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Power Ministry In The Epistles


* I wish to thank John Wimber, who powerfully introduced me to the present work of the Holy Spirit; several friends who gather periodically in my home to talk theology and who critiqued an earlier version of this paper (William Abraham, Rich Milne, David Naugle, and Paul Strube); and Jmel Wilson, who followed my frequent revisions with faithful typing help.

1 Tim Stafford, “Fruit of the Vineyard,” Christianity Today (November 17, 1989), p. 35.

2 The issues raised here are of concern to evangelical Christians, so I address my remarks to that audience.

3 A more consistent position, if one should wish to exclude certain gifts from the present scene, would be to consign all of them to the first century, though there is no warrant in the New Testament for this either. An example of this approach may be found in Gene A. Getz, Sharpening the Focus of the Church (Wheaton: Victor, 1984), pp. 153-65.

4 In 1 Cor. 14:39 and 1 Thess. 5:19-20 Paul specifically enjoins his readers not to suppress the exercise of tongues and prophecy. In contrast to the subtle nuances which must be coaxed out of the biblical text to marshal a case for cessationism, here are straightforward commands on the other side in the case of two of the disputed gifts. This is significant within evangelicalism, where the Bible is championed as the sole basis upon which theology is to be established. In light of texts such as these, it seems to me that the cessationist position brings upon itself Barr’s critique of Protestants who celebrate the Bible’s authority but refuse to allow the biblical text to speak in contradiction of a prevailing hermeneutic (James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983], pp. 31-32).

5 I hasten to say that such passages as Rom. 10:13-15; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; and 1 Pet. 2:9-10, 3:15 clearly indicate good news that is to be shared. It could be said that all of these references, except the ones in 1 Peter, refer to leaders and not ordinary Christians. I do not believe they should be read that way, any more than I believe that certain gifts of the Spirit were the sole province of the Apostles. Miraculous gifts did authenticate the Apostles (2 Cor. 12:12), but they also accompanied other believers (Acts 6:8, 8:6, 9:17-18 [22:13], 14:3; 1 Cor. 1:7; more on this below). My point here is simply that there is no direct command to witness in the epistles, the purpose clause in 1 Pet. 2:9 being the closest to such, whereas there are several such commands with reference to spiritual gifts.

Another common misunderstanding among evangelicals regarding the gifts of the Spirit is the notion that, when they are present, they always operate to the fullest possible degree, e.g., that someone endowed with the gift of healing could heal anyone at any time. If this were the nature of the gifts, then I would readily agree that they have passed away, for I neither know nor have heard or read of anyone with such ability. I do not believe, however, that this is the way Spirit gifting operates today, or has ever operated in the past (see Rom. 12:6; 2 Tim. 1:6; and see Wayne Grudem’s chapter in this book, objection no. 26 [Editor’s Note: published in Pneuma Review Fall 2000). Evangelical professors of homiletics acknowledge this implicitly every time they critique a sermon delivered by a gifted preacher who is in training under them and point out mistakes in the sermon. Again, many courses are in place in evangelical seminaries to teach gifted pastors how to shepherd and help them mature in their gifting. If other gifts operate at less than a perfect level and must be cultivated, then the same should also be granted for healing, prophecy, etc.

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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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