Gifts for Building God's House

Tongues and prophecy for today or not? To properly address such a controversial and significant issue fully, would require a book (and many have been written!). The scope of this article is thus limited to addressing the issue of the continuation of some "spiritual gifts" in light of God's redemptive purposes in housebuilding.

Thus, starting in Genesis 3:8 with God walking in the midst of the garden, where he had put Adam & Eve, and concluding with Revelation 21:3, where we read, "Now the dwelling of God is with men and now he will live with them," the consistent testimony of Scripture is that God intends to dwell among his people. To this end, God "builds" himself places of "residence" right in the midst of his people. In the OT, God dwelt in Eden, the tabernacle, and the temple. In the NT, God's takes up "residence" within his saints, who become a temple (Eph 1:13-14, 1 Cor 6:19), and in the church, which is God's household/temple (Eph 2:19-22). In the eternal kingdom, God dwells in the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth. Understanding this overarching purpose of God will enable us to understand the role that tongues/prophecy play in God's redemptive purposes. 

Tongues/Prophecy in Acts: In Acts there are three (clear) instances of tongues.

1) Acts 2 recounts the "fulfillment" of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) and God's fulfillment of promises concerning "the last days". The apostles (and the phenomenon they experienced) were “witnesses” to the fact that Jesus is Lord (the exalted Davidic King) and the resurrected Messiah (Acts 2:34-36). Jesus, the exalted head of the new covenant (Acts 2:32-33, Luke 22:20), gives gifts to his covenant people (Eph 4:7-13), principally the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The Jews regarded Pentecost as a day of renewal of the Mosaic covenant. The connection with Pentecost therefore spoke of the inauguration of God's new covenant via the Spirit as opposed to the old covenant via the law (cf. Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 11:19-20, 36:25-28).

Pentecost then, is similar to God's initiation of the covenant at Sinai. Each covenant was accompanied by the giving of revelation (the tongues are "prophesying" Acts 2:4, 11, 17-18), and mighty displays of power (Acts 2:43). God's revelation (the tablets of stone) was "housed" in the tabernacle, now the revelation of God is "housed" in God's new temple, the saints/church who prophesy. It was expected that prophecy would be temporarily revived when the Messiah came. This is a fulfillment not only of Joel 2 but of God's promise to write the law on the hearts of the new covenant members (Jer 31:33). We should also note that as Jesus, the "one greater than Moses" (Heb 3:3), received the Spirit at the commencement of his ministry, so also did the apostles. God commanded the building of the tabernacle that he might dwell among Israel, his covenant people (Ex 25-27), & then God came in glory to dwell there (Ex 40:34-35). Pentecost is God coming in glory to inaugurate the new covenant & take up "residence" in his new temple, the church! With the inauguration of the new covenant (Pentecost), God was gathering together a new covenant people & building the house of David (Acts 2:22-32, 41-47).

Acts 10-11 is another account of an outpouring of the Spirit following the pattern of

Acts 2: (i) preparatory word/prophecy (Acts 1:4-5,8; 10:3,10ff), (ii) redemptive act (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46), (iii) interpretation (Acts 2:17-21; 10:34-35). Both also evidence (a) an immediate outpouring (Acts 2:2; 10:44), (b) a corporate reception of the Spirit (Acts 2:3-4; 10:44), (c) simultaneous manifestations of the Spirit (Acts 2: 4; 10:45-46). The significance is that this is the "Gentile Pentecost" and now the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has clearly been broken down. God doesn't have two houses - one for Jews and another for Gentiles, but one house, the Church/the body of Christ (Acts 10:34-35, 11:15-18, 15:6-11, Eph 2:14-15).

The third occurrence is in Acts 19. Acts 8 doesn't mention the gift of tongues but it

seems likely there also was a manifestation of tongues/prophecy (8:18-19). Note the similarity with Acts 19. Each are mediated (a) by the laying on of apostolic hands (Acts 8:17; 19:6), (b) individual reception of the Spirit (Acts 8:17-19; 19:6), and (c) intermittent manifestations of the Spirit (note the timing is connected with the laying on of hands – Acts 8:17,19; 19:6). One should not overlook that the gift is bestowed by the hands not of the ascended Jesus, but by his representatives – the apostles. This has implications for cessation! These are not outpourings of the Spirit from the ascended Christ in the same epochal, typological/prophetic fulfillment sense as the two events of Acts 2, 10-11. Every single prophecy, dream, or vision that Luke records pertains to the attestation of the apostles' mission in taking the gospel to the Gentiles (house building). 

