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Yet another argument in the film, “Cessationist,” is that when miracles or revelatory gifts occurred, they were always performed in the presence of apostles. People other than the apostles were empowered to exercise miraculous gifts only because the apostles themselves laid their hands on them. Since there are no apostles today, those gifts associated with them have ceased.

Does the NT actually say this? Is there a verse in the NT that says one can only perform miraculous gifts of the Spirit if an apostle is present and has laid hands on the individual? No.

Let’s look at several examples.

In Romans 12:6 the apostle Paul refers to believers in that local church who were exercising the spiritual gift of prophecy. But Paul had not yet visited Rome or had anything to do with the believers there (Rom. 1:10-11; 15:22-29).

The church in Rome most likely began with the return to that city of certain Jews who were converted on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (see Acts 2:10). Therefore, the earliest Christian community in Rome would have been predominantly Jewish in character. However, this did not last. Luke tells us that Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). Most believe this order was issued in 49 A.D. The Roman historian Seutonius (De Vita Claudii, 25.4; d. 130 A.D.) attributed this decree to the fact that the Jews were responsible for certain “disturbances” traceable to “Chrestus” (undoubtedly a misspelling of “Christ”).

But if Paul had never visited Rome, what about Peter? There is no support for the tradition that Peter founded the church in Rome. Paul says clearly in Rom. 15:20 that he will not build on someone else’s foundation. This makes it highly unlikely, if not altogether impossible, that Paul would have planned a visit to a church that was founded by Peter, and far less likely that he would have written an inspired epistle to it.

The Roman Catholic tradition that Peter founded the church in Rome is based on much later speculation. Eusebius (early 4th century) alleges that Peter went to Rome to preach the gospel in the second year of the reign of Claudius, i.e., a.d. 42. The Catalogus Liberianus (a.d., 354), also speaks of Peter as having started the Roman church and serving it for some 25 years. Both of these assertions have been shown by scholars to lack support, especially when compared with what we know of Peter's movements from Acts and certain references in Paul's writings (cf. Gal. 2:7-9). Interestingly, the following conclusion is drawn by Fitzmyer, one of the more prominent and widely respected Roman Catholic NT scholars of our day:

“Hence there is no reason to think that Peter spent any major portion of time in Rome before Paul wrote his letter, or that he was the founder of the Roman church or the missionary who first brought Christianity to Rome. For it seems highly unlikely that Luke, if he knew that Peter had gone to Rome and evangelized that city, would have omitted all mention of it in Acts” (Commentary on Romans, 30).

Thus, we have Christians in Rome exercising prophecy in the absence of apostles. Some might try to conclude from Romans 1:11 that spiritual gifts are always imparted only by apostles. But that would be a strange conclusion to draw from that passage. Nowhere does Paul or any other apostle ever say that only they alone could impart spiritual gifts to other Christians. Even if a cessationist should appeal to 1:11 to prove his point, on what basis should we believe that Paul’s words “some spiritual gift” refer only to miraculous gifts? In light of his list of both the miraculous and more mundane gifts in 12:6-8, this would put the cessationist in the awkward position of arguing that even gifts like teaching and giving and mercy are only received when an apostle lays his hands on someone.

Also, what are we to do with Acts 2 and the 120 believers present on the day of Pentecost? They all received the gift of tongues and prophesied, yet not one word in the text says it was because apostles were present and laid hands on them. No connection whatsoever between the apostles and the experience of the 120 is drawn by Luke.

And why would the early church have prayed that God might “stretch out” his “hand to heal” and perform “signs and wonders” if such would have been futile in the absence of an apostle laying hands upon them? Clearly, these believers expected God to do the miraculous in response to their prayers (see Acts 4:31), while nothing is said about the necessity of apostles being present.

It is true that the apostles laid hands on the first deacons of the church, specifically Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:6), both of whom later ministered in the power of signs and wonders (Acts 6:8; 8:6-8, 13). But the fact that the apostles laid hands on them is nowhere said to be in order that they might operate in miraculous gifting. They laid hands on them, as the context clearly shows, to set them apart for the task of helping widows and serving tables (Acts 6:1-6).

