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The Temporary Gifts

Of the spiritual gifts mentioned specifically in the New Testament at least four seem to be temporary in nature: (1) tongues, the supernatural ability to speak in a known language which is unlearned (1 Cor. 12:10,29); (2) the interpretation of tongues, the supernatural ability to understand a person speaking in a known language which is unlearned (1 Cor. 12:10,30); (3) miracles, the supernatural ability to perform miraculous acts (1 Cor. 12:28,29); and (4) healings, the supernatural ability to heal any and all diseases (1 Cor. 12:9,28,29). Interestingly, in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, it is these same four temporary gifts that are emphasized as being most significant in God’s program for every believer today. Since God is unchanging in His person and power, He certainly could bestow any of the gifts upon an individual believer as He might choose, but the Scriptures are clear that these temporary gifts are not considered to be the norm in God’s purposes for today.

Five lines of evidence lead us to the conclusion that certain gifts were temporary in their nature.

1. The evidence of the New Testament writers. Hebrews 2:3-4 indicates that these miraculous gifts were given to confirm the apostolic messengers and the message of salvation in Christ, and that this purpose was completed in the life-time of the twelve apostles. 1 Cor. 13:8-13 indicates that certain gifts were temporary in nature and would cease, in contrast to God’s love which is eternal.

2. The evidence of Old Testament history. It is a fundamental assumption of the Charismatic movement that miraculous gifts are to be expected today because they existed in the early church. The history of the Old Testament clearly reveals that miraculous gifts were not always present, and in fact were evident in only two time periods (Moses, and Elijah and Elisha).

3. The evidence of the Book of Acts. Miraculous gifts appear on the biblical scene only during periods of prophecy and/or revelation. With the close of the canon of Scripture, the completion of the New Testament revelation, we would expect the cessation of the miraculous gifts.

4. The evidence of church history. The testimony of history is that certain miraculous gifts ceased with the passing of the apostolic age. For example, the gift of tongues. In the first three centuries after the apostolic age there are but two references to this gift. There are accounts of individual speaking in ecstatic utterances, but not of believers displaying the New Testament gift of tongues (i.e. the supernatural ability to speak in another language without having previously studied that language).

5. The evidence of the nature and purpose of the temporary gifts. For example, the gift of tongues was given as a sign to unbelieving Israel (1 Cor. 14:20-22) before God’s judgment upon the nation in 71 A.D.