Finally, the linguistic evidence does not distinguish between tongues in any of the accounts. Thus what Paul “witnessed/bestowed” in Acts 19 must be similar to that of Acts 2, 10-11 and this then means his “understanding of the experience of tongues” must be similar to that of Luke in Acts 2, 10. This has implications for our understanding of tongues in Corinth. There is nothing in these accounts to rule out the possibility that all these events could have been xenoglossia (speaking in unlearned languages).

The Significance of Ephesians 2:20: The church is built upon Christ and his appointed apostles who are his special messengers in the establishment of God's holy temple/household, which includes Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:19-21). Christ's special endowment found in Acts 2 set them aside for this unique redemptive work. As White correctly argues, one must understand the redemptive stages of the laying of the foundation (an apostolic work) and the building upon the foundation (the post-apostolic work of the church). Certain gifts and offices that were given for the laying of the foundation do not continue in the life of the church, as the foundation is not being continually re-laid. The apostles were given the abilities to perform signs & wonders and mediated God's gifts to the church as seen in Acts 8, 19 as part of this foundation laying work that prepared for the building of the temple/Church (Eph 4:7-8, 11-13).

The Corinthian Church: How did the Corinthians receive their spiritual gifts? We know they were sovereignly distributed by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-11), but by the hand of the resurrected Christ or via an apostle? Paul spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11). We are told he affirmed his apostolic message among them with many miraculous signs (2 Cor 12:12; 1 Cor 2:4-5). Paul points out that this confirmation was manifested in their enrichment with every spiritual gift (1 Cor 1:5-7). The fact that Paul can use the claim of the gifts that they received from him to support his apostleship (2 Cor 12:12 - which was under attack in 2 Corinthians), points out that he is the "mediating source" of these gifts! Note also that in another context where Paul defends his apostolic message (authority) he also mentions the gifts (Gal 1:6-12; 3:5). Hebrews 2:3-4 also ties the gifts to the apostles. I think it is quite reasonable to say that anywhere the NT mentions gifts there is a very reasonable connection to "apostolic impartation," which concurs with the picture in Acts. I believe when the above is tied in with the purpose(s) of the prophetic gifts – attestation and sign of God's message and messengers (cf. Acts 2, 8, 10, 19,1 Cor 14:22), the evidence points in the direction of cessation in connection with the apostles. 

1 Corinthians 13:9-13: Fowler White following Gaffin, argues that “now poorly as in a mirror then face to face” (v. 12) refers to the partial knowledge of our present experience through prophecy and words of knowledge (v. 9). This is compared to our full knowledge at the return of Christ (the “perfect” of v. 10). Interestingly, both men argue that this passage does not address the issue of the cessation of the gifts, and that issue must be addressed from other passages of scripture. Paul's argument is:

(V. 9) We have a partial/fragmentary/incomplete knowledge through the gifts of knowledge and prophecy.

(V. 10) This partial/incomplete state of knowledge will give way to a “perfect” (complete/full) state of knowledge (at Christ's return).

(V. 11) An illustration of the truths of vv. 9-10. As children, we had partial knowledge compared to the “fuller/more complete” knowledge we have as adults.

(V. 12) A reassertion and expansion of vv. 9-10 using comparable language. “But when I know even as I have been known, then I will no longer know in part,” or “but when we see face to face, then we will no longer see dimly in a mirror.”

13) The point of the passage! The Corinthians with an over-realized eschatology had

placed an improper emphasis on these revelatory gifts, not recognizing their temporary and foundational role and more significantly failed to realize that any gift exercised apart from love is useless (vv. 1-3, 13).

