Did All Christians in the First Century Possess Miraculous Gifts?
In Act 2, when the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, was it on the apostles only, or did the three thousand who were baptized also receive miraculous gifts? Please explain. If everyone received the gifts, were they promised until “that which is perfect” (1 Corinthians 13:10) was come? Did the Ethiopian eunuch receive a miraculous gift? If so, how?
First, there is no evidence that anyone other than the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. That blessing had been promised to them (see Acts 1:5, 8). The only other exception was to the household of Cornelius, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, as a divine token that Gentiles were to be admitted into the church (Joel 2:28ff; cf. Acts 2:17ff; 10:44; 11:15; 15:8).
Second, there is no explicit testimony which indicates that anyone other than the apostles possessed miraculous gifts for some time following Pentecost. If the claim be made that the expression “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) reflects such, we would insist that this is a point to be proven, not merely asserted. The expression itself does not determine the nature of the gift. In fact, the evidence of Luke’s subsequent record suggests otherwise.
Note the following:
- “[W]onders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43).
- “[B]y the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought” (5:12).
These passages are puzzling if all of the early Christians were going about performing miracles.
As far as the inspired narrative actually reveals, the first people to receive supernatural gifts, besides the apostles, were the seven special church servants chosen in Acts 6:1ff. Of them the record says: “[A]nd when they [the apostles] had prayed, they laid their hands upon them . . . . And Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought great signs among the people” (vv. 6, 8).
Third, no, the Ethiopian eunuch did not possess a miraculous gift. In order for the eunuch to have possessed a supernatural gift it would have been necessary for an apostle to have laid hands upon him (Acts 6:6; 8:18; 19:6). But the Ethiopian had contact with no one but Philip, who was not an apostle. (Note: the Philip mentioned in Acts 8 was Philip the evangelist [21:8], not Philip the apostle [Matthew 10:3].) It is evident that Philip could not bestow miraculous gifts, for after he converted many of the Samaritans, the apostles Peter and John had to be sent to Samaria to convey gifts to the disciples there (8:14ff).
Further, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul frames a series of questions regarding supernatural gifts:
Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? do all have the gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? (vv. 29-30).
In the Greek Testament, each of these questions is prefaced with the negative particle
me, which is designed to elicit a negative answer to the queries.
The word “miracles” (
dunamis [v. 29]) is a broad term for any supernatural gift, emphasizing the divine power behind it. The implication underlying these questions is clearly this: not everyone in the first century church possessed a miraculous gift.
The evidence appears conclusive: miraculous gifts in the early church were limited to select persons; they were not available universally to all saints.
(For a more detailed study, see Miracles.)
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.