Acts 19: the Ephesian Disciples
The fourth, and final, text from the book of Acts which is very dear to the Charismatics, is Acts 19:1-7. His question in vs.2, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" was addressed to twelve men (vs.7) who were true disciples (vs.1), believers (vs.2); men who had repented of their sins, and believed in Christ, when they had heard John the Baptist preach years before, and whom John had baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (vss.2-5); but they had not "received the Holy Ghost" (or, in the terminology found elsewhere, they had not been "baptized with the Holy Ghost"): in other words, they were saints in the Old Covenant sense, not the New.
These twelve men had been converted before Pentecost (as had the 120, and as had the household of Cornelius); they had been converted to Christ through the ministry of John the Baptist. But–again like the 120 before Pentecost, and the household of Cornelius before Peter preached to them, as well as the Samaritan believers before the apostles prayed for them–this little band of converts were saints in the Old Covenant sense, even though it was now years after the events of Acts 2, 8, and 19.
Any Jew converted after Pentecost received the Holy Spirit (was "baptized with the Spirit") immediately; any Samaritan converted after the events of Acts 8 received the Holy Spirit immediately; and any Gentile converted after Acts 10 received the Holy Spirit immediately. But anyone converted before these events was still a saint in the Old Covenant sense. This was the case with these twelve men; and it explains why Paul asked the question he did: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?"
When Paul laid his hands on them, "the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied" (vs.6). In other words, they "received the gift of the Holy Ghost", or were "baptized with the Holy Ghost." And why did they speak with tongues, and prophesy? This was solid and immediate proof that they had been given "the like gift", just as in the case of Cornelius, and of the Samaritans (see, for example, Acts 11:17).
Today, the proof that one has received the Holy Spirit (i.e. been converted) is not a visible sign. But the evidence of conversion is to be seen in a changed life, a transformed life, a "new" life in Christ (see Acts 2:41,42). These men also would have given such evidence; but they, in addition, gave evidence by speaking with tongues, and prophesying, as indeed did those described in Acts 2, 8, and 10.
The experience described here in Acts 19 was never intended by the Lord to be repeated throughout the Gospel age, or even in the twentieth century, as Charismatics assert. To the apostles was given the power to lay hands upon certain believers, that the Holy Ghost would come upon them in the manner described here; but nowhere do we read that this power was ever given to any others, to lay hands on believers for such a purpose. Not even Philip, who had miraculous gifts himself (Acts 8:6,7), could lay hands on others that they might receive the Holy Spirit–Peter and John, who were apostles, had to do it (Acts 8:14-17). It was "through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given" (Acts 8:18), and no-one else's! And naturally this meant that when the apostles passed from the scene, such miraculous gifts were no longer given to men.
The fact that only apostles could do this, effectively refutes the notion of those within the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement who believe that any Christian, "baptized in the Spirit", can lay hands on another Christian, enabling that Christian to receive "the baptism" as well. But now we must turn our attention to an examination of the more controversial gifts themselves, and show from Scripture that these ceased with the passing of the apostolic age and the completion of the New Testament writings.
Some gifts of the Holy Spirit are most definitely given permanently to the Church of Christ. Pastors, for example, are permanent "gifts" given to the Church, as Scripture makes abundantly clear (Eph.4:8,11; 1 Tim.3:1-7; etc.). But those gifts which can be termed sign gifts, and revelatory gifts, were temporary, and are no longer with us. These are listed in 1 Cor.12:8-10; and we shall occupy ourselves with the most controversial: apostles, prophets and prophecy, healing, miracles, and speaking with tongues.
In both Eph.4:11 and 1 Cor.12:28, apostles are named first in the list of spiritual gifts. In the early Church, there was no greater gift. Who were the apostles? They were originally the eleven (Acts 1:13); then Matthias was numbered with them (Acts 1:26), and these twelve are called "the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev.21:14). And in addition, there were a number of others who were called to be apostles; such as Paul (Rom.1:1), and Barnabas (Acts 14:14), and the brethren of the Lord (1 Cor.9:5; Gal.1:19); as well as a number of others. But the number was limited from the very start, as is evident from the following:
An apostle was one who had been a witness of the resurrected Christ. This is clear from Acts 1:22, 2:32, 10:40,41, and 1 Cor.15:4-9. In this last text, we are told that, after his resurrection, Christ was seen by over 500 brethren. The apostles who came after the twelve would have come from among these 500. Paul, who was not one of the twelve, nor among the 500 who saw the Lord after his resurrection, was nevertheless an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ because the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:17); so that he could say, "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" (1 Cor.9:1).