Thus the issue of the time of the cessation of the gifts is not the point but rather the partial state oftheCorinthians'knowledge. The Corinthians were still acting like children (1:11-12; 3:1-3; 18, 4:8, 10etc.), but thinking they were spiritually mature/adults (thus 13:11 drips with veiled sarcasm). Do they have knowledge through prophecy and the gift of knowledge (v. 9)? Certainly! But it is not the complete/perfect knowledge of all things, which they pride themselves on thinking they have attained! In summary, the things they pride themselves in will cease/pass away (v. 8 – ouch! rebuke # 1). The state of wisdom and superior knowledge, which they think they have attained will not be attained until Christ's return contrary to their proud assertions (v. 10 – ouch! rebuke # 2).

Gaffin has pointed out the contrast between what is truly eschatological (of significance for the last days we are in and having abiding significance until the parousia) is the Spirit produced fruit - faith, hope and love, which will "abide" while the temporary (less than eschatological) gifts of prophecy, tongues, & knowledge will cease (1 Cor 13:8, 13).  

"All told, Paul would not have us miss the categorical distinction between the gift (singular) and the gifts (plural) of the spirit, between the eschatological gift, Christ, the indwelling, life-giving Spirit himself in which all believers share, and those subeschatological giftings, none of which, by divine design, is intended for or received by every believer (1 Cor 12:28-30, for one, makes that clear enough)....This fruit -- preeminently love, not the gifts -- embodies the eschatological 'firstfruits' and 'deposit' of the Spirit."

Christ as ascended Lord has given gifts for the building of his church, which we need to recognize also includes the redemptive "stages of construction." When God is finished with His housebuilding, He will dwell in the midst of all His people as we dwell in the presence of Christ's glory (John 17:24-26).


For a helpful discussion on the issues pertaining to gifts, abilities, ministries and the need to talk about "ministries" rather than "gifts," see: "Confusing Word and Concept in 'Spiritual Gifts': Have We Forgotten James Barr's Exhortations? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:1 (March 200): 37-51. [hereafter JETS]

There are many important issues relating to the argument for continuing revelation via prophecy. One foundational issue is the question of authority & sola scriptura. This issue has several significant aspects that demand attention, in particular one's understanding of the canon & whether prophecy in the NT was different from prophecy in the OT. These will not be addressed in this paper but see: Richard B. Gaffin Jr. & R. Fowler White, "Eclipsing the Canon? The Spirit, the Word, and 'Revelations of the Third Kind,'" in Whatever Happened To The Reformation? eds. Gary Johnson & R. Fowler White (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2001), 133-157. R. Fowler White, "Does God Speak Today Apart From The Bible?" in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, ed. John H. Armstrong (Moody, 1996), 77-90. Kenneth Gentry, Jr. The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy A Reformed Response to Wayne Grudem (Footstool Publications, 1986). R. Fowler White, "Contrary to What You May Have Heard: On the Rhetoric and Reality of Claims of Continuing Revelation," in Whatever Happened To The Reformation? eds. Gary Johnson & R. Fowler White (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2001), 167-183.

A most helpful article on this theme in the NT and particularly with regards to Acts is: R. Fowler White, "Continuing Revelation," 159-184.

I believe the New Jerusalem refers to the glorified saints (not a physical city), that God dwells in the midst of with Jesus, the new Temple, in the center (Rev 21:3, 9-10, 22). Note also the symbolism, with the tribes of Israel as the gates & the apostles as the foundations (Rev 21:12, 14, cf. Eph 2:20) pointing to "the city" as the OT & NT people of God. All the elect are yet to be gathered in & the "whole" of God's elect await glorification (the resurrection). The exalted Lord (the Lamb) is already in the midst of his victorious saints (Rev 5:6, Eph 1:20, 2:6) "building" his church & subduing all his enemies (Eph 2:22, 1 Cor 15:20-25).

The "fulfillment" will actually come in two phases as did the curse. As Adam experienced immediate "spiritual" alienation from God, signaled by expulsion from the garden, & then, later physically died (Gen 3:23, 5:5), so also God restores us to himself; first, as he reconciles us spiritually (the new birth), & then, physically in the resurrection. This is the eschatological "tension" referred to as "the already/not yet" dimension of God's salvation. See: Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997), 55-57.

