THE TRANSITIONAL NATURE OF ACTS: Part 2

by Ron Merryman, Copyright, 1999

In Part I of this article, we reviewed key aspects of the transitional nature of the Book of Acts. As noted, a major shift was occurring in Godís dealings with mankind: from the communication-medium of one nation (Israel), God was shifting to the communication-medium of one body (the Church); from one ethnic people (Jews) to a universal-regenerated-people whose ethnic heritage was inconsequential; from a specialized, restricted priesthood (Levites) to a universal priesthood of all believers. A new dispensation was at hand: the Church Age.

Miracles & Revelations in Acts : Were These to be Normative?

Acts records the transition to this new age. One can hardly read its pages without being impressed by the multiple references to tongues, signs, wonders, healings, visions, angelic missions, prophecies, dreams, etc., especially as recorded in the early chapters. The question raised by these phenomena is: Were these unique to that period or are they to be normative to the Church at all times? Were they transitional as are much of the happenings in Acts or are they descriptive of what we should expect today? Before I address the question, note the documentation of these miraculous events below.

Acts Records Intensive, Proliferated, God-given Revelation Via Various Means

REVELATORY MEANS

ACTS 1-12

(ca. 30-44 A.D.)

ACTS 13-20

(ca. 45-62 A.D.)

Tongues (Foreign Languages)

2:1-11 Pentecost

10:44-46 house of Cornelius

19:6,7 disciples of John the Baptist

Signs, Wonders, Healings

2:43 many thru the 12

3:7-9 lame man at the Temple

5:12-16 many thru the 12 Apostles

8:6,7 many via Philip (Samaria)

14:8-10 lame man at Lystra

19:11,12 many via Paul at Ephesus

Angelic Intercession

5:18,19 with the Apostles in prison

12:7-10 frees Peter in prison

27:23,24 assures Paul about shipwreck

Visions

2:17 prophecy of visions to come

9:10-13 to Ananias about Paul

10:3-6 to Cornelius

10:10-17 to Peter

10:19 to Peter (11:5)

12:7 to Peter (in prison)

16:9,10 Macedonian vision to Paul

18:9,10 encouragement to Paul at Corinth

Christophany

9:1-6 to Paul (in 26:19 Paul calls           this "the heavenly vision")

 

Prophecies

11:28 Agabus: "famine in           Jerusalem"

19:6 followers of John the Baptist

27:24,25 Paul to shipmates

 

Did you notice:

  1. That the predominance of signs, wonders, visions, healings, etc., in the first column (Acts 1-12), occurs less and less frequently as the rest of the book unfolds? In fact, from chapter 20 to the close of the Book, i.e., in thirty-two per cent of the text, only two or three of these miraculous phenomena are recorded.

2. Not everyone in Acts experienced healing and miraculous deliverance: Stephen was martyred (Ch.7); believers suffered at the hands of Saul (8:1-3); James was decapitated by Herod Agrippa I (12:2); Paul himself suffered stoning (14:19), whipping and imprisonment (16:22-24), and multiple perils (II Cor. 11: 24-33).

Miracles and Revelations in Acts Were Transitional: They Are Not Normative

What I am trying to illustrate here is the temporary and transitional nature of the miraculous phenomena recorded in Acts. The diminution of the signs, the wonders, the miraculous and the special revelations as the Book progresses are indicative that these special gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit were winding down if not totally coming to an end even before Luke wrote the final sentence.

Paul himself writing in 56 A.D. (before the Book of Acts was composed) clearly stated that the extra revelatory gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and tongues were temporary and would cease (I Cor. 13:8). There we are told that tongues would "cease of themselves" (the voice is middle), indicating that they would phase out of their own accord, most likely when that generation passed away.1 Knowledge and prophecy would "cease" or "vanish away." 2

Hebrews 2:3,4, written before 70 A.D., indicates that many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so normative in the early portions of Acts (ca. 30-38 A.D.) had already ceased:

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them (the Apostles) that heard him; God also bearing them (the Apostles) witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

History also confirms that the miraculous, so common in Acts, was transitional and temporary, for after the first century, tongues and the miracle gifts are referred to by writers as phenomena unique to Apostolic times. John Chrysostom (ca. 345-407 A.D.), one of the great defenders of literal biblical interpretation, when writing on the miraculous spiritual gifts recorded in I Corinthians 12 stated,   

"This whole passage is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur (in Apostolic times) but now no longer take place" (emphasis, mine).3

The very sovereign Lord who so abundantly bestowed the blessings and gifts manifested early in Acts also terminated them when His purposes for the early church were finished. They were once and for all happenings, not to be repeated. We are not to seek their repetition. Those who so do fail to realize the transitional nature of this marvelous and informative Book. Moreover, they are seeking what God has determined is not for our day.

Historical Precedent

The spectacular giving of the Law at Sinai is comparable. Angelic involvement was awesome. In recounting the event, Moses wrote:

The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of (lit.) holy ones (i.e., angels, not "saints" as per KJV): from his right hand went a fiery law for them. (Deuteronomy 33:2)

Think of that: thousands upon thousands of angels swarming to and around the glorious presence of Jehovah as he descended upon Mt. Sinai from Seir and Paran to the east! What a glorious, yet sobering sight! The Israelites stood in terror and awe! The people were not to go near nor even touch the mountain under penalty of death. Thunders, lightnings, earth tremors, and blasts from a heavenly trumpet accompanied God as he called Moses to the mount.

Other writers of scripture call attention to the angelic involvement in this revelatory action:

Sinai marked an outstanding and dramatic event in Godís revelatory dealings with mankind in general and Israel in particular. Israel at Sinai was being called into a Law-covenanted relationship with Jehovah: Sinai highlighted their transition to a theocratic state.

The multitudinous and varied manifestations of God over the forty days and nights and even the year that completed their stay at Sinai are unique. VERY MUCH LIKE THE BOOK OF ACTS, THEY HAPPENED OVER A TRANSITIONAL PERIOD OF TIME, THEN CEASED AND WERE NOT TO BE REPEATED!

Summary and Conclusion

The transition to the Church Age, recorded in Acts, is filled with extra revelatory acts of our risen Lord. Once the Church was established and the canon of scripture complete, the special gifts and multiplied revelations from God ceased and are not to be repeated during the Church Age. God now calls us to faith in His Word, not to miracles, signs, and wonders.

Stated another way: The miracles and varied revelations in Acts via visions, dreams, Christophanies, angelic missions, prophecies, etc., are all part of the transitional nature of the Book of Acts. Miss that and you miss one of the main thrusts of the Book!

Footnotes:

1 "tongues shall cease" (KJV): the verb is Future Middle Indicative of pauw, "to stop," "to come to an end."     The middle voice, which we do not have in English, means here that tongues would stop of themselves.

2 "prophecies and knowledge shall fail or vanish away": the verb that indicates the cessation of these extra     revelatory gifts is the Future Passive Indicative of katargew, "to reduce to inactivity," "to put out of      business," "to abolish." Prophecy and knowledge would be abolished passively; that is, by the Giver, the      Holy Spirit, ceasing to give the gift.

3 "Homily XXIX, The Works of John Chrysostom," The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, Edit.      (Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1979), Vol. XII, p. 168.

 

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