By its very nature, then, the apostolic office was not a permanent one in the Church. The apostles had all seen the risen Christ, and so the apostolic office could only continue until those men had died. Paul, in fact, says very pointedly that he was the last to have seen the risen Christ: "And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time" (1 Cor.15:8). Paul, then, was the last man called to be an apostle. And with the passing of that limited number of men, the apostolic gift passed from the Church. And this was the Lord's will. For Eph.2:20 says that the Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone". The apostles laid the foundation of the Church, as is seen from 1 Cor.3:10,11, as well as Eph.3:1-12, and Rev.21:14. A foundation is only laid once. Their ministry was unique, they laid the foundation by their preaching, and then the apostolic gift ceased.
What about the gift of prophecy? The prophet was one who spoke the very words of the Lord, by divine inspiration. There were prophets in the early Church, just as there had been prophets in the Old Testament (Acts 13:1; 15:32; etc.) The prophetic office was second only to the apostolic office in the New Testament (1 Cor.12:28; Eph.4:11). As with the apostolic gift, Charismatics claim that the prophetic gift is given today. But the Scriptures do not support this claim.
Again, Eph.2:20 is very relevant here: apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the Church. That the prophets mentioned in this verse are New Testament prophets, not Old Testament ones, is clear from the order: apostles first, then prophets (as in 1 Cor.12:28 and Eph.4:11). If Old Testament prophets were meant, they would have come first, as they were, chronologically, before the apostles. Besides, Eph.3:5 makes it clear that New Testament prophets are meant. The prophets, with the apostles, laid the foundation of the Church. Again, a foundation is only laid once. Before the New Testament was complete, they revealed to the churches, by divine inspiration, the same truths which are now contained in the writings of the New Testament. It must be remembered that the New Testament books were written over a period of many years. What were the churches to do until the New Testament was complete? The Lord gave them prophets, who spoke forth the truths which, in time, came to be written down. Thus were the churches fed, and instructed (Acts 14:32).
But the prophetic gift was only to continue until the New Testament was complete. This is clear from what has already been said; but there is further proof still, in 1 Cor.13:8-13. Vs.8 says, "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail"; meaning, they shall be rendered unnecessary, and superseded by something else. When, and by what? The answer is given in vss.9 and 10: "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." By the words, "we prophesy in part," is meant partially, piecemeal, little by little in each church. Prophecy (like the other temporary revelatory gifts mentioned) was done away "when that which is perfect" came. "That which is perfect" is that which is complete, and final. Charismatics usually say that this refers to the return of Christ; if this was true, then of course these gifts would not cease in the Church until the second coming. But "that which is perfect" is not Christ, or the return of Christ–it is the completion of the New Testament Scriptures! How may we know? Firstly, the gender is neuter: it does not say, "he who is perfect," but "that which is perfect." It is a thing, not a person. Secondly, it is contrasted with "that which is in part", which is plainly the partial revelation supplied by these revelatory gifts. Tongues, prophecy, and the gift of knowledge provided the early Church with partial revelation; but in the New Testament, the complete revelation is given. And this is confirmed by Rev.22:18, where we are forbidden to add to the revelation of God. With the writing of the book of Revelation, the Scriptures were complete. Nothing more was to be given. If the gift of prophecy was still with us today, there would be new revelations; for prophecy was nothing less than inspired utterance; it was, "Thus saith the Lord." We have, in the Bible, all the words of the Lord which he has been pleased to give to men. And yet Charismatic "prophets" are often heard to speak as if the Lord was speaking through them, giving new revelations! This is adding to the completed, written revelation, and is condemned by Rev.22:18 and elsewhere!
The gift of prophecy was given to certain people in the early Church, before "that which is perfect," the written revelation, was complete. In the pages of the Bible we have all the Word of God. There was no further need for the prophetic gift once the Scriptures were complete, and it was no longer given.