Why Can’t I Do Miracles Like Paul? Q&A on Revelatory Gifts

The New Testament provides historic examples of prophetic gifts and apostolic miracles. As such, there are many who contend that the early church model of revelatory gifts should continue on today. In response, we offer pertinent questions and answers. These aren’t exhaustive but trust they’ll guide your personal study on this important matter.

Question: How should we understand the NT example of miracles? Throughout the book of Acts, whenever the Spirit is “poured out” on new believers it seems they experience the manifestation of his charismata. Shouldn’t we?

Answer: Proper bible study demands we look at each text individually. Although not comprehensive, note: (1) The Gospels represent a “kingdom at hand” offered by Christ and specific to the Jews. This is why Jesus specifies, “Don’t go to the Gentiles” cf. Matt. 10:5. After the Jewish rejection, Jesus changes the commission to “Go into all the world…baptizing” cf. Matt. 28:19-20. Clearly, we don’t currently live with Jesus on earth offering a literal geo-political kingdom to the Jews. (2) It is consensus among many evangelical scholars that the Book of Acts was written by Luke as historiography (inc. charismatic commentators such as Craig S. Keener). Thus, to push historiography aggressively into modern application prompts a “flattening” of the text, and forces the reader to pick and choose which texts are directly applicable. This is often why preachers will mistakingly elevate positive miracles while ignoring negative miracles (e.g. No one wants to be Ananias and Sapphira and “fall dead” for giving a bad offering)! (3) In Galatians 3:5, Paul describes his own “miracles” from Acts 14:3 in S. Galatia but in no way suggests the Galatians should be attempting them. (4) 1 Cor. 14:29 and 1 Thess. 5:20 are commonly used as proof-texts of “prophecy examined.” However, those texts are no different than many OT declarations to assess what a prophet says to determine if, in fact, he’s a true or false prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15-22), something which was vital before the Bible was written.

Question: What of the non-apostles who did signs and wonders? There were 70 commissioned in Luke 10:9-20, others in the upper room at Pentecost, Stephen, Philip, and even church members in Antioch (Acts 13). Seems like a lot of people doing miraculous ministry?

Answer: Proper response demands we look at each person individually. Clearly God did remarkable things during the first generation of Christianity. But, did God intend for subsequent generations to do likewise? Note: (1) The 70 mentioned above, were proclaiming the literal kingdom of Christ as “near.” To this point, note in Luke 10:9-19 the non-normative context to which they were sent out. Jesus was literally coming to that town preaching, no one carried any money, Satan fell from heaven, and nothing could injure them etc. This was a succinctly Jewish, geo-political, special point-in-time event. Quite different from the current Gentile church age. (2) The Book of Acts identifies a group of apostles appointed by Christ and their direct appointees (e.g. 6:5). For example, the risen Christ personally directed Ananias via vision (e.g. 9:7). Later, Antiochene believers were commissioning an apostle for his very first missionary venture (e.g. 13:3). All of these are non-normative events. This explains why Paul’s epistles to 2nd generation churches dealt with typical day-to-day issues. Much like today they incurred internal strife, laziness, governance issues, struggling pastors, etc. Following the first generation signs and wonders, Christianity “normalized” away from signs and wonders quickly.

Question: What about the edification of 1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:3, 26? If charismata were important for edification of the early church, shouldn’t it be today also?

Answer: In 1 Corinthians 13 & 14, Paul highlights that it is the gift of “teaching and prophecy” that edifies. In 1 Cor. 14:3 Paul explains that edification, exhortation, and consolation don’t come through extravagant interpreted “tongues” (v.2) but through teaching prophecy that all can understand. For emphasis, Paul points out his wish all could do it (v.5). Contrary to modern charismatic apologists, the letter to Corinth is not a support text for speaking more unknown foreign languages (or prayer languages) but a discipline and limitation of its (tongues) misuse in the Corinthian context.

Question: Isn’t the church of Acts connected to the church of all time? Clearly, the apostles were special, but where does the NT assert we shouldn’t be like the apostles?

Answer: Paul called the “apostles and prophets” a foundation of the church. In Ephesians 2:20 Paul stated the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Paul even intimates that he is the last apostle (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7-8). Although there remains an apostolic skill set (i.e. missionary work etc.), the definition of Apostle, and its office, was restricted to those who had been commissioned by Jesus (Acts 1).

Question: In 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 Paul asserts spiritual gifts will not “pass away.” Assuming that the “perfect” which is to come is the return of Christ or New Heaven and New Earth then clearly Paul allows the spiritual gifts to continue to that point. Correct?

Answer: 1 Corinthians 13:8 must be broken down by gift: (1) The gift of “tongues” is middle reflexive, signifying a self-fade, the timing of which is clarified in 1 Cor. 14:21 where Paul explains the supernatural ability to speak foreign languages (glossa) were meant as a “sign of conviction for unbelieving Israel.” Thus, when Israel was destroyed in 70 AD the purpose of the gift was no longer needed. This explains why the patristic fathers pointed out no such “tongues” by the 2nd century. (2) In the remainder of the verse, Paul’s emphasis regarding “knowledge” and “prophecy” until the perfect comes, has nothing to do with mandating normative revelatory gifts, and simply emphasizes that all knowledge and teaching (even his own apostolic gift) is but a partial version until the Eternal State. All would agree with this, as we’ll have a more complete knowledge when Jesus returns.