This seems to be a fulfillment of God's promise to Moses (Joel 2:28 looks back to Num 11:16-29). The elders only prophesied once (Num 11:25 on that occasion) as it signified to the people that they were marked out for spiritual leadership. See: Timothy Ashley, The Book of Numbers NICOT (Eerdmans, 1993), 214. Ronald Allen, Numbers, EBC (Zondervan, 1990), 794. Paul also taught that prophecy was a temporary gift given to a few (1 Cor 13:8, 12:29). White argues this situation (and in 1 Cor) may be similar to the temporary prophesying of the Levitical choirs/musicians (1 Chr 25:1-7). Both have praise & thanksgiving as the content & are related to "temple-building," White, "Continuing Revelation," 181

 Dennis E. Johnson,  Acts, 53-69.  

White, "Continuing Revelation," 176-178. Jesus is the true son of David, who builds David's eternal house.

There are numerous verbal parallels with Acts 2, see: Johnson, Acts, 133-135.

White, "Continuing Revelation," 179.

Even if this is not the case it doesn't affect the argument concerning the "foundational" role of the gifts. D. A. Carson (Showing the Spirit, Baker, 1987) assesses some of the linguistic data on the modern tongues phenomenon. His conclusion is that there is universal agreement that the contemporary phenomenon “is not any human language” (p. 83) and there are no well-attested cases of xenoglossia. He asks, how can we get past this impasse (p. 84)? His suggestion is a “coded language” (p. 86). This is a grasping at straws and totally unconvincing. The modern phenomenon (which is also found in some other religions) falls far short of being like NT tongues. As Carson points out (p. 87) to interpret “tongues” means to interpret something which has cognitive content but the tongues don't have cognitive content if they are not a language!  

Gaffin argues that 1 Cor 15:45b "the last Adam, a life-giving spirit" telescopes what Peter says in his sermon (Acts 2:32-33). "As 'the life-giving Spirit,' (the resurrected and ascended) Christ is the one who baptizes with the Spirit." Richard Gaffin, Jr. "'Life-Giving Spirit': Probing The Center Of Paul's Pneumatology," JETS 41:4 (December 1998): 582.

R. Fowler White, "Gaffin & Grudem on Eph 2:20: In Defense of Gaffin's Cessationist Exegesis," Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992):303-320. Gaffin & White, Canon, 153-157. Thomas Edgar, Satisfied by the Promises of the Spirit (Kregel, 1996), 76-79. 

Poythress draws out the analogous nature of the gifts exercised today in the church & those exercised by the apostles. He also documents that things like dreams, premonitions, & other providential leadings of God have been part of the Reformed tradition, & are analogous, but not to be equated with the divinely inspired "nondiscursive" gifts that ceased with the closing of the canon. Vern Poythress, "Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology," JETS 39:1 (March 1996): 71-101. See also White, Continuing Revelation, 166. White notes the continuing work of the Spirit in conviction, leading & illumination & that things like "promptings" or "impressions" have not been generally interpreted as "gifts of revelation" (prophecy etc.). 

It is important to note that only the apostles & those they laid hands on (Stephen & Philip, Acts 6:6, 8, 8:13) are recorded in Acts as performing "signs & wonders." For a helpful analysis of signs & wonders see: D. A. Carson, "The Purpose of Signs and Wonders In the New Testament," in Power Religion The Selling Out Of The Evangelical Church? ed. Michael Horton (Moody, 1992), 89-118. Carson fails though to see the apostolic impartation aspect & its implications.

Douglas Judisch, An Evaluation Of Claims To The Charismatic Gifts (Baker, 1978), 27-33.

R. Fowler White, "Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10: A Comparison of Cessationist and Noncessationist Argumentation," JETS 35 (1992): 173-181.

I am not inclined to follow White here in seeing this as "an illustration" for two reasons: 1) Paul uses an illustration in verse 12 for the truths of vv. 9-10. 2) In light of the whole epistle, I believe Paul is giving them a not so subtle rebuke of their use of the spiritual gifts – it has been childish! This verse therefore functions like an aside comment.

 Gaffin, "Life-Giving Spirit," 586-87.

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