The previous two articles I’ve written in the Weekend Bible Reflections discussed how the Bible defines miracles. We’ll conclude this study of biblical miracles this week by noticing how the apostle Paul specifically stated that miraculous spiritual gifts would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Some conclude that “the perfect” refers to Jesus. That is understandable, considering that Jesus was the only one on earth who never sinned. However, “the perfect” comes from the Greek word teleos, which literally means “complete” or “mature.” This same Greek word was used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to the Word of God (Romans 12:2; James 1:25). When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete.” That would change when Revelation was completed not many years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Thus, Paul was stating in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that miraculous spiritual gifts would cease when God’s Word was complete.
The purpose of the miracles performed by Christ and His apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit was to confirm that what they were preaching was actually from God. Mark wrote of how Jesus spoke of miraculous abilities accompanying believers (Mark 16:17), and then spoke of how the apostles “went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (v. 20). The writer of Hebrews also wrote of how “the salvation” which “was declared at first by the Lord, and…attested to us by those who heard” was backed up by God, who “also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3-4). Miracles were done in order to confirm the validity of God’s Word. Once that Word became complete with the close of the New Testament, confirming it through miraculous signs would no longer be needed.
This is made even clearer when one studies how the first Christians received the ability to perform miracles. As recorded in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came directly upon the apostles on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Throughout the next several chapters we read of only the apostles performing miracles. Then in chapter 6 we read of the apostles directing the Jerusalem church to select from among themselves seven men who would be put in charge over providing food to the widows in the church. Among the men chosen were Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:5). The apostles laid their hands on these men (v. 6). Only after that occurred do we then read of men other than the apostles performing miracles, in that Stephen is cited as “doing great wonders and signs” (v. 8) and Philip is also cited as performing miracles in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8).
While in Samaria, Philip baptized a magician named Simon (Acts 8:9-13). Luke records that Simon then continued with Philip and observed Philip’s miracles (v. 13). It doesn’t say that Simon himself performed the miracles, only that he watched Philip performing the miracles. Luke then writes of how two apostles – Peter and John – came to Samaria to lay their hands on the baptized Samaritans so they would receive the Holy Spirit (vs. 14-17). When Simon “saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money” and received a rebuke from Peter (vs. 18-24). Note that Simon did not ask Philip to give him the Spirit. He asked the apostles because only when an apostle laid his hands on one did they receive miraculous spiritual gifts (v. 18; cf. Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6). This shows that those on whom they laid their hands – like Philip – could not in turn lay their hands on others and give them miraculous gifts.
So what would happen when all of the apostles died? The only ones who could then perform miracles would be those on whom they had laid their hands. And when they in turn passed on, no one would be left who could perform miracles. Miracles would then cease.
History tells us that the New Testament was completed around this same time period. Thus, Paul’s prophecy came true. When “that which is perfect has come” – when God’s Word was completed – miracles ceased.