|Study 1: God || Study 2: The Spirit Of God || Study 3: The Promises Of God || Study 4: God And Death || Study 5: The Kingdom Of God || Study 6: God And Evil || Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus || Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus || Study 9: The Work Of Jesus || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus || Study 11: Life In Christ||2.1 Definition || 2.2 Inspiration || 2.3 Gifts Of The Holy Spirit || 2.4 The Withdrawal Of The Gifts || 2.5 The Bible The Only Authority || Digression 3: Is The Holy Spirit A Person? || Digression 4: The Principle Of Personification || Doctrine In Practice 7: The Implications Of Inspiration |||
At various times in His dealings with men, God conferred the use of His power (“Holy Spirit”) on men. However, this was never in the form of a “blank cheque”, as it were, enabling them to do what they wished; always the use of this Holy Spirit was for a specific purpose. When it was accomplished, the gift of the Holy Spirit was withdrawn. We must remember that God’s spirit acts in a way which fulfils the purpose which is in His mind. This purpose may allow short-term suffering in the lives of men in order to bring about His long-term purpose (see Study 6.1), so it is to be expected that His Holy Spirit would not necessarily be used to alleviate human suffering in this life. Any such relief it does achieve will be for the higher purpose of expressing God’s mind to us.
This is in marked contrast to some attitudes to the
Holy Spirit today; the impression is given that belief in Christ is worth
it because of the immediate material benefit, e.g. healing from illness
or the acquisition of money. This would explain why in poorer countries
God has always given His spirit to achieve specific, defined objectives. Because of this, those who truly possessed the gifts of the spirit knew exactly what they were to use them for, and therefore did not achieve only partial success in their use of them. This contrasts with the many failures and partial cures experienced by those who claim to have spirit gifts of healing today.
The following examples all indicate specific reasons and objectives being behind the granting of spirit gifts. In none of these cases was there any subjective element associated with possessing the gifts, nor were the possessors of the gifts able to use them just as they saw fit. Because we are talking of God’s spirit, it is inconceivable that men could direct the use of it, seeing that it was given to them in order to perform certain the specific desires of God, rather than those of the men who had the temporary use of it ( cf. Is. 40:13).
§ Early in Israel’s history, they were commanded to make an elaborate tent (“tabernacle”) in which the altar and other holy items could be kept; detailed instructions were given concerning how to make all the items which would be necessary for the worship of God. To accomplish this, God gave His spirit to certain men. They were, “filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments...” etc. (Ex. 28:3).
§ One of these men, Bezaleel, was “filled with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to...work in gold and...in cutting of stones...in all manner of workmanship” (Ex. 31: 3-5).
§ Num. 11:14-17 records how some of the spirit/power delegated to Moses was taken from him and given to the elders of Israel, for the purpose of enabling them to correctly judge the people’s grievances so that there was less pressure on Moses. Just before Moses’ death, the spirit gift was transferred from him to Joshua so that he, too, could properly lead God’s people (Dt. 34:9).
From the time that the people of
§ Another judge, Samson, was given the spirit in order to kill a lion (Jud. 14:5,6); to kill 30 men (Jud.
§ When God had a special message for His people, the spirit would inspire someone to speak out God’s word. When the message was ended, the spirit gift of speaking directly on God’s behalf was withdrawn, and that person’s words would again be his own personal ones, rather than those of God. One of many examples:-
“The spirit of God came upon Zechariah...and said unto them (the people), Thus says God, Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord...?” (2 Chron. 24:20)
See 2 Chron. 15:1,2 and Lk. 4:18,19 for other examples.
From this it should be evident that receiving the gift of the use of God’s spirit for a particular purpose was not
§ A guarantee of ultimate salvation
§ Something which endured all a person’s life
It has to be said that there is much hazy reasoning about gifts of the Holy Spirit. People claim to have ‘received the Holy Spirit’, and in many a Gospel Hall the preacher dangles the carrot of ‘receiving spirit gifts’, wealth and health before those considering ‘accepting Jesus’. But the question must be pressed, Which gifts? It is inconceivable that men do not know exactly which gift they possess. Samson was given a spirit gift to kill a lion (Jud. 14:5,6); as he faced the roaring animal he would have known exactly what the spirit had been given him for. There could have been no doubt in his mind. This stands in stark contrast to those today who claim to have received the Holy Spirit, but cannot perform any specific act; nor do they know which gift(s) they are supposed to have.
