Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Gifting of the Holy Spirit

HCSB 1 Cor 12:4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. 7 A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:

...

11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each one as He wills.
As I see it, there are four ways one may receive the Holy Spirit:

1 - Talents
HCSB(m) Ex 35:30 Moses then said to the Israelites: "Look, YHWH has appointed by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31 He has filled him with God's Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft 32 to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, 33 to cut gemstones for mounting, and to carve wood for work in every kind of artistic craft. 34 He has also given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, [the ability] to teach [others]. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all the work of a gem cutter; a designer; an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; and a weaver. They can do every kind of craft and design artistic designs.
From this passage, we can see that one way a person may have God's Spirit and His gifts is via innate, natural abilities from birth, which are honed through years of study and practice. We would tend to call these capabilities "talents" or "skills".

The indwelling of God's Spirit does not necessarily entail the "miraculous".

The Spirit of YHWH took control of David after he was anointed as a young man by Samuel to some day be king (1 Sam 16:13), but again, we don't see any special outward manifestation of this in the form of miraculous activity.

When Samson was arrested and tied up to be handed over to the Philistines, the Spirit of YHWH took control of him and allowed him to break the bonds and kill a thousand men with a donkey's jawbone (Judges 15:14ff). Some people would see this manifestation and call it a "miracle"; others would see it and call it "an amazing feat of human strength". But for those in the latter group, the Bible says that it was due to God's Spirit working through Samson.

But in all these cases, what the Bible describes as being filled with or controlled by the Holy Spirit seems to be what we might call "talented" or "naturally gifted".

2 - Autonomous Pouring Out

Sometimes God pours out his Spirit on people in whatever measure He desires, when He desires. This is what happened with Saul when he went chasing after David to kill him; the Spirit of God came on him, and Saul stripped naked and prophesied as a result (1 Sam 19:23ff). It's interesting to note that Isaiah also spent three years walking around naked while prophesying (Isa 20:1ff).

In Acts 2, the Jewish disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. This again happened with Gentiles on the verge of their conversion to Christianity (Acts 10).

Note that in these cases, God simply "grabs" the person and fills him with the Holy Spirit, and some sort of prophecy or tongue-speaking, etc, is the result.

Peter says in Acts 2 that the event recorded there is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2, in which God promises to pour out His Spirit on all humanity (not just the twelve closest followers of Jesus), male and female, old and young, and that it would result in prophecy, visions, dreams, wonders, and signs.

3 - Dispensed by Another Human Having Dispensing Ability

Sometimes the Holy Spirit is dispensed by another human. After Jesus' resurrection, he breathed on his 11 remaining closest disciples and told them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). Earlier he had given them "authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness" (Matt 10:1). This miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit appears to have been temporary, in effect while the disciples were carrying out their assigned mission.

In Acts 8:14ff, the new converts did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John laid their hands on them.

Timothy received a gift via the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14).

The church leaders laid their hands on Saul and Barnabas, and shortly thereafter Saul/Paul manifested miraculous abilities (Acts 13:2ff).

4 - Desired and Requested

The Corinthians were told to "desire spiritual gifts" (1 Cor 14:1), and to be eager to prophesy (14:39) and that they should pray for gifts (14:13). He also said that a "manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial" (12:7), as the Holy Spirit wills (12:11).

Note that Paul makes a distinction between this "measure" of the Holy Spirit and the measure given to a specially-sent ambassador: he says that the Holy Spirit gives this measure to "each person", but to himself was given the ability to perform the "signs of an apostle", with "wonders and miracles" (2 Cor 12:12). But both "measures" manifest themselves in what we would call "miraculous" activity.

We can see this distinction in Acts 21; Paul exhibits various miraculous powers in his journeys, but on this occasion, it required a prophet (Agabus) with a more "mundane" indwelling to foretell Paul's fate (Acts 21:10ff). (We've heard from Agabus and his prophetic ability before - Acts 11:27ff.)

