Ask Steve: Sign Gifts








Question: Steve, what is your view on the gift of healing, miracles, tongues and the interpretation of tongues? Do these gifts still exist today? 

Answer: The gift of healing, miracles, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues were gifts that the Lord granted to the apostles and to certain Christians during the 1st century apostolic era. These are sign gifts, to be distinguished from other practical gifts such as administration, teaching, hospitality, discernment, etc. A noticeable debate of this age is whether these gifts are still operative today or if they had ceased during the 1st century apostolic era. If they had ceased, then what was their function during the apostolic age that is no longer applicable today? The Bible teaches that the sign gifts were meant to be temporary, to authenticate God’s new revelation, and to establish the foundation of the church.

Scripture and church history both testify that the miraculous sign gifts were not normative for Christians of all ages and were temporary in nature. The word of God became the self-authenticating, standard of revelation to teach and edify the saints thereafter, and has proven to be adequate for the instruction of the saints (2 Tim 3:16-17; Matt 5:17-18), showing that there was no need or purpose for the miraculous sign gifts in the church. Whenever these “sign gifts” appeared from time to time in history, they were always questionable versions that did not match the biblical description of what their appearances and functions were in the apostolic times, and were demonstrated by heretical groups who were preaching false gospels and false doctrine (such as the Montanists).

In the Bible, God granted His spokesmen the gifts of miracles, prophecy, and tongues to authenticate the gospel (Heb 2:3-4). It was meant to confirm the apostles (Acts 5:12; 2 Cor 12:12), and to confirm the messenger and messenger (Acts 4:29-30). In other words, the miraculous sign gifts were a visible demonstration that God was bringing in new prophetic revelation that was to be followed and binding thereafter. When the writing of the New Testament books were completed, the sign gifts were no longer mentioned in the latter NT books, and progressive church history (from the early church fathers through to the Reformation Period) shows that these miraculous gifts most likely ceased.

Finally, the sign gifts were meant to establish the foundations of the church. Peter had the gift of healing (Acts 3:6-8), which affirmed his message and helped to establish the church. Once God’s Word was authenticated, the New Testament words became self-authenticating, authoritative, and efficacious for building up the church in holiness and love, which is why the apostolic sign gifts ceased (1 Cor 13:8). This means that continuing revelation had also ceased when the New Testament canon closed with the writing of the book of Revelation (Rev 22:18-19). In other words, there was no longer any need for gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. Although God continues to perform miracles and healing throughout history to demonstrate His mercy, His glory, and to progress His sovereign purposes, He does not gift individuals (ex. prophets and apostles) like He did in biblical times to perform miraculous signs, speak in foreign languages, or speak inerrant prophecy for the sake of revealing new truths for the church.

Though there is still much confusion regarding the issue of tongues, interpretation, healing, prophecy, careful biblical interpretation and church history rightfully inform us that the sign gifts were never meant to be normative for all ages, but were exclusive to the apostolic era, were meant to authenticate God’s apostolic witness, and to establish the foundation of the church. Since these causes (new revelation, building of the church) were non-repeatable events, the effects (sign gifts) are not necessary today and not practical, which is why we should not elevate signs and wonders, especially at the expense of more important core truths of the faith. 


Recommended Resource: Strange Fire by John MacArthur