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Enjoying God Blog


In this ongoing response to the film, “Cessationist,” I want to turn momentarily from the multiple biblical errors made by those who contributed to look at the claims made about spiritual gifts in church history.

Let’s begin with Sam Waldron’s claim that “in the second century the church rejected charismatic gifts.” Really? Let’s take a brief look at what the leading theologians and church fathers during that period of time said about the operation of spiritual gifts. One more thing. If you want a more extensive treatment of this issue, together with a bibliography of sources to consult, see Chapter 7 of my book, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide (Zondervan).

The representative examples cited will demonstrate that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were, and are, still very much in operation. Indeed, before Chrysostom in the east (347-407 a.d.) and Augustine in the west (354-430 a.d.) no church father ever suggested that any or all of the charismata had ceased in the first century. And even Augustine later retracted his earlier cessationism (see below). So let’s conduct a quick overview.

The Epistle of Barnabas (written sometime between 70 and 132 a.d.), says this of the Holy Spirit: “He personally prophesies in us and personally dwells in us” (xvi, 9, Ancient Christian Writers, 6:61).

The author of The Shepherd of Hermas claims to have received numerous revelatory insights through visions and dreams. This document has been dated as early as 90 a.d. and as late as 140-155 a.d.

Justin Martyr (approx. AD 100-165), perhaps the most important 2nd century apologist, is especially clear about the operation of gifs in his day:

“Therefore, just as God did not inflict His anger on account of those seven thousand men, even so He has now neither yet inflicted judgment, nor does inflict it, knowing that daily some [of you] are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God” (Dialogue with Trypho, ch.39).

“For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us. And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven” (Dialogue with Trypho, ch.39).

“For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world and in your city, many of our Christian men, exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those used incantations and drugs” (Second Apology, vi; Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:190).

Irenaeus (approx. AD 120-202), certainly the most important and influential theologian of the late second century writes:

“Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them [on account of such miraculous interpositions]. For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister [to others]” (Against Heresies, Book 2, ch.32, 4).

“Nor does she [the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error” (Against Heresies, Book 2, ch.32, 5).

“In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages [i.e., tongues], and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms ‘spiritual,’ they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit” (Against Heresies, Book 5, ch.6, 1; Euseb. H.E. 5.7.6).

Tertullian (d. 225; he first coined the term Trinity) spoke and wrote on countless occasions of the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, particularly those of a revelatory nature such as prophecy and word of knowledge.

“But from God – who has promised, indeed, ‘to pour out the grace of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, and has ordained that His servants and His handmaids should see visions as well as utter prophecies’ – must all those visions be regarded as emanating . . .” (A Treatise on the Soul, xlvii, ANF, 3:225-26).

He described the ministry of one particular lady as follows:

“For, seeing that we acknowledge spiritual charismata, or gifts, we too have merited the attainment of the prophetic gift, although coming after John (the Baptist).” [This lady has been] “favoured with sundry gifts of revelation” [and] “both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men’s hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies. . . . After the people are dismissed at the conclusion of the sacred services, she is in the regular habit of reporting to us whatever things she may have seen in vision (for her communications are examined with the most scrupulous care, in order that their truth may be probed). . . . Now can you refuse to believe this, even if indubitable evidence on every point is forthcoming for your conviction?” (A Treatise on the Soul, ix, ANF, 3:188).

Tertullian contrasts what he has witnessed with the claims of the heretic Marcion:

“Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; . . . Now all these signs (of spiritual gifts) are forthcoming from my side without any difficulty, and they agree, too, with the rules, and the dispensations, and the instructions of the Creator” (Against Marcion, v.8, ANF, 3:446-47).

We also have extensive evidence of revelatory visions in operation in the life of the martyrs Perpetua and her handmaiden Felicitas (202 a.d.).

But let’s not stop with those in the 2nd century.

The work of Theodotus (late 2nd century) is preserved for us in Clement of Alexandria’s Excerpta ex Theodoto. In 24:1 we read: “The Valentinians say that the excellent Spirit which each of the prophets had for his ministry was poured out upon all those of the church. Therefore the signs of the Spirit, healings and prophecies, are being performed by the church.”

Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 a.d.; The Instructor, iv.21, ANF, 2:434) spoke explicitly of the operation in his day of those spiritual gifts listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. Origen (d. 254 a.d.) acknowledges that the operation of the gifts in his day is not as extensive as was true in the NT, but they are still present and powerful: “And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos” (Against Celsus, i.46, ANF, 4:415).

The pagan Celsus sought to discredit the gifts of the Spirit exercised in churches in Origen’s day, yet the latter pointed to the “demonstration” of the validity of the Gospel, “more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics,” namely that which is called by the apostle the “manifestations of the Spirit and of power.” Not only were signs and wonders performed in the days of Jesus, but “traces of them are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel” (Against Celsus, i.2, ANF 4:397-98). Many believe Celsus is referring to prophecy and tongues in the Christian community when he derisively describes certain believers “who pretend to be moved as if giving some oracular utterances” and who add to these oracles “incomprehensible, incoherent, and utterly obscure utterances the meaning of which no intelligible person could discover” (Against Celsus, 7.9). This, of course, is precisely what one would expect a pagan skeptic to say about prophecy and tongues.

Hippolytus (d. 236 a.d.) sets forth guidelines for the exercise of healing gifts, insisting that “if anyone says, ‘I have received the gift of healing,’ hands shall not be laid upon him: the deed shall make manifest if he speaks the truth” (Apostolic Tradition, xv, Easton, 41).

Novatian writes in Treatise Concerning the Trinity (@245 a.d.):

“Indeed this is he who appoints prophets in the church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, brings into being powers and conditions of health, carries on extraordinary works, furnishes discernment of spirits, incorporates administrations in the church, establishes plans, brings together and arranges all other gifts there are of the charismata and by reason of this makes the Church of God everywhere perfect in everything and complete” (29, 10).

Cyprian (bishop of Carthage, 248-258 a.d.), who spoke and wrote often of the gift or prophecy and the receiving of visions from the Spirit (The Epistles of Cyprian, vii.3-6, ANF, 5:286-87; vii.7, ANF, 5:287; lxviii.9-10, ANF, 5:375; iv.4, ANF, 5:290).

Gregory Thaumaturgus (213-270 a.d.) is reported by many to have ministered in the power of numerous miraculous gifts and to have performed signs and wonders.

Eusebius of Caesarea (260-339 a.d.), theologian and church historian in the court of Constantine, opposed the Montanists’ abuse of the gift of prophecy, but not its reality. He affirmed repeatedly the legitimacy of spiritual gifts but resisted the Montanists who operated outside the mainstream church and thus contributed, said Eusebius, to its disunity.

Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) wrote often of the gifts in his day: “For He [the Holy Spirit] employs the tongue of one man for wisdom; the soul of another He enlightens by Prophecy, to another He gives power to drive away devils, to another he gives to interpret the divine Scriptures” (Catechetical Lectures, xvi.12, NPF 2nd Series, 7:118).

Although Athanasius nowhere explicitly addressed the issue of charismatic gifts, many believe he is the anonymous author of Vita S. Antoni or “The Life of St. Anthony.” Anthony was a monk who embraced an ascetic lifestyle in 285 a.d. and remained in the desert for some 20 years. The author (Athanasius?) of his life describes numerous supernatural healings, visions, prophetic utterances, and other signs and wonders. Even if one rejects Athanasius as its author, the document does portray an approach to the charismatic gifts that many, evidently, embraced in the church of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. Another famous and influential monk, Pachomius (292-346), was known to perform miracles and empowered to converse “in languages he did not know.”

The influential and highly regarded Cappadocian Fathers (mid to late 4th century) must also be considered. Basil of Caesarea (born 330 a.d.) spoke often of the operation in his day of prophecy and healing. He appeals to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 12 of “word of wisdom” and “gifts of healing” as representative of those gifts that are necessary for the common good of the church (The Longer Rules, vii):

“Is it not plain and incontestable that the ordering of the Church is effected through the Spirit? For He gave, it is said, ‘in the church, first Apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues,’ for this order is ordained in accordance with the division of the gifts that are of the Spirit” (On the Holy Spirit, xvi.39, NPF 2nd Series 8:25).

Spiritual leaders in the church, such as bishops or presbyters, says Basil, possess the gift of discernment of spirits, healing, and foreseeing the future (one expression of prophecy) (The Longer Rule, xxiv, xxxv, xlii, lv).

