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Did Miraculous Spiritual Gifts Pass Away for Christians After the First Century A.D.?

If dispensationalism is true, are there still spiritual gifts for Christians?  However, is dispensationalism true to begin with?  As explained below, there still can be spiritual gifts at this time since God hasn’t been working with Christians that differently since the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

First, let’s examine briefly the issue of whether spiritual gifts still exist for Christians today.  As a matter of religious epistemology (“how do we know that we know”), belief in the Bible’s text should override belief in any personal experiences that would seem to contradict its teachings.  But Christians should avoid always rejecting spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues, in the future as the result of demonic influence.  For example, this gift is theoretically possible even today among true believers, although no authentic manifestations of it occur presently.  Shortly before Jesus returns, that will change.  After all, the Two Witnesses will prophesy, and they will be human beings who will be killed before being resurrected miraculously and then ascending to heaven (Rev. 11:3-13).  It’s a poor argument to claim this gift passed with the closing of the canon of Scripture.  That meaning that has to read into I Cor. 13's discussion of tongues ceasing and the perfect's arrival.  Rather, this text (vs. 8-10, 12) refers to Jesus' return and/or the Restoration of All Things (Acts 3:21).


The miraculous gifts of prophesying and speaking in other human languages could well return to the true Church of God shortly before Jesus returns.  After all, aren’t we in the latter days, not long before Jesus returns?  Wouldn’t this text (Joel 2:28-29), quoted by Peter (Acts 2:17-18) on the Day of Pentecost in 31 A.D., apply then even more forcibly in the years to come?  “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”  Notice that the closing of the canon and this prophesied event about spiritual gifts both occur during the same dispensation, the one between Jesus’ death and Jesus’ return.  But what is a dispensation?


Let’s now examine the issue of dispensationalism in detail.  Dispensationalism is a theological system that maintains God works with different sets of people very differently during different periods of Biblical history.  Although other time periods are included in the schematic lists that dispensationalists draw up, their most important distinction is (stereotypically) the "Age of Grace" versus the "Age of Law."  The first refers to the period between Jesus' work on the cross and the second to the period between the proclamation of God's law at Mt. Sinai and the crucifixion.  Dispensationalists normally reject what's called "replacement theology" concerning the nation of Israel:  They believe the Jews, or even Israelites in general (including the other tribes normally said to be lost), are still God's chosen people, not just the church, which can have people of any race or national origin in it.  They will say God is continuing to work with the Jews (despite the rejected Jesus as Messiah and Savior), and will continue to do so up until the Second Coming or (in some versions) during the millennium when Christ rules the earth directly. 

Dispensationalism raises a key issue concerning what presuppositions we should use when interpreting the Bible.  The key problem with (extreme) dispensationalism stems from how it reads into the Bible radical discontinuity about how God works with humanity, including his guide to human conduct and morality, His law, when that assumption isn't justified when the text of Scripture is consulted.  Should we assume that the Old Testament's laws of God are abolished by the crucifixion unless repeated by (basically) Paul's letters?  Or are these laws still in force automatically unless specifically and clearly done away with by what Jesus and/or Paul said?  Does someone assume that silence abolishes a law, that God's choice to not repeat Himself in the New Testament abolishes an Old Testament law?  

 But this kind of reasoning can be easily inverted:  Christians could assume no change from the Old Testament law has occurred unless the New Testament specifically mentions it.  We have the Old Testament's statements about the Sabbath being in force, not to mention the laws against murder, adultery, theft, etc.  So the burden of proof is on those who argue these laws are abolished (i.e., that a change has occurred), not on those who assert they are still in force (i.e., that no change has occurred).  So if the New Testament is silent concerning their abolition, they must still be in force! 

When interpreting Paul's writings, dispensationalists naturally tend to end up at an anti-law interpretation that maintains the Old Testament law has been abolished or otherwise has been set aside.  Sometimes they go further than casting aside the Ten Commandments, including literal obedience to the Fourth Commandment's Sabbath rest, by making the Sermon on the Mount a message to the Jews, not to the church, often.  The Presbyterian/Reformed churches, in the tradition of Calvinism, normally interpret continuity between the testaments rather than assuming difference, so they believe the Ten Commandments are still in force, but switch the Fourth Commandment over to Sunday from Saturday. 

