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Power Ministry In The Epistles

The truth of the matter is that many activities were an integral part of the life of the Early Church and were assumed, although not emphasized, by the writers of the epistles. Here are some examples of this point with specific reference to the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit in believers’ daily lives.

Another common misunderstanding among evangelicals regarding the gifts of the Spirit is that they always operate to the fullest possible degree.

When Paul elaborates on the faith that brings us into relationship with God, he cites the example of Abraham, who fathered a son by faith after he and his wife were both past the age when this was physically possible. In speaking of the God who did this for Abraham, Paul uses present participles, thereby bringing into contact with his and his readers’ current experience the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17). In reflecting on his own ministry, Paul made it clear that he saw the manifest work of the Spirit as integral to the full proclamation of the gospel (Romans 15:19).6 A clear focus on the essential message of the gospel and a risk-taking dependence on the Spirit to confirm that message with accompanying demonstrations of God’s power were characteristic of his ministry (1 Corinthians 2:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5). Indeed, the operation of the Spirit’s power was understood to be a mark of the presence of the kingdom in the Church (1 Corinthians 4:20), even as were righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17).

Lengthy instructions were given to believers as to how they might properly participate in the communal ministry of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14). The release and miracles of the Spirit were an integral part of the life of a church to which an entire epistle was written to stabilize their faith in Christ, with only one passing reference being made to these miracles (Galatians 3:5). Indeed the very proclamation of the gospel was a supernatural work of the Spirit through the messengers, so that those who heard were in fact hearing the Lord Himself speak (Ephesians 2:17, 4:20-21; 1 Peter 4:11). The attesting signs which accompanied the message delivered were to the recipients both a confirmation (Hebrews 2:3-4) and a foretaste of the coming age (Hebrews 6:5).

The poor (who constituted the larger part of the pentecostal movement, at least initially), Catholics, and liberal mainline Protestants more readily recognized and made room for the renewing work of the Spirit of Jesus than did evangelicals. If this is true, then it suggests that there is something deeply wrong with the system of evangelical theology.

This pattern of word and deed, preaching and healing, was, after all, what the Lord Jesus had foretold about the ministry of His followers after His ascension. While the epistles may not say as much about the miracles of the Spirit as some would like (although the preceding sample could be expanded),7 the four gospels and Acts surely say a great deal. Jesus’ earthly ministry was marked by the declaration of the kingdom and by healing miracles, and He indicated that believers would carry on the ministry He had begun (John 17:18; 20:21). In fact, He made it a point to say that believers (not just apostles) would do the works He had done and greater (John 14:12). However one may understand what Jesus meant by “greater” works, this must not obscure the plain statement in the first part of the verse.8 The figure of the Church as the body of Christ speaks of Him as the head doing His works through His members (1 Corinthians 12). Jesus viewed this arrangement (i.e., the Spirit doing His works through believers) as being more advantageous to the Church and her ministry than was His own earthly presence (John 16:7). The same picture of the church’s mission is drawn in Acts, where it is implicitly set forth as a continuation of the ministry of Jesus (Acts 1:1).9

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Category: Fall 2007, Spirit

About the Author: Walter R. Bodine (as of 1992) is currently engaged in independent scholarly work in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies, focusing now on Sumerian and Assyriological studies. He received a Ph.D. (Northwest Semitics and Old Testament, 1973) from Harvard University. He chaired the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew unit of the Society of Biblical Literature from 1982-1991. He has published several scholarly works, including Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew (Eisenbrauns, 1992), The Greek Text of Judges: Recensional Developments (Harvard Semitic Monographs, no. 23; Scholars Press, 1980), and Discourse Analysis and Biblical Literature (Society of Biblical Literature, 1995).

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