Conclusion

Of these four methods, only one of them is no longer available to us. When the apostles died out, there was no longer any Biblically-approved human dispenser of the Holy Spirit.

However, the other three methods are still available to us:

* we can still be born with innate talents that we can hone to God's glory;

* if God so desires, He can autonomously grant someone with his Holy Spirit and its manifestations; and

* we can still pray for God's Spiritual gifting, which He may dispense according to His will.

(Note that in none of these methods was the Spirit of God conveyed as mere data/information which could be stored in a book. For those who claim that the Holy Spirit only indwells modern-day Christians via the Bible, let me mention Satan. I'm confident that Satan knows every word of the Bible, much better than any living Christian; what makes him different from Bible-knowing Christians? It's not merely the existence of God's Word in the person's mind. Nor would it seem to be faith, as James tells us that the demons believe. So whatever the indwelling of the Spirit is, it is not merely the storage in a person's head/heart of data between the pages of God's book. The indwelling of God's Spirit is something more than what the text of the Bible by itself can accomplish, or Satan, who has the text of the Bible in his head, would have God's Spirit.)

At this point, someone from my religious background will object that miracles have ceased. They base this argument on three points:

1) Holy Spirit-provided miraculous powers were given to the Apostles only, and from there were able to be passed on through the laying on of their hands; once the Apostles died out, this transmission capability ceased.

We've seen above that this is only one method of four wherein such powers were acquired. We've also seen that Holy Spirit-provided miraculous powers were not prophesied to be given only to the Apostles, but to all of humanity.

2) The purpose for miracles, to confirm the word, has been fulfilled.

Whereas miracles did indeed confirm the word, the Biblical text never makes the claim that this is the only purpose of miracles; this is a claim made by humans, not by the Biblical text. Furthermore, Paul explicitly says that tongues were a sign for the unbelievers (who would need the word confirmed), but that prophecy was a sign for the believers (who had already accepted the word), for their edification (1 Cor 14:22ff).

John 9 implies that miracles also serve to demonstrate God's workings (v 3) and to open stubbornly-closed eyes (v 39). Acts 4 indicates that the lame man was healed as a good deed (v 9) and to spur people to give glory to God (v 22).

The context of 1 Corinthians 14 says that at least one purpose of miraculous workings is to teach (v 19), not "to confirm", but to teach something that is freshly revealed (v 30), so that everyone can learn and be encouraged (v 31), in order to build up the church (v 26).

So whereas "a" purpose of miracles was to confirm the word, it was not the only purpose.

Even so, if God so desires to confirm his written word in the modern day with miracles, that's His prerogative. If we consider the Bible as a single witness (as opposed to a collection of multiple witnesses), then a second witness is needed, for by the mouths of two or three witnesses shall a thing be established. It might be argued that since much Biblical doctrine is derived from patching various texts together, such a doctrine is established by a single witness (no one witness in the collection of witnesses by itself supporting the doctrine), and therefore needs a second witness to fully establish the doctrine.

3) 1 Cor 13 teaches that miraculous powers have come to an end.

Here's the relevant text:
HCSB 1 Cor 13:8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The argument goes that prophecy and languages and knowledge were partial when Paul wrote this, but once all the text of the New Testament had been written, the prophecy, languages, and knowledge God intended to give to humanity was complete, therefore prophecy, languages, and knowledge (and other miraculous powers) came to an end. The argument is further developed by appealing to James 1:25 which refers to the "perfect law of liberty" and to Jude 3 which says the faith was delivered once for all to the saints, and piecing these verses together to form a jigsaw-puzzle theology that the New Testament is the "perfect law of liberty" which, being "perfect" means it is complete, therefore the "partial" revelation from God has now become perfect/complete, meaning that prophecy, languages, and knowledge have ceased. It doesn't seem convincing that the "perfect" in 1 Cor 13:10 is referring to the "perfect law of liberty" in James 1:25. Nor does it seem convincing that the "perfect law of liberty" in James 1:25 refers to the New Testament as a completed document. The logical steps necessary for this argument seem to me to rely on definitions stretched out of context.