There is surely no alternative but to conclude that such people have had a dramatic emotional experience connected with Christianity, and the subsequent U-turn in their attitude to life has left them with a strange feeling of newness within themselves. Being aware of this, they have seized on the Bible passages concerning Holy Spirit gifts, and concluded, ‘This must be what I’m experiencing!
As we struggle against the deceptiveness of our own feelings (Jer. 17:9), we must keep our feet on the solid rock of Bible principles. In nothing is this need more apparent than in a study of how God’s spirit works. We all like to think that God’s power is working with us in our lives. But how and why is He doing so? Do we really possess the spirit gifts as men did in the Bible record? If we wish to truly know God and have a living relationship with Him, we will recognise the urgency of properly understanding these things.
Having the Holy Spirit gifts was no guarantee of salvation. It is grace that saves, not Spirit gifts (Eph. 2:8). Men like Saul, Balaam (Num. 23:5,16), Judas (Mt. 10:1) and those of Mt. 7:21-23 all had the gifts; and yet they will not be saved. It’s a scary thought- that God can use us to do His will, even empower us to do His work; and yet this of itself is irrelevant to our personal salvation.
Reasons For The Gifts In The First Century
Remembering the basic principles which we have already learnt about the gifts of God’s spirit, we now come to the New Testament record of the spirit gifts which were possessed in the early church (i.e. the groups of believers who lived in the generation after the time of Jesus).
The Lord’s last command was for the apostles to go throughout the world preaching the Gospel (Mk.
In those days, other men were also trying to develop
cult followings. There had to be some way of proving to the world that
the message preached by the Christians was from God Himself, rather than
being the philosophy of a band of fishermen from
In our day we appeal to the New Testament records of the work and doctrine of Jesus in order to prove that our message is from God; but in those days, before it was written down and available, God allowed His preachers the use of His Holy Spirit in order to underline the truth of what they were saying. This was the specific reason for the use of the gifts in the sight of the world; the absence of the written New Testament would have also made it difficult for the new groups of believers to grow in their faith. The numerous practical problems which arose amongst them would have had no clear solution; there would have been little means of guidance for them to grow in their faith in Christ. So for these reasons the gifts of the Holy Spirit were made available for the guidance of the early believers through inspired messages, until the New Testament record of these messages and the teaching of Jesus was written and circulated.
As ever, these reasons for the granting of the Holy Spirit were made abundantly plain.
§ “When he (Jesus) ascended up on high (to heaven), he...gave (spirit) gifts unto men...for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the (preaching) ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”, i.e. the believers (Eph. 4:8,12).
So Paul wrote to the believers at
Concerning the use of the gifts to confirm the preaching of the Gospel, we read:-
§ “Our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance” through the miracles wrought (1 Thes. 1:5 cf. 1 Cor. 1:5,6).
§ Paul could speak of “those things which Christ has worked by me, to make the Gentiles obedient by word and (miraculous) deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the spirit of God” (Rom.
§ Concerning the preachers of the Gospel, we read, “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with various miracles...gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4).
A Gospel preaching campaign in
Thus the miracles led him to really respect the doctrines being taught. At Iconium also, “the Lord...gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done” (Acts 14:3).
All this is summarised by the comment on the apostles’ obedience to the command to preach: “They went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mk. 16:20).
Specific Things At Specific Times
These gifts of the spirit were therefore given in order to perform specific things at specific times. This shows the error of claiming that the miraculous possession of the gift is a permanent experience throughout a person’s life. The apostles, including Peter, were “filled with the Holy Spirit” at the feast of Pentecost, soon after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2:4). They were therefore able to speak in foreign languages in order to launch the preaching of the Gospel in a spectacular way. When the authorities tried to clamp down on them, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit” was thereby able to convincingly answer them (Acts 4:8). On their release from prison they were enabled by the gifts to go on preaching - “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
The watchful reader will spot that it does not say that “they, being already full of the spirit”, did those things. They were filled with spirit to perform certain things, but had to be re-filled to achieve the next objective in God’s plan. Paul likewise was “filled with the Holy Spirit” at his baptism (Acts 9:17), but years later he was to again be “filled with the Holy Spirit” in order to punish a wicked man with blindness (Acts 13:9).
In speaking of the miraculous gifts, Paul wrote that the early believers possessed them “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. 4:7). The Greek word for “measure” means “a limited portion or degree” (Strong’s Concordance). Only Jesus had the gifts without measure, i.e. with total freedom to use them as He wished (Jn. 3:34).
