The 'Beroean Defends' featured image: a distant castle sitting atop a hill in the murky clouds

What about the missing gifts?

Asserting that God no longer expresses his grace to his people through direct miracles is not in any way reducing our expectations of what God does: through the dedicated prayers of his people there is a wealth of grace available to whomever requires it.

Prove it!

You’re a fan of The Beatles? Can you even name three of their albums?

We all have things that we care about, and sometimes that care can be expressed in quite negative behaviours towards other people. The above example of someone demanding that a person have a certain level of knowledge or commitment towards a thing to qualify as a ‘fan’ is one of the most ridiculed forms of what has become known as ‘gatekeeping’.


Paul’s opening statement to the Galatians is a fierce one:

I am astonished that you… are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. …The gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:6-12

Jude similarly has a strong line on the completeness of the revealed gospel: ‘I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude 3) When he says that it was ‘once for all’, he means to state that all that makes up the teachings of Christ (he calls it ‘the faith’) had already been laid out by the time that he was writing, and no further doctrines were going to be revealed from God.

Should we consider what these men are doing ‘gatekeeping’?

Gifts are a sign

When these men made statements about us not accepting any later revelation as being from God, they knew the weight of that commandment: it was one that they had had to break through themselves as former adherents to the Jewish faith. The writings that made up the Old Testament weren’t all produced at the same time, and so they needed a reliable way of understanding when God was speaking to them, and expose any charlatan trying to remake the laws of God in a way that is beneficial to only them. The method that became established was the demonstration of miracles. Moses and Joshua compiled the first five books of the Old Testament, ‘The Law’, on the authority of the many signs and wonders seen as the people of Israel came out of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.1

The rest of the Old Testament had oversight from the prophets, a loose organisation of those responsible for preaching God’s will to the people. The first figures in this tradition were Elijah and Elisha, whose ministries were also marked by many miracles.2 Even then, they were to be tested against God’s already established commandments to make sure they were not leading people astray.3 It was therefore quite a significant thing that Nicodemus said about Jesus when he addressed him at night: “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).

This principle of any new chapter in God’s revelation to people being marked by signs is also used by the writer to the Hebrews, who convinces his audience by saying that the content that would become the New Testament ‘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)

Are these gifts finished?

During our series on Spiritual Gifts, we defined spiritual gifts in terms of grace given to us that we might meet the specific needs of other Christians. We have seen here how the working of miracles is not just something that benefits the recipient, but also fulfils a secondary need of permitting God’s people to accept new teaching as coming from God. It is healthy for all Christians to act as ‘gatekeepers’ when it comes to new revelation about God: the principle passed down to us is that we should consider everything we learn as untrustworthy until proven otherwise. ‘[The Beroeans] received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.4 Even a messenger as reputable as Paul had the things that he said tested against the written Word of God (which, for the Jews in Berea, was the Old Testament) to ensure that he was not saying anything that did not accurately reflect God’s revelation of himself. They are commended for their ‘gatekeeping’!

Paul and Jude take us further, to say that there will not be further new revelation: that is to say, there will not be any more books added to the Bible. If miraculous events of healings, speaking in unlearned languages, prophetic foretellings and so on were to be expected, we would find ourselves in an uncomfortable clash of expectations regarding further revelation of God; in a tradition where miracles establish a route for new scriptures being given but the Bible being considered a completed book.

We should also not expect to see miraculous events in circumstances where they would be detrimental to God’s purposes. The apostles were more careful in their demonstrations of God’s power after they were misinterpreted by the Greeks in the town of Lystra, causing Paul and Barnabas to be mistaken as gods.5 They were distraught that anyone might claim they were gods with their own powers and the freedom to act as they pleased. Even though physical needs are important, spiritual gifts have their highest purpose in glorifying God, even more than helping in trouble in this world.

Diminished, but not gone

When we read about these gifts –including the miraculous ones– being given to each believer6 we could think this means we should expect to continue to be able to benefit from God’s grace in these miraculous ways. (Using the word ‘miraculous’ to mean ‘like the Old Testament miracles’; obviously all God’s empowering is supernatural and is miraculous in a strict sense.) So how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction about their spiritual purpose of validating the New Testament having ended? We say that these gifts remain, but with a diminished existence (‘diminished’ in our perspective of grandeur). God’s grace is still given to the church, but not in such a way that could cause confusion about the Bible still being added to. To understand what grace is being given, we should continue to understand what needs may be being met. Let’s consider three possible examples:-

Some present needs

Any church of God with multiple languages spoken by its members is dependent on translators, and the ability of those translators to correctly convey the heart of what has been said, as well as (sometimes quite technical) words into the other languages spoken. There is no gift of the preacher to those who cannot comprehend him unless an interpreter can transfer that knowledge well – and so interpretation is a distinct gift to that church. The languages were learned, just as the preacher prepared his preaching, but God’s use of that preparation to meet a need in a local church is very much the definition of a spiritual gift, albeit not as eye-catchingly miraculous as the untrained men of Galilee being heard in many languages at Pentecost.7

When the gospel is being preached in a town or village which has a long history of witchcraft and no Christian tradition, there is a need for a visible demonstration that the power of God can overcome curses, or can heal those who could not be healed by that witchcraft. The Christians arriving there to teach the faith they know as complete, but which is a new revelation from God to the audience, could expect to see miraculous events happen in answer to prayer when such miracles address the spiritual need in the town.

We all need words of wisdom given to us when our circumstances seem unclear, or we’re facing challenges that did not exist in the age the New Testament was written in. It’s good for any local church to know who God is enabling to give advice that captures the principles of the Bible and applies them skillfully to a modern context, or to the unique situation a needing believer faces.

Power of prayer

It is also worth examining to see if this lack of expectation of miracles means that we as God’s people are left to our own devices. We are not! Although Hezekiah lived hundreds of years after the miracle-filled ministries of Elijah and Elisha, he was healed by God during a time of sickness, and saw the armies of a superpower turned away from his cities. Both these events came after he earnestly prayed to God for deliverance, and both are to be understood as God’s miraculous response to those prayers. God has not changed who he is, and he is always able and ready to intervene on behalf of his people when they need defending.

Even more compelling is the fact that when James is encouraging believers in how to cope with the struggles of life, he uses Elijah as an example… but not as a man who did miracles, but as a man who prayed!8 God declared the stopping and starting of the rain, and Elijah took his word seriously enough to pray for it coming to pass. Genuine, faithful prayer, where we come to God humbly as those who have individual needs and through his Word have come to understand his character as the solution to those needs, will be answered and bring about peace in God.

Another time, when the disciples had failed to command an evil spirit out of a boy in the empowered, miraculous, manner that they had seen Jesus do time and again, they were given the explanation that “This kind cannot come out, except by prayer.”9 Asserting that God no longer expresses his grace to his people through direct miracles in the manner of the very earliest Christians is not in any way reducing our expectations of what God can and will do in the world to be the salvation of those who are in need: through the dedicated prayers of his people there is a wealth of grace available to whomever requires it.

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