel was about to be delivered from slavery in Egypt.
Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. Exodus 12:3 ESV
Who is the anti-type of the lamb? It is the Lord Yeshua. Passover was a type or picture of something much greater. It pictured the redemption of God's elect through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, the Lord Yeshua Ha'Moshiach.
The typical significance of the Passover is very clear in the New Testament writings. Probably no Mosaic institution is a more perfect type than this. The first Passover was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan, beginning Israel's exodus out of Egypt. Then almost two thousand years later, Yeshua the Christ was crucified on the 14th of Nisan, beginning the second exodus.
Therefore, the first and second exodus, the type and the anti-type, both began on Passover. Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan, The Exodus, was a type.
The Passover deliverance was not consummated until the children of Israel entered the promised land. The Passover began with the sacrificing and the eating of the Passover lamb (introduced in Exodus 12) while Israel was still in bondage. In Numbers 9:5, we find that they ate of it again while they are wandering in the wilderness. And then in Joshua, they entered the land.
And the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." And so, the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. Joshua 5:9-10 ESV
Throughout the history of Israel, the Passover recalled not only the sparing of the houses marked with the blood of the Passover lamb but also Israel's subsequent deliverance out of slavery in Egypt—a deliverance that was consummated forty years later in the crossing of the Jordan River. Once their redemption was consummated by their being in the promised land, only then were they truly redeemed from Egyptian bondage. This is true of the second exodus generation. Their redemption was not consummated until the Lord returned for His bride.
What event ended the first exodus period? The destruction of Jericho. Jericho stood at the entrance to the promised land. It was a fortified city that represented a serious challenge to Israel's claim to the land. Its fall telegraphed a message to all the world that God was the Lord of this people.
What marked the end of the second exodus? The destruction of Jerusalem. Nothing represented the old system better than the Temple. Here was where the presence of God dwelt. His presence assured them they were His people. But forty years after the Cross, in A.D. 70, believers fled the city of Jerusalem as the walls fell and the city was destroyed and burned.
Similar to the collapse of the walls in Jericho, the fall of Jerusalem's walls symbolized the entrance of the redeemed remnant into Christ's everlasting Kingdom. The believers were vindicated and revealed as "the sons of God" while judgment fell on the Jewish system which had rejected God as king. Believers now resided in the New Jerusalem which is the New Covenant.
Let's look at some comparisons between the two forty-year exodus periods. The first was preceded by physical slavery—the bondage of the Hebrews in Egypt. The second was preceded by spiritual slavery—man's bondage to sin and death. One introduced the first Passover with the blood of lambs. The other fulfilled the type with the sacrifice of the final Passover Lamb (Yeshua Ha'Moshiach). One brought God's people physical deliverance by crossing through the Red Sea. The other brought God's people spiritual deliverance by the working of the Cross of Christ. The first established a temporary covenant of God with the people He chose—the Old Covenant. The second established a permanent covenant—the New Covenant.
Fifty-five days after the first Passover in Egypt, The Law, written on tablets of stone, was given to the Nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, and three thousand people died. Fifty- five days after the final Passover was sacrificed, The Law, written upon the hearts of believers by the Spirit of God, was given to the "Israel of God" (2 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:10) and three thousand people received life.
Very few would disagree that the above points are fulfilments of the shadows given at the time of the exodus. But the correlation does not stop with the initial workings of the Exodus. It continues with the entrance into the land of temporal rest, forty years later. Just as the children of faith were allowed to enter into the temporal land of rest the first time, the children of faith in the generation directly following the Cross of Christ were given entrance into the eternal land of rest. With each covenant, a 40-year transition period followed the initial act of deliverance into the entrance of the land of promise.
During both periods, the people saw God's works for forty years (Heb 3:9; Acts 2:17-21). God manifested Himself to His people by signs and wonders. In the desert under Moses' leadership, daily manna, miraculous supplies of water or meat, and the appearance of the cloud and the fiery pillar revealed God's presence. In the transition period to the New Covenant, the apostles had special gifts of healing, prophecy, and tongues-speaking, which testified to the coming of the Kingdom of God and the destruction of the wicked (1 Cor. 14:22). In both exodus periods, the miraculous stopped when the exodus ended.
Paul is writing to saints during the transition period. During this time, the gifts were still operating. The end of the transition period marked the end of the age. We do not have, and therefore do not need, spiritual gifts today.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV
According to this passage, the gifts were to be used to bring the church from a state of infancy to adulthood. The word translated "mature" in verse 13 is teleion. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the body. Once the body is mature, the spiritual gifts are no longer needed. In this passage in Ephesians, maturity is defined as "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." This happened at the Second Coming.
There is a lot of confusion today about Spiritual gifts. Do you now know why that is? It is because the gifts were for the transition period, and when the transition period ended, so did they. This is why so many believers have no clue as to what their gifts are. They seek what does not exist—what they were not meant to have.
The talents and abilities that we have come from God and are to be used for His glory. God providentially leads, guides, and uses us for His glory. Spiritual Gifts were for the age of immaturity; they are no longer needed or given.
But I have good news for you. You can now stop wasting your time trying to figure out what you Spiritual Gift is and just be busy serving Him with all the talents and abilities He has given you.
Let me just add here that there are some full preterists who push the "audience relevance" principle (it was "written to them and not to us") to a hyper-application. In other words, they present the Bible as being merely history so that it lacks any present-day application to the believer.
Let me be clear that this full Preterist does not believe that the Bible is just history and lacks present day application. I surely would not be constantly encouraging you to read it if it was not relevant to us. But I do believe the Bible was written to a certain audience. We are not that audience. We must first seek to understand what it meant to them so that we can then see if what is being taught also applies to us.
From my perspective, unless I have strong reasons not to, I apply the principles of the New Testament to believers today. For example, I think that we twenty-first century American Christians are to walk worthy. I think that we are to be humble, that we are to love one another, and that we are to put others before ourselves. To me these things are written to the Church and are therefore timeless. But there is much in the New Testament that does not apply to us because we do not live in the Transition Period. Our text for today is a case in point. I do not believe that spiritual gifts are available today.
When we understand the transition period, we will understand that we live in "the age to come" and that many of the transition period problems do not apply to us. It is only when we know "what time it is" that we can know how the Bible is relevant to us. We are not looking for things we already have or trying to hold onto things that are past. In conclusion, we are not living in a day of "hope" but in a day of "have."