We will now consider those spirit gifts which seem to have most mention as being possessed in the first century.
The First Century Spirit Gifts
The Greek word for ‘prophet’ means someone who forth-tells
God’s Word - i.e. any person inspired to speak God’s words, which at times
included foretelling of future events (see 2 Pet. 1:19-21). Thus “prophets”
- those with the gift of prophecy - came “from
Seeing that the apostles were preaching the good news (Gospel) of God’s coming Kingdom of perfection on the earth, it was fitting that they should confirm their message by doing miracles which gave a foretaste of what that time would be like, when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap...” (Is. 35:5,6). For more about conditions in God’s Kingdom, see Study 5. When God’s Kingdom is established on earth, such promises as these will not be fulfilled in half measure, nor will there be ambiguity over whether the Kingdom is here or not. Therefore God’s miraculous confirmation of the message of that Kingdom was in a conclusive, definite form which could not be denied; for this reason many of the miraculous healings performed by the early believers were in the sight of the general public.
A classic example is found in Peter’s healing of the lame beggar who was laid each morning at the temple gate. Acts 3:2 mentions that they laid him there daily - so he would have been a familiar sight. Having been healed by Peter’s use of the spirit gift, “he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking and leaping...And all the people saw him walking and praising God: and they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him. And as the lame man which was healed held Peter...all the people ran together unto them in the porch...greatly wondering” (Acts 3:7-11).
Peter then immediately launched into an open-air talk about the resurrection of Christ. Having the unquestionable, irrefutable evidence before them in the form of that healed beggar, we can be sure that they would have taken Peter’s words to be those of God. The temple gate at “the hour of prayer” (Acts 3:1) would have been thronged with people, like a shopping mall on a Saturday morning. It was in a place like this that God chose to confirm the preaching of His word by such a clear miracle. Likewise in Acts 5:12 we read that “by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people”. The usual claims made by ‘faith healers’ today seem to revolve around things which have happened in some back-street hall rather than on the streets, and in the audience of ‘believers’ hyped up into a spirit of expectancy for a ‘miracle’ to occur, rather than before the hard-hearted general public.
Let it be said that the present writer has had considerable experience of discussing these issues with present claimants of spirit possession, and also of witnessing many claims of spirit possession. Yet my ‘personal testimony’ of seeing many inconclusive ‘healings’, and at best partial cures, need not be specifically elaborated; any honest member of these churches will admit that a lot of this goes on. On many occasions I have put it to my well-meaning Christian friends of this persuasion: “I’m not unwilling to believe that you might have these great powers. But God has always clearly shown who has His power and who hasn’t; so it isn’t unreasonable for me to ask you to demonstrate the fact to me - and then I might be more inclined to accept your doctrinal position, which at present I just can’t reconcile with Scripture”. Never has a clear “demonstration of the spirit and of power” been given me.
By contrast to my attitude, the orthodox Jews of the
first century had closed minds to the possibility that Christians possessed
God’s miraculous spirit gifts. Yet even they had to admit, “This man does
many miracles” (Jn. 11:47) and, “For that indeed a notable miracle
has been done...is obvious to all them that dwell in
§ Being cured (eventually) of stomach ulcers; the process of curing is supposed to have begun after a prayer meeting.
§ Deformed limbs growing straight.
§ Sight or hearing being improved, although frequently returning to its previous state.
§ Depression being lifted.
To these examples must be added the fact that ambulances
brought hospital patients to the T.O. Osborn healing crusades in
Yet the challenge calls out from many publicity posters for such meetings: “Come expecting a miracle!” Psychologically the stage is set for all manner of autosuggestion and the like. Nowhere in the New Testament is there the slightest hint that such a massive psychological softening-up was needed before a miracle occurred. It is evident that some of those healed in the first century did not have faith - one did not know who Jesus was (Jn. 5:13; 9:36; Lk. 13:10-17; 7:11-17; 22:50; Mt. 8:14; Mk. 1:32; 5:1-20).