When we look only at 1 Cor 13, notice that the text does not say that miracles will cease when the New Testament is completed. It says that when the partial (whatever it is, prophecy, knowledge, etc) is perfected, it's no longer partial. It does not say that this perfection would occur with the death of the last apostle, or the writing of the last New Testament book. In fact, Paul clearly states that when the "perfect" arrives, he will know fully as he is fully known. I for one, do not fully know, so if the test applied to him applies to me also, then the "perfect" has not yet arrived.

In fact, in another place, Paul writes:
HCSB Eph 4:11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, [growing] into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ's fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.
Unless the 21st century church has attained, not merely a greater unity in the faith and knowledge of God's Son than did the church of Paul's day, but a complete unity, and unless we've reached maturity unlike them, then we still need apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers. So have we reached complete maturity? Have we reached unity?

In short, the idea that 1 Cor 13 says that miracles have ceased is a stretch. The most one can say is that it teaches that prophecies and the like will someday cease, but that when it happens, we'll "know fully". I, for one, don't yet know fully.

So in final summation: God gives various spiritual gifts to whom He desires, when He desires, for whatever reasons He desires, resulting in various manifestations, via at least four methods, and the idea that He does not do so in the present day is based on biased interpretations of the text rather than on clear statements to that effect. I would recommend caution in quenching the Spirit on the basis of fallible human reasoning rather than on clear Biblical teaching.

5 comments:

T. said...

I am so glad to have this so clearly lined out. I love it when you line out things. I am in agreement with you on this. I found it quite educational. Thank you.

What a way to start a new year.

T. said...

"The Spirit of YHWH took control of David after he was anointed as a young man by Saul to some day be king (1 Sam 16:13), but again, we don't see any special outward manifestation of this in the form of miraculous activity."

UMM I think you mean Samuel annointed David not Saul...


"Of these four methods, only one of them is no longer available to us. When the apostles died out, there was no longer any Biblically-approved human dispenser of the Holy Spirit."

Okay so I am not sure I follow this one. Can you explain this one a little more.

"
1) Holy Spirit-provided miraculous powers were given to the Apostles only, and from there were able to be passed on through the laying on of their hands; once the Apostles died out, this transmission capability ceased.

We've seen above that this is only one method of four wherein such powers were acquired. We've also seen that Holy Spirit-provided miraculous powers were not prophesied to be given only to the Apostles, but to all of humanity."

If the Holy Spirit provided miraculous powers were to be given to all humanity then where do we get it that the human transmission of them stopped with them?

I can think of one place in Acts where a man tried to purchase these powers and was rebuked but I can think of no place that it says the transmission by humans ceased with the apostles. Also, one of your own examples in the passing of powers is Saul/Paul and Barnabas where the church in Antioch lays on hands and prays - these were not apostles that passed the Holy Spirit to them but the church through prayer.

Chyntt said...

Thank you, T. And yes, I meant Samuel; it has now been corrected.

In the pressure to get this post written (it was hard to get my thoughts together on it, and I still don't even really know entirely what I think/believe about it all, but I wanted to get down on paper the ideas trying to gel in my brain), I wrote my point #3 thinking that Saul & Barnabas had been commissioned by the Jerusalem church. Now that you bring it up and I look closer, I see it's the Antioch church, which presumably didn't have any Apostles amongst their number. In that case, I need to re-examine the idea that the re-transmission capability was limited to the Apostles. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Shepherd's Ewe said...

In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles the number gathered to add one to their number for the lost Judas was about 120 which included Yeshsua' mother and the women. Could the Holy Spirit have been left on all of those desciples in Acts 2? Just a thought. :)

Chyntt said...

Peter said the event was a fulfillment of Joel 2, which prophecy includes women. Seems to me that unless Peter is interpreting the event so loosely as to almost make the prophecy meaningless, the event must've included the women.