Consider this description of how extreme applications of dispensationalist ideas have damaged even evangelical Protestant theology, as seen by John MacArthur:  "The age of law/age of grace division in particular has wreaked havoc on dispensationalist theology and contributed to confusion about the doctrine of salvation. Of course, there is an important distinction to be made between law and grace. But it is wrong to conclude, as [dispensationalist theologian Dr. Lewis Sperry] Chafer apparently did, that law and grace are mutually exclusive in the program of God for any age. . . . Salvation has always been by grace through faith, not by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16)."   

So then, should we, when interpreting the Bible, assume that God radically changes how He deals with different sets of people during history or assume that there are more similarities than differences?  What would the Bible itself indicate?  Is the Old Testament basically worthless as a guide for Christian conduct and morality unless some statement in it is repeated word for word in Paul's writings? After all, weren't most of Jesus' words spoken before His crucifixion?  Doesn't that make most of them almost equally worthless for the same reason?  But did Jesus Himself interpret His own mission on earth this way, that He would make the Old Testament law of no effect in general?  What did Jesus Himself say?  "Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill; for truly I say to you that sooner would heaven and earth pass away than for one smallest letter or one particle of a letter to pass away from the Law by any means and not all things take place. Whoever, therefore, breaks one of these least commandments and teaches mankind to that effect, he will be called 'least' in relation to the kingdom of the heavens. As for anyone who does them and teaches them, this one will be called 'great' in relation to the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 5:17-19, New World Translation).  This is the main text against radical dispensationalism, which maintains God works with different groups of people in different time periods very differently, e.g., "the age of law" vs. the "the age of grace.” Jesus said that He didn't come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.  And if someone interprets the word "fulfill" to mean something functionally identical to "destroy," then Jesus has been made to contradict Himself. 

The Apostle Paul, whose writings are the main source of the claims that the Old Testament doesn’t matter for Christian morality, said that the Old Testament’s examples were written for our edification as Christians (I Cor. 10:11):  “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”  He made a similar point in Romans 15:4:  “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scripture we might have hope.”  When Paul wrote that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction” (II Timothy 3:16), it referred especially to the Old Testament when looking to the preceding context. Jesus elsewhere said that we should live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4) and that what He had commanded should be taught to new disciples in the future (Matt. 28:19-20).   Although dispensationalism does have some level of truth in it, it tends to go much too far in rejecting God's Old Testament law, which would include laws dealing with sexual morality and murder, in total blanket terms. 

Whether or not dispensationalism is true leads us to this question: Has salvation always been only by grace through faith, or did God require literal works of ancient Israel to earn or achieve salvation? For Abraham, the patriarch, salvation must have been of grace, even as he obeyed God's laws (Gen. 26:5), as we find in Gen. 15:6:6: "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." Compare Rom. 4:l-2. Noah "became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Heb. 11:7). Did this change for Israel? Note Habakkuk 2:4: "But the righteous will live by his faith." Also note Jeremiah 31:2, especially when compared to Hebrews 3:18-19: "Thus says the Lord, 'The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness--Israel, when it went to find its rest.'" (Compare the use of "rest" here with Heb. 4:1-11, where it is referring to a condition of salvation spiritually). Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, goes from Abel and Enoch to David, implying no change occurred in how men and women are saved by repetitively saying it was "by faith" over twenty times, finally, coming down to verses 39-40, showing salvation was by grace then as well: "And all these, having gained approval through their faith [not by their works!], did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect." Notice David in Ps. 119:146: "I cried to Thee; save me, and I shall keep Thy testimonies." Works are the fruitage of salvation here, not the means of obtaining it. David knew in Ps. 51:17 that sacrifices (i.e. works) didn't reconcile him to God, but a repentant attitude would: "For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." Paul sees David as speaking of "the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account'" (Rom. 4:6-8). For never could anyone be saved (justified) by obeying the law, because law-keeping doesn't expiate (wipe off) sin--only Jesus' sacrifice does that. 

Clearly the doctrine of dispensationalism shouldn’t be a club wielded to abolish the possibility of miraculous spiritual gifts for Christians.  Dispensationalism has some truth to it, but the discontinuity between how God worked with humanity before and after the cross shouldn’t be exaggerated.

Eric V. Snow

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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

Do you have an immortal soul? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Here and Hereafter.htm

Does the ministry have authority? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is There an Ordained Ministry vs Edwards.html

Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm

Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm

Is Jesus God? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is Jesus God.htm

Will there be a third resurrection? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Will There Be a Third Resurrection.htm



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