A similar bombardment of the psyche is achieved by the mind warping of repetitious prayers, the rhythm of drums and rousing music. There can be no doubt that any rational awareness of God - and anything else - is blanked out by all this. The writer can recall attending several such meetings in various places, and each time experiencing a cracking headache from the struggle to retain a rational, balanced, Biblical awareness in the face of the temptation to get lost in the rhythm of drums and hand-clapping. That all of this appears to be the necessary prelude for a ‘miracle’ is proof enough that the ‘healings’ are a result of emotional and psychological conditioning, rather than the direct operation of God’s spirit. By contrast, Peter was able to use the true gift of miracles to heal people as they lay in the streets (Acts
The effect of one of Christ’s healing miracles was similar: “They were all amazed (those who saw it), and glorified God, saying, We never saw anything like this” (Mk.
The apostles, rough fishermen that some of them were, received the great commission to go out into all the world, preaching the Gospel (Mk.
To overcome this, the gift of speaking in foreign languages (“tongues”) and being able to understand them, was granted. The N.I.V margin renders “tongues” as “languages”. Obviously there is stark opposition between this view of “tongues” and that of many ‘born again’ Christians, who describe their ecstatic utterances of unintelligible sounds as ‘‘tongues’. This confusion can be cleared up by showing that the Biblical definition of “tongues” is “foreign languages”.
On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, soon after Christ’s ascension to heaven, the apostles “were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues...The crowds came together (again, a public display of the gifts!) and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue (the same Greek word translated ‘languages’) wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes...we hear them speak in our tongues...And they were all amazed” (Acts 2:4-12). It is unlikely that the double emphasis on the people’s amazement and their marvelling would have been necessary if they had heard only the mumbo-jumbo spoken by those who claim to have the gift today; that gives rise to petty sarcasm or indifference, rather than the amazement and conviction from understanding the words being spoken, which was experienced in Acts 2.
Apart from the clear parallel between “tongues” and “languages” in Acts 2:4-11, “tongues” is very evidently used to mean “languages” in other parts of the New Testament; the phrase “peoples, and nations, and tongues” is used five times in Revelation to speak of all the peoples of planet earth (Rev. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 17:15). The Greek word for “tongues” occurs in the Greek version of the Old Testament (called the ‘Septuagint’) in the sense of languages (see Gen. 10:5; Dt. 28:49; Dan. 1:4).
1 Cor. 14 is a list of commands concerning the use of
the gift of tongues; v. 21 quotes Is. 28:11 concerning how this gift would
be used to witness against the Jews: “In the law it is written, With men
of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people...”. Is.
28:11 primarily refers to
“If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
If anyone claims to be spiritually gifted, he must therefore accept that the preceding commands about the use of the gifts are inspired by God. Any who today disobey those commands are therefore openly admitting that they see fit to despise God’s inspired words.
“Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaks like a barbarian, and he that speaks shall be like a barbarian unto me.
Even so you, as much as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church.
Let him that speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
Else when you shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that is unlearned say Amen at your giving of thanks, seeing he understands not what you say?
For you truly give thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
To speak in a language which those present at the service do not understand is therefore pointless. The use of unintelligible speaking is ruled out - for how can a truthful “Amen” be said at the end of a “prayer” composed of gibberish which cannot be understood? Remember that “Amen” means ‘‘So be it’, i.e. ‘I totally agree with what has been said in this prayer’. Speaking in language which is not understood by your brethren does not edify them, Paul says.
I remember meeting a very sincere Christian woman outside a major revival meeting. She sought to persuade me that my position on various issues was “devil-led” - by talking at me in “tongues” for 10 minutes. In no way could I be “edified” by that; surely this is exactly what Paul is commanding not to do.
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all.”
Because of his wide travels in the preaching of Christ, Paul needed the gift of languages (“tongues”) more than most.
“Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”
This is quite plain. A brief sentence about Christ in English will do me more good than hours of preaching to me in a foreign language - or unintelligible speach.
“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serves not for unbelievers, but for them which believe.”
The use of tongues was therefore mainly to be used for
outgoing preaching of the Gospel. Yet today most claims of ‘tongues’ possession
occur among groups of believers or (apparently) in their individual, personal
experience, while alone. There is a chronic dearth of examples of such
people being able to speak miraculously in foreign languages in order
to spread the Gospel. In the early 1990’s the door of opportunity opened
to preach Christ in
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are ignorant, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?”
This is exactly what has happened. In my experience,
Muslims and pagans alike have mocked the bizarre behaviour of those claiming
the gift of tongues throughout
“If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that in order; and let one interpret.”
Only two or three people were needed to speak in tongues during any service. It is unlikely that there would be more than three different languages spoken by any audience. A service would soon lose all coherence if each sentence of the speaker had to be translated more than twice. If the gift of tongues were possessed at a meeting in Central London, attended by English people, with some French and German tourists present, the speakers might begin:-
Pastor: Good evening.
