Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 19, 1968
NUMBER 20, PAGE 11-12

The Holy Spirit's Miraculous Work In The Early Church

R. P. Cuff

Anyone who wishes to understand the nature of the Holy Spirit's activities should study the Bible with much care. The Bible is the most reliable source of knowledge concerning the Spirit's miraculous work in the apostolic church. The feelings and guesses and emotional statements of people who claim that the Holy Spirit miraculously operates in and through them are so unreliable that people who think very deeply on the subject cannot accept the claim. A large per cent of the persons who suppose they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit have not even obeyed the gospel. They have never fulfilled the conditions on which the gift was promised. (Acts 2:38). Not a single soul among the remainder of such persons can understandably describe or explain the feeling that they say indicates that the Holy Spirit is miraculously present with them. Even if such explanation were forthcoming, it still would not reveal what work the Spirit did in and through the New Testament church during the apostolic period. To the Bible itself, therefore, man must look if he would be reliably informed upon that subject. The Bible teaches that the Spirit did different work in the apostolic days from what he was promised to do later. (I Cor. 12:7-11; 13:8).

1, The Gift of the Holy Spirit to believers in Apostolic times fulfilled God's promise, confirmed his word, edified the church, and showed that both Jews and Gentiles had the privilege of becoming Christians.

The promise to produce miraculous consequences by sending the Holy Spirit upon mankind God made through Joel. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:3,4,16). Jesus really repeated this promise in two statements that referred to the miraculous work the Spirit would perform. (John 7:38,39; Mark 16:17,18). Peter applied the promise to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. (Acts 2:39).

God confirmed the apostles' and the evangelists' message by the miracles that were wrought. (Mark 16:20; Acts 8:6-8; 14:3; Heb. 2:3,4). The apostles and some other believers (for example, Philip and Barnabas) had miracle-working power. (Acts 2:43; II Cor. 12:12; Acts 8:14-18; 9:40,41; 28:3-5,8,9). Their message had freer course because of the miracles. (Acts 5:12, 14-16; 8:6-8). - The purpose of the spiritual gifts — indeed, the reason for having apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers — was that the church might be builded up. (I Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:3-11). In a sense the church was in a less perfect condition when the miracles existed than today when the gospel has been revealed in fullness. (I Cor. 13:9,10). That somewhat imperfect or unstable situation existed to give the church a chance to grow up, the gospel time to be fully revealed, and new revelations, as made, an opportunity to be received as in truth the word of God. (I Cor. 12:7. Eph. 4:11-13; I Thess. 2:13).

The gift of the Holy Spirit as conferred by Holy-Spirit baptism signified God's acceptance of both Jews and Gentiles in his kingdom, the making of one body out of the two groups. (Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15-18). It is reasonable to conclude that Holy-Spirit baptism ceased as soon as its purpose was accomplished. The supernatural gift of the Spirit continued to exist, however, until its purpose was also accomplished.

2. The Holy Spirit was supernaturally given on the birthday of the Lord's church and on the day of Cornelius' conversion by a special baptism, God's direct action without any intermediary, and continued to be bestowed through apostolic times by the laying on of the apostles' hands.

The pouring out, the falling directly from God, the receiving of the Holy Spirit was both a baptism and a gift. (Acts 10:45; 11:15,17; 10:47). In apostolic times this gift was supernatural. (John 7:38,39; Mark 16:17,18; Acts 2:3,4; 10:44,46). On Pentecost the Holy-Spirit baptism came as a gift upon the apostles in the upper room. (Acts 1:4,5; 11:15,17). At Cornelius' house the Holy-Spirit baptism and gift came upon all who heard the word. (Acts 10:44-47; 11:15-17).

The apostles did sometimes confer miraculous powers — impart the Holy Spirit as a gift — by laying hands upon disciples of Jesus. Peter and John gave the Holy Spirit by laying hands upon the baptized believers in the city of Samaria, where Philip had preached. (Acts 8: 14-1 8). Paul imparted the Holy Spirit in miraculous power, by the laying on of hands, to the disciples at Ephesus whose baptism, the one they had experienced before Paul taught them more accurately, was out of date. (Acts 19:6). Paul also bestowed a gift upon Timothy by this same method. (II Tim. 1:6).

3. The supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit resulted in the working of very important and powerful miracles, which ceased to be performed when no longer needed.

Jesus mentioned four miracles, or "signs," that he said "shall accompany them that believe." (Mark 16:17,18). Paul practiced the first one when he cast the spirit of divination out of the maid at Philippi (Acts 16:16-18), and so did Philip at Samaria (Acts 8:6,7). The household of Cornelius practiced the second under Peter's preaching (Acts 10:44-46), and so did the disciples at Ephesus under Paul's laying on of hands (Acts 19:6). This sign therefore, is known to have followed both Peter and Paul. Paul practiced the third on the island of Melita in escaping unharmed after a viper had fastened itself to his hand. (Acts 28:3-5). Peter and John practiced the fourth when they healed a lame beggar in Jerusalem (Acts 3:2,6,7; 4:14-16); it was also practiced by Philip at Samaria (Acts 8:7), by Paul in healing the father of Publius and other diseased persons (Acts 28:8,9). and by the general company of the apostles (Acts 5:12,14-16).

Paul mentioned at least four more miracles, or "signs." (1 Cor. 12:7-11). Peter read the secret thoughts of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-10). Peter and Paul had power to work "miracles" — to do mighty deeds other than to cure disease. They could even raise the dead. (Acts 9:40,41; 20:9-12). Paul imparted the gift of prophesying to the disciples at Ephesus. (Acts 19:6). The church at Corinth practiced the gift of interpreting tongues (I Cor. 12:10), and Paul forbade their speaking in tongues without interpreting (I Cor. 14:28).

The supernatural powers ceased when their purpose was accomplished — when the gospel had been confirmed, when the church had been edified and perfected to the point that unity of the faith had been attained. (Mark 16:17,18; Eph. 4:11-13; Jude 3).

4. Numerous statements in the New Testament are confusing to anyone who does not know that miraculous powers once present in the church no longer exist, but these statements are easily clear to anyone who has learned that they apply only to the church of apostolic times and were never intended to refer to any Christian after the days of the apostles.

Among the Scriptures that refer to the Holy Spirit's miraculous presence and work in the apostolic church are these: "Ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13); "God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Heb. 2:4); "Ye have an anointing from the Holy One" (I John 2:20); "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit...And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all." (I Cor. 12:4-6).

Only one Scripture connects the gift of the Spirit with obeying the gospel (Acts 2:38), but several Scriptures (Acts 10:43; 5:31; and others) connect remission of sins with such obedience. It looks as though remission of sins was expected to continue after the supernatural gift should cease.

If anyone today has miracle-working power, he is in the strange situation of having it without being able to use it. Paul said that tongues and prophecies would be brought to an end. What he said thoughtful people who are inclined to believe the Bible had better accept. With that beginning made, they will be in a favorable position to learn more of what the Bible teaches concerning the Spirit's work.

— Gospel Advocate, March 29, 1949.