Monday, March 20, 2017


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Today, the subject of spiritual gifts, mentioned in I Cor. 12:7-11, remains controversial among denominations. Some (continuationists) believe the Holy Spirit can bestow spiritual gifts on persons today, whereas others (cessationists) believe the gifts ceased with the apostolic age.

But, if spiritual gifts were supposed to cease, then why, long after the death of the apostles, did the widespread gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g., speaking in tongues and interpretation, prophecy, healings, visions and miracles, continue into the third and fourth-century church?

The "Gifts of the Holy Spirit" is an interesting subject, and today's guest blogger presents well-researched evidence of the continuation of the gifts after the death of the apostles. Might we assume from this that God did not recall his gifts...that he is still using them for the good of the church in the same manner he did in apostolic times?

Gifts of the Spirit for Centuries
by David W. T. Brattston

Prophecy, speaking in tongues, and other gifts of the Holy Spirit did not die out with the apostles or their first followers. Documents in the second through fourth centuries show that miraculous powers like those in the New Testament continued among Christians.

Early Second Century
Quadratus was a Christian in Athens who witnessed to the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the A.D. 120s, to prove that Christianity was the true religion and was no harm to the empire. Quadratus reminded the emperor that the miracles Christians performed in his day were genuine: "Nor did they remain only during the sojourn of the Saviour on earth, but also a considerable time after his departure; and, indeed, some of them have survived even to our own times."[1] Quadratus spoke as though the emperor was already familiar with Christian miracles.

Late Second and Early Third Centuries
Irenaeus of Lyons was raised a Christian near Ephesus, where he associated with the apostles’ immediate followers. In A.D. 177 he became a pastor in southern France. Between the years 182 and 188, he wrote a book against perversions of Christianity in which he compared the true faith to the sects. Among the differences was that true Christians performed miracles to help other people. He listed driving out demons, the gift of prophecy, visions, and healing the sick by the laying on of hands as marks of genuine believers that were still current in the A.D. 180s.[2] He contrasted this with false Christians or sects, who could not give sight to the blind, heal the deaf, exorcise wicked spirits, or cure the lame.[3]

Tertullian was a lawyer in the late second century. After converting to Christ he returned to his hometown in what is now Tunisia and became a clergyman and writer on religious subjects. He recorded that in his time believers still cast out demons, saw visions from God, interpreted tongues, and received other spiritual gifts long after the death of the last apostle.[4]

Quadratus in Greece, Irenaeus in France, and Tertullian in Tunisia all indicated that the continuance of full gifts of the Spirit was not a local phenomenon but was widespread in the second-century church.

Origen had been raised a Christian in Alexandria, Egypt, and later became head of “the first Christian university” in Palestine. In the late 240s, he wrote a book defending Christianity from pagan attacks. He argued that Christ could be proved to be divine from the success of His followers in working miracles, clearly indicating the Spirit still moved in the middle of the third century:

“There are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos.”[5]

“The name of Jesus can still remove distractions from the minds of men, and expel demons, and also take away diseases; and also produce a marvellous meekness of spirit and complete change of character."[6]

In Homilies on Luke 7.6 he noted that diseases of body and soul were cured in both Christ’s time and his own.

Origen also argued that Christianity had replaced Judaism as the true religion because the Jews "have no longer prophets nor miracles, traces of which to a considerable extent are still found among Christians, and some of them more remarkable than any that existed among the Jews; and these we ourselves have witnessed."[7]

In the first half of third century, a Christian saint completely cured a senator’s wife of a form of malaria that caused a fever every fourth day.[8] In the first decade of the fourth century, Arnobius of Sicca in North Africa wrote that Jesus "appears even now to righteous men of unpolluted mind" in visions and His name still put evil spirits to flight and protected the faithful against occult pagan practices.[9]