First-tongue speaker: Bon soir (French)
Second-tongue speaker: Guten abend (German).
But naturally they must speak “in order”, one after
another. Confusion would result from them speaking simultaneously; yet,
because of the fundamentally emotional nature of present ‘speaking in
tongues’, the phenomena does occur from the mouths of many people simultaneously.
I have observed that once one person starts, others are quickly influenced
to do likewise. It would seem that the ecclesia in
The gift of tongues would often have been used in conjunction
with that of prophecy, so that an inspired message from God could be spoken
forth (by the prophecy gift) in a language foreign to the speaker (by
the gift of tongues). An example of such use of the two gifts can be found
in Acts 19:6. However, if at a meeting in
Without the presence of one with the gift of interpretation when it was needed, the tongue gift would not be used: “...let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church” (1 Cor.
“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
Possession of Holy Spirit gifts is not therefore to be associated with an experience which takes a person out of the realms of normal consciousness; the spirit is subject to the control of the user, rather than a force which takes them over so that they act involuntarily. It is often wrongly claimed that demons or ‘evil spirits’ possess the ‘unsaved’ (see Study 6.3), but that the Holy Spirit fills the believers. But the spirit power referred to in 1 Cor. 14:32 was subject to the possessor’s control for specific ends; it was not an animating force of good in contrast to the force of evil which is in human nature. Besides, we have shown earlier that these powers of the Holy Spirit came on the apostles at certain times to perform specific things, rather than being present with them permanently.
The plea for possessors of the gifts to use them in a way befitting God’s love of peace and hate of disorder (v. 33), seems to fall on deaf ears in parts of the Christian church today.
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law.”
In this context of using the spirit gifts, it is undeniably laid down that a woman should not use them during a church service. The wholesale disregard for this is to be expected if the present phenomena of speaking in unintelligible language is explicable in terms of emotional excitation, passing from one person to another in an audience. Woman, children - indeed anyone present with a willing mind - can be affected by such stimulus, and therefore make the ecstatic utterances, which are passed off as ‘tongues’.
The prominence of women in alleged ‘tongue speaking’ and ‘prophecy’ in modern churches just cannot be reconciled with the clear command of this verse. The desperate argument that Paul was a woman-hater is quashed a few verses later: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor.
Any believer in an inspired Bible must therefore accept that these commands of 1 Cor. 14 must be taken seriously; to flout them openly can only indicate a lack of belief in the full inspiration of Scripture - or a self-declaration that one is not spiritually gifted, seeing that someone who lacks the gifts will deny that the commands of 1 Cor. 14 are the Lord’s commands for us. The logic of this argument is telling, indeed devastating.
As a footnote to this section, it is highly significant
that those sects which claim to speak in tongues have been scientifically
proven to have higher levels of depression compared to people from other
backgrounds. Keith Meador, Professor of Psychiatry at
An interesting article, reaching the same conclusion, appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Feb. 11, 1993; the title speaks for itself: “Pentecostals top charts when it comes to the blues”. Why is this? Surely it must be related to the fact that the ‘experience’ of spirit-possession, which Pentecostals (and others) claim, is no more than a painful psychological illusion. It would seem that the Pentecostal movement cannot accept that faith is believing in what cannot be seen. They want to have God once again speaking to man directly, guaranteeing health, being visible on earth. But such a view of Him can only lead to disappointment with God [just consider the millions of sick and needy Christians alive at this moment]. Faith comes from hearing God’s word and living it out in all the difficulty of a relationship with an invisible God, and a Lord and Master whom having not seen we love. It can also be that a constant emphasis on God’s power can lead to a kind of fatalism; we need do nothing, because God’s Spirit will work everything out regardless.
Felicitas Goodman made a study of the phenomena of ‘tongue-speaking’ world-wide, across cultures. She found that there is a consistent pattern of behaviour and speech even in persons of different language families and from different religious backgrounds. She concludes that the consistency is because the phenomena “has a neurophysiological basis”, i.e. the mind controls the body and speech in a certain way, regardless of the religious beliefs held. Tongue speaking as practiced today is therefore a phenomena, not something inspired by the Truth and Spirit of God (Speaking In Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study Of Glossolalia, Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1972).
Photo: A young man waits for healing in his wheelchair at a Pentecostal meeting. He was wheeled away unhealed.