In our last article in this series, we noted how Ephesians 4:8-16– which is universally admitted to be parallel with 1 Corinthians 13– did in fact – contra McDurmon– predict the cessation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This series of articles is in response to an article by Joel McDurmon Head of Research at American Vision in Powder Springs, Ga. Contra “church history” and the creeds, McDurmon claims that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, does not discuss the end of miracles in an objective sense. He goes further and claims that 1 Corinthians 13 has no eschatological content: “I think that the whole endeavor to see 1 Corinthians 13:9ff as an indicator of any major eschatological, doctrinal, covenantal, or revelatory shift is to miss the point of the passage entirely.” You can begin reading the entire series with article #1 here.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Individually Focused, or Corporate?
McDurmon claims that the focus and purpose of the revelatory gifts was (is) to bring the individual believer to “that which is perfect”- the time of the spiritual maturity of the gifted individual. When the individual believer arrived (arrives) at that point of maturity, the gifts cease in his / her life, but, not in the life of corporate church. See my book, Into All The World, Then Comes The End, for a discussion of the last days gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In response to McDurmon’s emphasis on the individual believer, we introduced Ephesians 4:8-16:
“ Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
For this article, I want to focus on how Paul undeniably discusses the purpose and function of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit as they pertain to the corporate body– not the individual.
It is to be noted of course that Paul says Christ “gave gifts to men.” Needless to say, those gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to individuals. We are not denying that, but, the real question here, as it relates to McDurmon’s claims is, did Christ give those miraculous revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit for the ultimate good of those particular individuals, or, was the ultimate function, goal and aim focused on the corporate body, and an objective goal at that? The answer to that question is clearly given in the text.
Notice that Paul says “he gave gifts to men.” Why? Paul leaves no doubt as to the purpose, function and goal of the impartation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “to equip the church to do the work of the ministry.” This is patently a corporate function of the miraculous revelatory gifts: “to equip the church.”
We must likewise honor the fact that Paul says the gifts were given “until we all come to the unity of the faith.” Now, if we honor the personal pronouns of the text then it is more than evident that Paul expected his generation to arrive at that “perfect man” together. (Interestingly, McDurmon, when commenting on Jesus’ parabolic teachings– insists that we honor the personal pronouns that limit what Jesus said to the first century. Why is that not true in Ephesians?)
Again, the corporate and collective nature of the purpose– and duration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit— is too clear to deny or to overlook. This language demands that Paul has a synchronous “arrival” in mind for “the church” and for “we all.” And there is something else.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit– Given To Some For the Benefit of All
McDurmon knows, as most Bible students do, that not all members of the body were given the miraculous revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Or even are, to grant his application to contemporary times. But keep in mind that he says he never witnessed even one genuine example of the charismata, in over five years as a member of that movement). Well, note that Paul says the miraculous revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to some so that together, “we all” would arrive at “the perfect man.” Now, since the miraculous revelatory gifts were given to some to bring “we all” to “the perfect man” then, McDurmon’s position logically demands that of necessity “we all” must have had the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (I am unaware of anyone that claims that every member of the early church– or today– possesses the gifts of the Holy Spirit).
If this is denied, it demands that the gifts were given to bring only those endowed with those miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit to “the perfect man.” But, Paul did not say the miraculous revelatory gifts were given to some individuals to bring only those endowed with those miraculous revelatory gifts to that “perfect man.” He said the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to some to being “we all” to that ‘perfect man.”
There simply is no hint in the text that Paul was saying: “He gave gifts to some men, to equip some of them to do the work of the ministry, until, one by one, occasionally, those individuals, at different times, arrive at “the unity of the faith.” (As we shall see in another installment, a proper understanding of “the faith” here, dispels any agreement between McDurmon’s view and the text).
Read the text carefully, and note the collective, corporate nature of the terms that Paul uses:
“Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Were Corporately Focused
Paul subsumes the gifted work of the individuals under the goal of the growth, the maturation, the work of “the body.” The endowed individuals were working together for the growth of the body. Gifted individuals were working to bring “the body” to “the perfect man.” The work of every “joint” was aimed at the growth of the corporate body. For Paul, “the body” was singular. The “perfect man” was singular and corporate. And, for Paul, those gifts were to endure “until we all come” to that desired, predicted goal of “the perfect man.” Paul’s “we all” would arrive at “the perfect man” at the same time. The text (and context) forbids an application that says: “Over the centuries and millennia, some gifted individuals will arrive at personal spiritual maturity, and when they do, their personal possession of the miraculous revelatory gifts will cease.” That simply is not in the text. It is eisegesis to insert it there.
So, while Joel McDurmon claims that the miraculous revelatory gifts of the Spirit were focused on the individual spiritual maturation of some individual believers, Paul had no such thing in mind. Paul was focused on all of the gifted individuals working together to equip the church, “until we all come to the unity of the faith.” The gifted “some” were working toward the goal to be reached by “we all.” Thus, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were corporately focused, collectively driven, aiming for the eschatological goal of “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to some, to bring the all to that objective goal.