In addition to the full outpouring of gifts, some Christians mentioned that specific powers of the Spirit continued to their own day. Sometime in the first or early second century, a church manual was compiled in Syria, containing rules for the testing and support of Christian prophets.[10] It provided guidance for deciding whether a person was speaking in the Spirit.[11] Nobody would have provided such regulations unless Christianity still had prophecy. According to Origen, however, believers did not regard them as having the same scriptural authority as prophecies which formed part of the Old Testament.[12] Even half a century after Origen, two Christian martyrs, Marian and James (died 254 A. D.) were filled with the Spirit and uttered prophecies of specific events.[13]

In Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, Eric Richard Dodds, a professor at Oxford University and an agnostic, admits that speaking in tongues was "a Christian specialty, from the days of St. Paul...down to those of Irenaeus, late in the second century."[14] Even later, in a series of sermons between A.D. 238 and 244, Origen indicated that the gifts of speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues were still current in his day.[15]

Exorcise of Demons
In Rome in the 160s, a highly educated Christian named Justin mentioned in a debate with a rabbi that Christians continued to expel evil spirits from people.[16] Elsewhere he mentioned that Christians successfully exorcised the victims of demon possession, “though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs.”[17] About the time Irenaeus wrote, Bishop Theophilus of Antioch said the Holy Spirit continued to be manifest in the same way. Early in the next century, Tertullian commented that “multitudes” could testify to the success of Christian exorcisms.[18]

Bishop Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia (central Turkey) mentioned an exorcism that had taken place in A.D. 234.[19] In a pastoral address to Christians in jail awaiting martyrdom, Pionius of Ephesus mentioned that in A.D. 250 the name of Christ still expelled demons and worked other wonders.[20] The pastor-bishop of Carthage reported that exorcisms were common in the 250s.[21]

It appears from the evidence of Christians in different parts of the Roman Empire that the gifts of the Spirit were still manifested and that signs and wonders continued to follow those who believed for generation after generation, as late as the early fourth century.

Note, however, in the above quotes by Origen, his two mentions of the word “traces,” which reinforce his statement of a few years earlier that Christians of his time did not enjoy the same fullness of the Holy Spirit as in apostolic times.[22] This is similar to the statement in the late second century of Theophilus of Antioch, who observed that Christians cast out demons only “sometimes.”[23] Origen spoke of the resurrection of the bodies of the physically dead as having applied only to the apostles, but added that some Christians of his time could raise the spiritually dead.[24]

The miraculous activity of the Holy Spirit did not end abruptly with the death of the apostles but became less and less frequent over the centuries. Does it persist to our own day?

1 Corinthians 12: 1, 7-11 kjv 
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. …
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”

"How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” 
(Benjamin Disraeli)

About the author
David W. T. Brattston is a retired lawyer residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He holds degrees from three Canadian universities.  His mission is to make early Christian literature known and used by all Christians, especially as Christian moral teaching from before A.D. 250 relates to today.  In the last quarter-century, over three hundred of his articles on early and contemporary Christianity have been published by a wide variety of denominations in every major English-speaking country.

[1] Quadratus, Apology
[2] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.32.4.
[3] Ibid., 2.31.2.
[4] Tertullian, The Soul's Testimony, 3; To Scapula, 2; Against Marcion 5.8.
[5] Origen, Against Celsus 1.46. See also 1.6 and 7.67.
[6] Ibid., 1.67.
[7] Ibid., 7.8.
[8] Acts of Saint Eugenia 11
[9] Arnobius, Against the Heathen, 46
[10] Didache 13.1-7.
[11] Ibid. 11.7-8, 12.
[12] Origen, Against Celsus 7.8.
[13] Martyrdom of Marian and James 12.7.
[14] Cambridge University Press, 1965 p. 55 n. 1.
[15] Origen Homilies on Exodus 13.2.
[16] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 30.
[17]  Justin Martyr, 2 Apology 6.
[18] Tertullian, Scapula 2.
[19] Firmilian, Epistle 74.10, in the collection of Cyprian.
[20] Martyrdom of Pionius, 13.6.
[21] Cyprian, Epistle 69.15.
[22] Origen, Commentary on the Song of Songs, Prologue Chapter 4.
[23] Origen, Commentary on the Song of Songs, Prologue Chapter 4.
[24] Origen, Homilies on Isaiah 6.4.