A “disciple” named Ananias experienced a revelatory vision from the Lord in which he heard the voice of God (Acts 9:10-16). No apostle was present. No apostolic hands were needed. In fact, it is Ananias, not an apostle, who lays hands on Paul to heal him of blindness (Acts 9:12).

We also read about several unnamed individuals in Tyre who “through the Spirit . . . were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem,” (Acts 21:4). Nothing is said about them having apostolic hands laid on them to account for their ability to prophesy. Then there were the “four unmarried daughters” of Philip who are said to have “prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9), ostensibly in the absence of any apostle.

In Galatians 3:5 Paul describes believers in Galatia experiencing miracles, but nowhere links it to his presence or his hands. In fact, such miracles were present in response to their “hearing with faith” (Gal. 3:5b). To conclude that such miracles only occurred because of the presence of an apostle or his having laid hands on them is to insert into the text something that is conspicuously absent.

Timothy received some spiritual gift “when the council of elders laid their hands” on him (1 Tim. 4:14). We aren’t told what gift or gifts were imparted, but it wasn’t an apostle but “elders” in Ephesus who were used by God to grant this gift to Timothy. It is true that in 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul refers to a gift given to Timothy “through the laying on of” Paul’s “hands.” We don’t know what gift this was. We should not draw conclusions from what is not said in a text but only on the basis of what is explicitly asserted. That God should be pleased to use Paul for the impartation of a spiritual gift to Timothy is wonderful, but nothing is said that would lead us to believe that only an apostle can be used in this way (see again 1 Tim. 4:14).

Perhaps the strongest refutation of this theory of the cessationist is found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. It is the Holy Spirit “who apportions” the miraculous gifts of 12:8-10 to “each” believer “as he wills” (12:11). Nothing is said about the necessity for an apostle’s presence or hands. To conclude otherwise is once again to insert into the text something that is obviously absent from it.

Furthermore, why would Paul exhort the Corinthians to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially” prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1) if none of the Corinthians could receive such gifts until such time as an apostle laid his hands on them? Paul doesn’t say that their “desire” for such gifts is suspended on the presence of an apostle.

A little later in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul exhorts the person who speaks in tongues to “pray that he may interpret” (14:13). The gift of interpretation of tongues doesn’t come through the laying on of apostolic hands but simply in response to the individual asking God in prayer to grant it.

Paul also envisions at least the potential of “all” in Corinth prophesying (1 Cor. 14:24, 31). Are we to believe that all these Christians in Corinth at some time had an apostle lay hands on them? If that were the case, why is nothing said to that effect?

In his contribution to the book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan), Richard Gaffin argues that the experience of the early church as recorded in Acts must be viewed as a distinct and unique period that cannot be reproduced or copied today. After all, the early church had the presence of the apostles, and we obviously don’t.

But I would argue instead for the fundamental continuity or spiritually organic relationship between the church in Acts and the church in subsequent centuries. No one denies that there was an era or period in the early church that we might call “apostolic”. We must acknowledge the significance of the personal physical presence of the apostles and their unique role in laying the foundation for the early church. But nowhere does the NT ever suggest that certain spiritual gifts were uniquely and exclusively tied to them or that with their passing is the passing of such gifts. The universal church or body of Christ that was established and gifted through the ministry of the apostles is the same universal church and body of Christ that exists today (something that only the most extreme of hyper-Dispensationalists would deny). We are together with Paul and Peter and Silas and Lydia and Priscilla and Luke members of the same one body of Christ.

It's important to remember that the book of Acts is, after all, the Acts of the Apostles. We entitle it this way because we recognize that the activity of the apostles is the principal focus of the book. We should hardly be surprised or try to build a theological case on the fact that a book designed to report the acts of the apostles describes signs and wonders performed by the apostles.

I can only conclude that the cessationist claim that miraculous gifts were only imparted through either the physical presence of the apostles or their laying on of hands is baseless and altogether absent from the NT.

To be continued . . . (like the gifts!)

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