Enns’ writing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the stuff seminary classes should be made of! It is logical and easy to understand yet at the same time challenging and thought provoking. His presentation of the scriptural basis for each gift is straightforward and direct. His support for the idea that at least four of the nineteen gifts he presents are less scriptural and indirect. (Enns 2008, p280-289)
It is difficult to prove a negative. If I say “prove the sky is not purple” I would in fact try to prove it is blue. I think the scriptural support for the potential eternity of spiritual gifts is more apparent than support for a negative idea.
Enns identifies the gifts of apostle, prophet, miracles, miracles and healing as ceasing after the Apostles. He offers little proof that is direct. The proof for the other side of the argument, that they potentially still exist today, are the scriptures used to prove their initial existence. Jesus appointed the original Apostles with “whom He also names as apostles.” (Enns 2008, p281) There is no reference that specifically states there were be no more. Paul claimed to be an apostle as did others. (Boa 2001, p310: 2 Cor. 12:12, Acts 14:14, Romans 16:7, I Cor. 15:5) It is certainly implied by the circumstances and perspective of the ministry of Jesus that this gift existed during his lifetime. But it is never plainly stated. From a biblical theology point of view, the conclusion can be drawn that the gift of Apostle died with Christ if only the historical context of the Bible is used.
From a systemic theology point of view, there is less support for this position. An apostle is one who represents another. (Elwell 2001, p84) Christ represented the Father as the Father’s apostle. (Heb. 3:1) He had the Father’s authority and power. The twelve represented Christ. They were second only to Christ himself in their authority and power. (Eph. 2:20) There are also times when an apostle is regarded as more of a messenger. (2 Cor. 8:23) Do we not represent the Father through the power of Jesus? Are we not his messengers?
It is very interesting to me that Enns takes this position. He has guts! It is a position not supported or even avoided by many great Christian Theologians. Elwell, in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology avoids the topic a far as I can tell. His text is a resource by many great Liberty professors.
Millard Erickson in Christian Theology deals with the subject but is non-committal. He states “it is not possible to determine” whether some or all of the spiritual gifts have a timeline. (Erickson 1998, p895) From the point of view of this amateur student-theologian, that is the position I would support. There is no clear pronouncement in scripture of a timeline for spiritual gifts. Many of them may have left the Earth with the death of Christ. That is frankly unclear from a review of all the evidence discovered this week in class. Perhaps we can all ask Jesus one day!
Boa, Kenneth, Conformed In His Image, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.
Enns, Paul, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008.
Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Press, 1998.