Gregory of Nyssa (born 336; Basil’s younger brother) speaks on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:

“Even if someone receives the other gifts which the Spirit furnishes (I mean the tongues of angels and prophecy and knowledge and the grace of healing), but has never been entirely cleansed of the troubling passions within him through the charity of the Spirit,” [he is in danger of failing] (The Life of St. Macrina, FC 58:175).

The final Cappadocian, Gregory of Nazianzen (born 330 ad.), provides extensive descriptions of the physical healing that both his father and mother experienced as well as several visions that accompanied them (On the Death of His Father, xxviii-xxix, NPF 2nd Series 7:263-64; xxxi, NPF 2nd Series 7:264).

Hilary of Poitiers (356 a.d.) speaks of “the gift of healings” and “the working of miracles” that “what we do may be understood to be the power of God” as well as “prophecy” and the “discerning of spirits.” He also refers to the importance of “speaking in tongues” as a “sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit” together with “the interpretation of tongues”, so “that the faith of those that hear may not be imperiled through ignorance, since the interpreter of a tongue explains the tongue to those who are ignorant of it” (On the Trinity, viii.30, NPF 2nd Series 9:146).

By the late fourth century the gifts of the Spirit were increasingly found among ascetics and those involved in the monastic movements. The various compromises and accommodations to the wider culture that infiltrated the church subsequent to the formal legalization of Christianity under Constantine drove many of the more spiritually minded leaders into the desert.

If you watched the film, you may recall that it was said that Augustine (354-430 a.d.) was a cessationist. This is true of him early in his ministry, especially with regard to the gift of tongues. I should point out here that Ambrose, who highly influenced Augustine, believed in the operation of tongues in his day (The Holy Spirit, 2.150). However, in his later writings Augustine retracted his denial of the ongoing reality of the miraculous and carefully documented no fewer than 70 instances of divine healing in his own diocese during a two-year span (see his City of God, Book XXII, chps. 8-10). After describing numerous miracles of healing and even resurrections from the dead, Augustine writes:

“What am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work, that I cannot record all the miracles I know; and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted so many which they, as well as I, certainly know. Even now I beg, these persons to excuse me, and to consider how long it would take me to relate all those miracles, which the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken forces me to omit” (City of God, Book XXII, chapter 8, p. 489).

Again, writing his Retractions at the close of life and ministry (@426-27 a.d.), he concedes that tongues and the more spectacular miracles such as people being healed “by the mere shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by” have ceased. He then says, “But what I said should not be understood as though no miracles should be believed to be performed nowadays in Christ’s name. For I myself, when I was writing this very book, knew a blind man who had been given his sight in the same city near the bodies of the martyrs of Milan. I knew of some other miracles as well; so many of them occur even in these times that we would be unable either to be aware of all of them or to number those of which we are aware.”

Augustine also made reference to a phenomenon in his day called jubilation. Some believe he is describing singing in tongues. He writes:

“Words cannot express the things that are sung by the heart. Take the case of people singing while harvesting in the fields or in the vineyards or when any other strenuous work is in progress. Although they begin by giving expression to their happiness in sung words, yet shortly there is a change. As if so happy that words can no longer express what they feel, they discard the restricting syllables. They burst into a simple sound of joy; of jubilation. Such a cry of joy is a sound signifying that the heart is bringing to birth what it cannot utter in words. Now who is more worthy of such a cry of jubilation than God himself, whom all words fail to describe? If words will not serve, and yet you must not remain silent, what else can you do but cry out for joy? Your heart must rejoice beyond words, that your unbounded joy may be unrestrained by syllabic bonds.”

We’ll stop here. Perhaps in a subsequent article I’ll provide documentation for the operation of all gifts of the Spirit in the Middle Ages.

In any case, I hope my cessationist friends will finally and forever stop asserting that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased in the centuries subsequent to the time of the apostles.

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

1 Comment

Is there any way your point by point responses be sent to me in a probed format? I'm 71 and don't have computer access, only a smart phone with a small screen.

I do better with printed material.
Thank you brother Sam,

Randy Rogers
334 R and R Drive
Springtown, Texas 76082

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