6 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Do Miracles Like Paul? Q&A on Revelatory Gifts

  1. Thanks for the very informative post, Anthony. Being a former Pentecostal myself, I might add that the nature and quality of the revelatory or sign gifts as practiced today act as a kind of negative evidence for those gifts being in operation today. It is a fairly simple matter to demonstrate that the “miracles” performed today are not of the same nature and quality as miracles performed in the 1st century church. “Tongues” today can invariably be shown to be gibberish, and “prophecy” today can nearly always be shown to be false, either through its incorrect predictions of future events or through its demonstrable false teachings. Those who practice these things claim to be Christians, but if it is in fact the eternal and unchangeable Holy Spirit who is operating through them, then why are their charismatic “gifts” not of the same kind and quality as those in Acts? And if the “gifts” as presently being practiced can be shown to be inconsistent with biblical examples, to where can today’s charismatics and Pentecostals point to see true examples (i.e. clear miracles, demonstrable unlearned foreign languages, predictively and doctrinally correct prophesies) in action? I don’t believe that they can produce any such examples. Looking back over 25 years in Pentecostalism, I certainly can’t recall any.

  2. I’m not able to read this and not think: «wow, such an effort to explain away what the Bible says». How does one even come up with the term «apostolic gifts»? It’s not apostolic gifts, it’s the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He distributes them as he wants. They include teaching, helping, healing, administration, speaking in tongues, convincing of sin and many other things. Jesus never did say: «I’ll leave the aspotles with the Holy Spirit» No he included all of us! There is no way of teaching cessationism without adding a significant portion to Scripture. The Bible never says that some of the gifts are only for less than 20 people in the first century. The Bible never says that _some_ of the gifts will stop working before Jesus returns.

  3. Why are the gifts lacking after the apostolic era? You give it all away citing the church fathers of the 2nd century which was after a new religion was birthed called ‘Catholicism’, the ‘true Christianity’. It is specifically named by at least one of the ECF in his writings, including reference to Bishops, who had been part of the Roman political hierarchy. Their writings were often anti-Jewish and anti-Nazarene (Jewish believers). The Roman- Catholic Churchremoved the Feasts (appointed times), Sabbath, and Torah which Jesus kept perfectly, making Him sinless (1 John 3:4). When the assembly of believers realizes this and comes back to the plumb line, specifically doing as Jesus did, I believe the gifts will return. Until then – which Jesus is being honored? The Hebrew Jesus who followed Torah (not the rules of the Pharisees)? Or, the Greek Jesus that did not honor the Father’s commands? The choice is ours!

  4. Thank you for telling me with such emphatic hubris what proper bible study demands! Where would we be without the Reformed and their love of cold hard “logic”, big words, and biblical superiority to guide us plebs who don’t have the time or inclination to read B.B. Warfield, Vos, Packer et al but (gasp) only read the bible through the lens of Matt 18: 2-4?

    Your profile pic with you sitting at a desk writing a presumably rigorous academic article like the ones on this site surrounded by a library of presumably rigorous academic books (the older, the better!) make you look quite the erudite (yay big words!) intellectual, by the way. Of course, you know that already…

    For the record, I’m every bit as put off by the “shouldaboughtaHondabutIboughtaKia” babbling and gift-oriented ethos of (many, not all) the Charismatic crowd. I once went with a friend who was a devotee to a Benny Hinn service, or show to be more accurate, mostly out of a sort of journalistic curiosity. It truly was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I was desperately hoping he’d call me up on stage so I could rebuke the living daylights out of him, his antics, gold plated “healing coat”, 80,000,000 private jet and his whole heretical act. What an absolute farce!

    However, the theological and attendant attitudinal arrogance among so many (not all) Reformed folks, as embodied by your statement of what “proper bible study demands” I find to be particularly obnoxious and irksome.

  5. Mr. Wood, I read your article, “Why can’t I do miracles,” and I am stunned at your answers. Do you really believe that the book of Acts has only historical value with no “modern application?” Do I need to remind you that ALL SCRIPTURE is inspired by God (That means it’s living) and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness – 2 Timothy 3:16.

    It may come as a shock to you, but the apostles did not do miracles by their own power – Mark 16:20, Acts 3:12. The name of Jesus, the word of God and the Holy Spirit were the source of miracles in the book of Acts. Is the name of Jesus, the Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit applicable to modern times?

    Let me offer you another example. In Acts 14, Paul is preaching at Lystra. Among those listening was a man crippled from birth. Paul steadfastly beheld him and perceived that he had faith to be healed. He then said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on thy feet,” and the man leaped and walked. My question to you is, where did the impotent man get faith to be healed?? Since faith comes by hearing the living Word of God, he obviously got faith from hearing the Word that Paul preached. So, a better question to ask would be, if the same word of God that Paul preached was preached today would it generate faith in those who hear? Another question: Can anyone get faith from hearing the drivel you’re preaching?

    Concerning “negative miracles,” I’ve never heard the term, but I can say with scriptural authority that Ananias and Sapphira fell dead not because of a “bad offering,” but because they LIED TO
    THE HOLY GHOST! (Acts 5:3) you err greatly, brother, not knowing the scriptures or the power of God.


Leave a Reply to John-O Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s