Healing and Working of Miracles
Now to look at the gifts of healing, and of working of miracles. These gifts were given to authenticate the apostles and their message. Paul wrote, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (2 Cor.12:12). Signs and wonders (i.e. miracles of all types) were the signs of an apostle! This is again revealed in Heb.2:3,4, where it is said of those who heard the Lord Jesus (the apostles): "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will". And in Mk.16, where Jesus spoke of the miraculous signs that would be done in his name (vss.17,18), it says, in fulfilment of this, "And they [the apostles, according to vs.14] went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (vs.20). In the book of Acts, too, we see this borne out (e.g. Acts 2:43; 4:33; 5:12). Gifts of healing and miracles authenticated the apostles. If these gifts were given generally to many other Christians, they would not have been signs of the apostles!
Now, it is certainly true that Stephen and Philip (who were not apostles) also healed and performed miracles at times (Acts 6:8; 8:6,7). But the apostles, through laying on of hands, could impart miraculous gifts (2 Tim.1:6; Acts 8:14-18); and they had laid hands on both these men (Acts 6:5,6). This also explains how others, at times, had these gifts (1 Cor.12:28). But, as we saw from Acts 8:13-18, those who, through laying on of the apostles' hands, were given certain miraculous gifts, could not, in turn, impart them to others; and so, with the passing of the apostles and those upon whom they had laid hands, these gifts ceased. They are not given today.
In addition to the evidence given above, there is yet more: one simply has to compare the gift of healing, in the New Testament, with the so-called "gift of healing" many Charismatics claim to have today, and one will see that what passes for this gift today is a farce. The apostles healed with a word or a touch–Acts 9:32-35 (no screaming, shouting, pushing, etc., as seen today in Charismatic circles!); the healings were instantaneous and complete–Acts 3:2-6 and 9:34 (no-one was sent home having been told that the healing would follow later, or that it would be gradual); when the Lord granted this gift to them, all were healed–Acts 5:16; 28:8-10 (none were "passed by" in the "healing lines," or told to return another day); etc. Modern-day Charismatic "healing services" bear no resemblance to what we read in the Scriptures.
Does all this mean that the Lord does not heal today? By no means! The Lord, according to his sovereign will, can and does heal people today; but no men today have the miraculous sign gifts mentioned in the New Testament. What must a believer do today, when he is sick? The answer is given in Jas.5:14,15!
Finally, we must examine the claim that the gift of tongues is for today.
What was the purpose of tongues-speaking in the early Church? It has already been pointed out, when Acts 2 was examined, that speaking with tongues was a sign to the Jews: firstly, a sign to them that the Gospel of Christ would be proclaimed to all nations under heaven, and not only to Israel (Acts 2:4-11); and secondly, a sign of impending judgement upon Israel (1 Cor.14:21,22). This is evident from the words, "In the law it is written," and "this people" (vs.21), and is a reference to Isa.28:11,12; the word "law" sometimes being used to refer to all the writings of the Old Testament, and not to the five books of Moses alone. Tongues were for a sign, to the unbelieving Jews, of impending wrath, which came upon them in 70 Ad when the Romans besieged Jerusalem, in fulfilment of various prophecies (such as Lk.21:20-24).
But, as we learn from 1 Cor.12:10,28,30, and various verses in 1 Cor.14, the gift of tongues could also be useful, to a limited extent, as a revelatory gift, for the edification (when interpreted) of believers. As Acts 2:11 tells us, those who spoke with tongues declared the wonderful works of God; but only those who knew the language could profit from it. For others to profit, the gift of interpretation of tongues was needed. For this reason, in 1 Cor.14 Paul stated that, in the church of Corinth, none were to speak with tongues in the service unless the tongues were interpreted (vss.2,4,5,6,9,12,13-19,21-28). Only in this way could this gift edify the church. If the tongues were not interpreted, they were of no use whatsoever to other believers.
Throughout the chapter, Paul makes it clear that the gift of prophecy was a greater gift than that of tongues (e.g. vss.1-6,22-33). Why? The answer is simple: the one who prophesied spoke in the common language of the people he was addressing, and in this way the church was edified; whereas the tongues-speaker spoke in an unknown language (vss.2-6,9,12,18,19,22-25,31). For this reason, Paul commanded that the tongues had to be interpreted, and that if there was no interpreter, the tongues-speaker had to keep silent (vss.5,13-16,27,28). When interpreted, tongues were similar to prophecy; but without interpretation, they were useless in the church.
In vs.39, Paul wrote, "covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues." The Charismatics are very fond of this verse, hurling it at those who say that the Scriptures do not support prophesying and tongues-speaking today. But they have taken the verse out of the entire context of chapters 12-14. Both these gifts were given to some within the early Church, before the completion of the New Testament; they were not to be forbidden at that time; but they were only temporary, and were to cease before the end of the first century and the completion of the New Testament. We have seen this to be the case with regards to prophecy already; but what about tongues? How do we know this gift has ceased?
Firstly, as a sign to the Jews of impending judgement, tongues would not be necessary once that judgement had come–which it did in 70 AD.
Secondly, as a sign that the Lord was going to draw people from all nations unto himself, tongues would not be necessary once this fact became obvious–which it did before the end of the first century, when there were churches of Christ scattered throughout the Roman Empire, and more were being established all the time.
Thirdly, as a revelatory gift, tongues were no longer necessary once the Scriptures were complete. 1 Cor.13:8 was a prophecy: "whether there be tongues, they shall cease". As with the other revelatory gifts, they were to be replaced with something better. When? The answer is given in vs.10: "when that which is perfect is come." As was shown when the gift of prophecy was examined, "that which is perfect [or complete]" is the completed written revelation–the New Testament. With the completion of the Holy Scriptures before the close of the first century, the gift of tongues ceased. There was no further need for it. There was no need for divine revelation to be given by this means to the churches, for the complete Word of God was now in written form.